The story of Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is one of the all-time great Hollywood horror tales. Set to be a literary fantasy starring Johnny Depp and Jean Rochefort, the film encountered egregious problems – including a set-destroying hailstorm and a serious back injury that sent Rochefort home – that the entire production was halted and eventually cancelled. The legendarily awful production has actually been immortalized in the documentary Lost in La Mancha.
Gilliam has made several attempts to restart production on the film, but has of yet met with little success. Last week, the chances of seeing The Man Who Killed Don Quixote back in production took yet another blow when frequent Gilliam collaborator Johnny Depp announced that he will produce a “modern” Don Quixote-based project for Disney.
During an interview with IndieWire at the British Independent Film Awards, Gilliam was asked whether he was involved with the recently-announced Don Quixote film being produced by Johnny Depp. He responded:
“Ahhhh – no. We’re gonna have to sort this out. I was busy and then suddenly I saw this. I’ve written him a letter – we’ll see what comes of it. Now – I think – I don’t know what he has in mind, but I’ve got my own version.”
While Depp has remained a staunch ally of Terry Gilliam throughout the last decade, he has also expressed frustration with the director’s inability to pick back up the infamous failed production. At a press conference for Public Enemies in 2009, Depp stated:
“[Gilliam and I] have talked about it. But to be honest, the thing about Terry…I love Terry, and I’d do anything the guy wants to do. But with Quixote…my dance card is pretty nutty for the next couple of years. So I’d hate to put him in a position – or ask to be in a position – where he’d have to wait for me. That would be wrong. But also…I feel like we went there and tried something, and, whatever it was – the elements and all the things that got up underneath us – were there and happened and were documented well in that film ‘Lost in La Mancha.’ So I don’t know if it’s right for me to go back there. I don’t know if it’s right for Terry to, but if he wants to…”
Depp’s response seems rather odd now that he is officially involved with another adaptation of the seminal literary classic. Without knowing the substance of the Disney-backed Don Quixote, it’s impossible to surmise whether the film is being made in response to Gilliam’s inability to revive one of film history’s most famous failed productions.
One thing is for certain: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is Terry Gilliam’s white whale – a dream project he watched get away from him just as he was working to bring it to fruition. From the tone of his comments and his repeated attempts to get the movie off the ground, it’s clear that he will continue to pursue Don Quixote no matter the competition. However, Johnny Depp’s contrasting vision of the delusional Spaniard may well beat him to the punch – and that may end up damaging one of modern film’s more fruitful partnerships.
Johnny Depp’s Don Quixote has no firm release date as of yet. Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote remains as unsure as it has for a decade.