The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is a planned feature film by director Terry Gilliam. As documented in Lost in La Mancha, production originally commenced in October 2000, but stopped within a week due to a serious injury to Jean Rochefort, who had been cast for the title role of Don Quixote. Production was soon cancelled completely due to several on-set mishaps, but Gilliam restarted pre-production in 2009.
The story combines the literary world of Miguel de Cervantes with a 21st century satire. An advertising executive, who finds himself unstuck in time, unwittingly travels between modern day London and 17th century La Mancha, where he participates in the adventures of Don Quixote, who mistakes him for Sancho Panza.
In 2005 Gilliam had voiced his interest in recasting the role of Don Quixote with Gérard Depardieu. In 2008 Michael Palin reportedly entered talks with Gilliam to step in for Rochefort and play Don Quixote. In November 2009, Terry Gilliam said he had finished re-casting the role, but he refused to disclose the actor's identity. In a December 2009 interview with collider.com, Robert Duvall claimed on-camera to be Gilliam's new choice for Don Quixote, which was confirmed by Gilliam himself a few days afterwards.
For the second leading role of the advertising executive Toby Grisoni, Johnny Depp was at times connected to the project, but it remains unclear if Depp's filming schedule will allow for his participation and if he wants to join the production at all. During a press junket for his film Public Enemies 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…
Terry Gilliam was very excited to direct this film, since Don Quixote embodies many of the themes that run through his own work—such as the individual versus society, and the concept of sanity. Quixote was set to have been one of the biggest continental European films ever made, with a budget of $32.1 million that had been scaled back from an original $40 million. It was to have been one of Gilliam's most ambitious films, produced without any American financing.
Finding the source material by Cervantes too vast, Gilliam and his co-writer Tony Grisoni decided to create their own version of the Quixote story, including a major change inspired by A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. The character of Sancho Panza would appear only very early in the film, to be replaced by Toby Grisoni, a twenty-first century marketing executive thrown back through time. The entire film would have been filmed in Spain and throughout Europe. Jean Rochefort was picked to play Don Quixote, in preparation for which he spent seven months learning English. Sancho Panza was to be played by Johnny Depp, and Vanessa Paradis would have been his love interest. Other actors who were to appear in the film included Miranda Richardson, Christopher Eccleston, Bill Paterson, Rossy de Palma, Jonathan Pryce, Ian Holm, Eva Basteiro-Bertoli, and Peter Vaughan.
With Nicola Pecorini as director of photography shooting started in late October 2000. The first location shoot was at a scenic, barren area north of Madrid, Spain, near a military base. Military fighter jets flew overhead repeatedly, ruining the audio recording and mandating a later re-dubbing in post-production. A flash flood on the second day of filming washed away equipment and changed the color of the barren cliffs, making the previous filming unusable. Rochefort, an able horseman, attempted to ride and act, but was obviously wincing in pain, and required assistance dismounting and walking. He flew to his doctor in Paris, where he was diagnosed with a double herniated disc. For several days the crew attempted to shoot scenes that did not involve Rochefort, but as time passed, it became apparent he would not be able to return. Gilliam decided this was a fatal wound to his project: He had spent two years casting the role of Don Quixote, and Rochefort had then spent seven months learning the English language for the part. The production was finally cancelled in November 2000, and the only result that was ever officially released was included in the 2002 documentary Lost in La Mancha, a film that chronicles the attempts to make this "film that didn't want to be made".
After the production had been cancelled, an insurance claim was filed on behalf of the film's investors. US$15 million were reportedly paid, and the rights to the screenplay passed on to the insurance companies. Since 2003 rumors had occasionally claimed that Gilliam and his producers were lining up support to restart production. At the 2005 Cannes Film Festival there was at last some conclusive news. After working with British producer Jeremy Thomas on Tideland, it was announced that Thomas was interested in getting the project up and running again. In July 2006, after nearly six years of legalities between the French producers and German insurers, the issue over the rights was settled. Terry Gilliam announced this at the Munich International Documentary Film Festival, saying that the production company was willing to give Gilliam the rights, and that Jeremy Thomas was still interested in producing. In August 2006 Gilliam indicated at a post-screening Q & A for Tideland that the complex legal case concerning the film's collapse was finally being wrapped up, and that the rights to the script would hopefully be given back to Gilliam and co-writer Grisoni in the near future.
In 2008 Gilliam restarted preliminary work on a new version of the film. The film will be reshot completely, and Rochefort's role has been recast. On The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos on 17 December 2009, Gilliam revealed that Robert Duvall would play the role of Don Quixote. Johnny Depp remained attached to the project. Since Depp was signed for two Disney films, further production delays were suspected, but commencement of shooting was scheduled for early 2010. Whether the production timetable will be maintained is unknown, because Depp stated that he would not make room in his tight schedule for Gilliam's film. Depp even noted that he is not sure if he wants to revisit the revived film project at all. The film will be produced by Jeremy Thomas for Recorded Picture Company. International sales will be handled by HanWay Films. On May 17th, 2010, it was announced Ewan McGregor had been cast in the film.
Gilliam entered main pre-production in 2009. After finally retrieving the rights to the screenplay, Gilliam and Grisoni started to rewrite the plot in January 2009 and hoped to be finished within a month.
Variety reported on 5 September 2010 that Terry Gilliam had revealed funding had collapsed a month and half earlier and as a result shooting had not yet started. He stated that primary casting was finalised with Robert Duvall as the titular character as well as Ewan McGregor being on board.
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