And now for someone completely different

Marcelle Bernstein / 21 January 2014

As the Monty Python veterans prepare for one of the hottest comebacks in years, Terry Gilliam, the surreal genius behind their iconic animations, talks about both life as a Python and – with a new film out soon – as a wildly innovative film director. Read this excerpt from our in-depth interview in the February 2014 issue of Saga Magazine.

He believes that ‘dreams inform everybody, they make life worth living’. He claims to wake in the morning ‘physically exhausted from my dream adventures. There’s a moment in half-light – and then it’s gone.  But my waking ideas are more fantastic than my dreams.’

He declines to intellectualise his creative process. ‘It happens, and I just try to ride with it. And when it doesn’t happen, it’s actually terrifying because you realise, “I’ve dried up”. It’s finally happened: the well is empty. But if you get through those periods, then something starts happening again. It’s like doing a painting without actually doing a sketch in advance. When you make a film, ideas are coming from all angles. You just start and you got this, you add another thing, boom, boom, boom.’

A list of influences would include – though not necessarily in any particular order – radio, science fiction, comic magazines, the Industrial Revolution (‘all those gears and pulleys’) and art galleries (‘steal ideas from dead painters, you don’t get sued’ ). Then there’s Goya (‘pain, tragedy, humanity’), Hieronymus Bosch (‘satire’), Brueghel (‘the detail’), Max Ernst and Magritte, C S Lewis – and Lewis Carroll. Of Carroll he says, ‘Reading the Alice books again, I see how much Python was influenced by them.’ A voracious reader, he always has at least three books on the go. ‘Books get my imagination going because I have to create the imagery.’

Of the Pythons themselves, he says: ‘I don’t like ’em, but we’re friends.’ He laughs. ‘No, no, it’s family! It’s more than friends.

‘Mike Palin, Terry Jones and I all live within five minutes of each other here. The thing that I find quite funny about it is that I immediately go back into my old role of being the monosyllabic Minnesota farm boy. There’s no way I can compete with them, with what they do.’

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