As well as dealing with their grief, the crew had to be immediately practical. Initially Gilliam thought he would have to shut the film down, as did the insurance company. It was [cinematographer Nicola] Pecorini who kept pushing. But then Gilliam had an idea: Johnny Depp, a long-term friend and collaborator, was also a good friend of Ledger’s. 'I just called him, as a friend, to say, “We’re f***ed.” Johnny said, “Whatever you want, I’ll be there.” Johnny has a huge heart.’ As it transpired, Depp’s commitment meant everything, because without it the money would have been withdrawn and the film closed down.
But Gilliam still didn’t know what he was going to do. 'Not a clue,’ he says. 'Zero. Zip. Nothing. Number one, there’s no way anybody could replace Heath. I also knew that an actor who was even close to having his skills would be tied up doing something else. So I said, OK, we’ll get three people because he goes through the mirror three times.’
So he started calling. 'And suddenly there’s Jude Law and there’s Colin Farrell. It was three good friends who came to the rescue, out of love and friendship and respect for Heath. How that was going to work, I still didn’t know.’ There was also a feeling that nobody wanted the Joker to be Heath Ledger’s last role.
But Johnny Depp’s huge heart could not get him out of the fact that he was owned by the Michael Mann film Public Enemies, which was about to start shooting. It was only because Public Enemies was delayed by a week that Gilliam managed to get him at all, and even then for only one day.
'Providence intervened,’ Gilliam says of the delay. 'I had to be incredibly pragmatic after Heath died. It wasn’t easy. But there was a sense of freedom: I would think, let’s try that because if we don’t do something we’re dead in the water, and if we try that it might work, it might not. Heath took a certain responsibility off my shoulders by not turning up for work.’
Gilliam says he was surrounded by a committee of people all trying to find a way through it. On top of everything else, they were in mourning. 'This was a deeply loved human being, and he’s not there any longer...'
An epic Terry Gilliam interview
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