Nobody can deny that Terry Gilliam is one tenacious filmmaker. We all know the trials and tribulations of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, his undying passion project that’s been in the making for well over 20 years with a revolving door of stars and a lot of terrible, no good luck. Whatever could go wrong for this movie seemingly did, but what matters now is this: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is finally finished.

The end result is, in typical Gilliam fashion, a rush of creativity and imagination. “This is Gilliam at his most playful in decades and his distinct blend of slapstick, silly raunch, biting satire, and electric wit is on full display here,” managing editor Jacob Hall wrote after he saw the film at South by Southwest. With The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, Gilliam doesn’t hold back, but according to him, it’s always the limitations that bring out the best in his work.

He told us plenty more about his process, past films, and The Man Who Killed Don Quixote during a wide-ranging interview.

I thought the ending of the movie was very moving. 

Oh, that’s very nice. I was worried that I’d gone too Hollywood for the end, but it’s very effective, I think. It’s very nice. I think it’s the right ending.

It is one of your happier endings. How did it come about?

What was interesting about it, it’s a result of our first rehearsals because originally it was just Adam [Driver] saying the lines. And as he was reading them out, Jonathan [Pryce] was always trying to get back into the movie, even after he’s been killed, started saying the lines as well, and I thought this is magic. Suddenly, he doesn’t die, his voice lives on. And that’s what we did, and I was so pleased with it. It was so much better than doing it as we had originally written, and that’s why it’s important to work with really good actors because they come up with much better ideas than I have, is all I can say.

It was just the idea that Quixote never dies. The idea that Adam became the new Quixote is one thing, but what is poetic is having Jonathan’s voice in there, and that’s the last voice we hear. And then Roque Baños, he scored it very beautiful, so we had a good picture up there for people to look at. So, all in all, it’s probably the most happy, optimistic ending I’ve done for a long time.

It sounds like you were always open to new ideas with this story.

Well, on something that’s taken this long to finally get finished, any new idea was welcome, because it’s a way of keeping the thing alive. It wasn’t just an idea that we had 30 years ago, and we were just plodding on because it was the most perfect script ever written. It wasn’t. I’m getting older, I’m changing, my attitudes are changing. Then, as different actors come into it, they have a slightly different take on it, and that’s what kept the film alive for me, and that’s what was exciting about working finally with, I think, the perfect cast.

Talking about how you’ve changed throughout the movie’s long history to the screen, how do you think that influenced the story?

I think people who watch the film seem to read it more than I do. They think it’s very autobiographical, but I never felt that. I was just trying to be true to Quixote, true to the masterpiece and find a way that might communicate Cervantes and Quixote to a modern audience. I think there was a point somewhere, probably about four years ago when [co-writer] Tony Grisoni and I made this leap, and suddenly we had the Toby character. We gave him a backstory. We gave him the film that he made, and we show this younger, innocent, exuberant character, and how life changes him, and how life changed all the people that were in his film. And that became a much more interesting take on the story than what we had way back.

Have you met a lot of directors who, like Toby, lost their way?

Oh yes, too many. I’ve known some that did very well here and then went off to Hollywood and just started making the same films that everybody else makes. There are those who took the quicker route, which is going into commercials because there’s real money in commercials. Much easier to do. Those people have always bothered me because I knew them when they were talented, and then I saw that talent just dribbling away to make money or to try to succeed in Hollywood.

You’ve always stayed to true to yourself and made uncompromising work, but have you ever felt lost as well in your career?

There was the moment after I finished Munchausen, and I just thought I was really in the dumps. Everything was going wrong. I was getting accused of all sorts of nonsense, and that was the moment I broke my most prudent rules because I said I would only do what I wanted to do. I’d never work for money, and I would never ever work for Hollywood. And so suddenly I was offered this script, which was The Fisher King, and I just thought what a wonderful script. And it meant working in Hollywood, and that’s what I did, and it was an absolute joy. And then from there, I went on to Twelve Monkeys and Fear and Loathing. So, by breaking my rules, I actually succeeded.

So would you say it’s important to break your own rules?

My approach to life most of the time is to do things that shut most of the doors of opportunity to me, so I don’t have a large amount of time choosing where to go.

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