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ISCHIA, Italy – Before meeting to discuss creativity the film industry, the virtue of not completing things, his six-year-old decision to renounce U.S. citizenship, and to give a few vague hints about his future plans, the award winning writer and director and former Monty Python regular Terry Gilliam addressed a group of young actors and film fans in a side event at the Ischia Global Film & Music Fest. They wouldn’t let him leave. Each remark and insight he made was greeted so enthusiastically that he stayed a little longer. Even as he left the room, one more young man followed him out to explain how the 71-year-old Gilliam had inspired him in his career, hugging him warmly before moving on.
The Hollywood Reporter: Wow. Does that sort of thing happen often to you?
Terry Gilliam: (Laughs) Yes it does. And I love it. I’m an old fart and it’s great to be seen as a kind of inspiration to these young people. When I started out I always said I wanted to have an impact on people, and so whatever else I’ve done at least I know I’ve done that.
THR: You’ve talked a lot about creativity in the past. How healthy do you think creativity is in modern cinema?
Gilliam: It’s not as healthy as I’d like, but as I say that I’ll admit that I would have probably said the same thing in the past. It’s the context that’s different now. There’s more opportunity that before but it’s harder to get noticed. When Python came on there were three channels in all of Britain. Now there are so many outlets for someone who has something to say, but then the next trick is getting noticed amid everything. So the bar has moved.
THR: You’ve spent a lot of time in Italy lately. A couple of weeks back you were at the festival in Taormina [in Sicily], and now here in Ischia. Have you been spending the summer at your house in Italy?
Gilliam: No, unfortunately, I don’t spend much time there. I just have a little free time in my schedule so why not go to a film festival? They feed you, you meet interesting people who respect what you do. It’s fun.
THR: I know there are many projects you’ve started and come back to, but none have been so publically started and stopped and restarted as your interpretation of Don Quixote. What is the latest on that project?
Gilliam: It’s off again now. Postponed until next year at least.
THR: Is it still your next project?
Gilliam: No, but I’m not going to talk about my next project. My wife has noted that as soon as I say something about my next project everyone writes about it and then it disappears. I don’t what that to happen this time, so I’m keeping my mouth shut.
THR: Not even a little hint? Could you tell us something small … that can’t hurt anything.
Gilliam: (Pauses) Romania. Let’s just say that I’ve been seen around Bucharest, Romania. That’s it. It used to be that Italy was the best place to make quality films without spending a lot of money. Then, after communism, it was Prague. Then Budapest. Now it’s Bucharest.
THR: You’ve been spending the bulk of your time in Europe since the 1960s, you’ve been a British citizen since 1968, and it’s been six years now since you gave up your U.S. passport [partially in protest of then-U.S. President George W. Bush]. Do you still feel American?
Gilliam: In a lot of ways, yes, I do. I still have the American sense of optimism. No matter how bad things are, I still go to bed thinking they will be better tomorrow.
THR: Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Gilliam: It’s mostly a good thing, but you need more. When we bought our house in Italy it was a complete ruin. Now it’s proper and finished and wonderful … and it’s also less interesting. I’m intrigued by the unfinished. Maybe the Don Quixote project fits into that as well. Maybe you always need to have something vying for your attention, something yet to be completed.
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