Terry Gilliam on Brothers Grimm

Visionary filmmaker Terry Gilliam, who's created the unique visual worlds of “Brazil” and “Twelve Monkeys,” had made a fantasy-adventure about the legendary writers-siblings that brings them face-to-face with a cursed village in which their wildest fantasies have become reality.

The Grimms' Fairy Tales

Fairy tales are my kind of world, the world of fantasy and extraordinary things. My idea was that if you could create real characters in a real world then, when these strange and scary fairy tale elements begin to intrude and take over, the audience will believe in this world and have a lot of fun exploring it. I chose to go beyond the factual lives of the Brothers Grimm to create an escapade that's richly inspired by their smart, frightening and compelling stories.

Film's Structure

We owe the real Brothers Grimm a lot of thanks for the film but the story isn't about their historical lives. Weve basically created a fairy tale about them, in which they appear to be hip and heroic guys, traveling from village to village ridding them of trolls, witches and all kinds of fantastical nightmares. But we quickly learn it is all a clever con. Meanwhile, Napoleon's Army, which has invaded Germany, is trying to ensnare the brothers. Soon, soon they are all caught in a world that's exactly like the tales the Grimms have been collecting. In the end, the fairytales have become real, and reality has become entwined with fantasy.

Red Riding Hood, Hansel & Gretel, Rapunzel, there are references throughout the movie to those Grimm tales that are most familiar to the audience. Although there are actually several hundred tales, we wanted to stay with those that really resonate in people's imaginations. The film celebrates the very spirit of these dark stories, with their high-octane, psychologically suspenseful mix of contrasting magic and fear, wonder and vengeance, comic enchantment and blood-curdling evil.

Function of Fairy Tales

Fairy tales have always been the way the world exercises its fears and its darkest imaginings and, also the way it sustains its belief in happy endings. Fairy tales were always meant to be a little dangerous and disturbing, to stir things up. Perhaps the idea is that if you survive through enough fairy tales, youre prepared for the real world.

The true Brothers Grimm had a similar belief about the undeniable power and entertainment value of their tales. Living in the tumult of nineteenth-century Germany, they were immersed in a time when superstition and mythology were batting it out with rationalism and modern ideas. It was a time of radical changes in the previously remote and primal German countryside, as the Napoleonic Army invaded Germany, bringing with it the reason-based beliefs of the Age of Enlightenment. When Enlightenment collided with a way of life based on myth and ancient stories, sparks flew. It was this incendiary conflict that Gilliam hoped to capture on screen as the Brothers Grimm head to the village of Marbaden believing more in hoaxes than in horses that can swallow children.

Fantasy and Enlightenment

I was very interested in the great conflict between the belief in fantasy and the ideas of the Enlightenment, which actually became quite rigid in its own lack of belief in anything mysterious. We made that a real part of the story. And of course the conflict goes on today.

The Grimm Brothers

At the heart of the story are the bonds that tie brothers together, and sometimes tear them apart. Will and Jacob Grimm are opposite in their personalities and philosophies, yet when they arrive in the cursed village of Marbaden, their mutual attraction for the same woman complicates the already spooky proceedings.

These are two brothers who clearly love each other and also despise one another at times. They have a very intense brotherly relationship. Will is the charmer, he walks into the room, the girls look to him and he can have anything he wants. Jake, on the other hand, is caught up in this belief in storybook princesses and is searching for the ultimate romance. Lena Headey, who plays the trapper Angelika, is the perfect for the two brothers.

Casting Against Type

Matt Damon and Heath Ledger are obviously the heart of the movie. But at first I thought Matt would play Jake, because he's usually more of an introspective and sensitive character, and Heath would play Will, because he's usually cast as the straight-ahead hero. But then Matt came into our first meeting and said he wanted to play Will. I wasn't sure about it at first, but then Heath came to me and said Well, Id like to play Jake.' And then I realized that this was absolutely the right thing, because I love to cast against type and turn things completely around. And it worked, because they are both very surprising in these roles. It's not what youve seen before from either one.

Ive never seen anyone work as hard as Matt did to become a character so unlike who he really is, and also so unlike any character he's played before. His entire bearing is completely different and I hope the audience will respond with the same excitement that I did to it. Heath is someone who the world is used to seeing as a more conventional hero, but here you see that he also has another kind of nervous, quiet side to him that's very intriguing. Like Matt, he simply wouldn't give up until he got the role right. They are both very impressive.

Cavaldi the Villain

Cavaldi is a villain but he's in the vein of a comical villain and he eventually turns out to be very heroic, in fact. The key was not to make him so buffoonish that he wouldn't be threatening, and also not to make him so awful that he couldn't be funny. Being a brilliant actor, Peter Stormare loved the challenge. He's expansive, he's theatrical and he's outrageous.

Angelika as Woman ahead of her Times

In many ways, she's sort of the first liberated woman in her village. No woman has ever left before and she's not only gone off, but also gone to the University in the city. She's sort of caught between these two worlds. On the one hand, she's used to a certain kind of practical reality, and on the other she's convinced that she lives in a world that's absolutely, undeniably cursed. The actress playing her had to be not just beautiful but also tough and independent. Lena brings that very strong presence to it. It's also a very physical part because she rides, she shoots arrows, and she has to have the aura of this strange mystery woman who refuses to play by the Grimm's rules.

Film's Visual Sensibility

We realized from the beginning that in order to have the film truly look like a fairy tale, we couldn't shoot it in a real forest or a real village because nothing quite like it existed. We were going to have to build it all. So we created nearly everything from scratch, built castles and barns, brought an entire forest of trees into a soundstage, trained ravens and horses, crafted hundreds of models. It was by far the largest production which Ive ever done.

Production Design

We developed a contemporary design aesthetic inspired by the shadowy whimsy of nineteenth-century expressionism and the classical, lavishly detailed, black-and-white ink illustrations that often accompany fairy tale books. I wanted to take full advantage of the oddities of the natural world. Look at the real world, at what trees are like. Theyre strange and often terrifying. You don't have to always invent, sometimes you can just look to nature. The look of this film was a balancing act between the artistic and the natural all squished together.”

The task faced by Dyas was enormous, building an entire nineteenth-century German town complete with a church, bakery, bridges, stables and pathways, and an enchanted forest replete with rocks, a brook and towering trees all on a Czech soundstage. We quickly realized there was no other choice. We could never have found a village like the one we created. And building from the ground up really allowed us to push all the boundaries. Prior to construction, we scoured the Czech countryside for old timbers ridden with worm-rot to build the village houses. The production also hauled in more than 700 trees to replant in a concrete backlot, creating an astonishingly real fake forest that could be manipulated with lights and cameras in a way no real forest ever could. Im obsessive about textures and finishes and things like that and, Guy Dyas is brilliant with that.

Special Effects

This same philosophy came to bear on the film's special effects, which ultimately number some 750 shots. The effects team's job was to bring to life all the ideas that couldn't be accomplished practically, making the trees walk, turning wolves into woodsmen, manipulating ravens, depicting a horse swallowing a child and aging Monica Bellucci backwards from 500 to 25. In a movie about enchanted forests, there has to be wolf! Our wolf is not necessarily a wolf as you know it, but a very unusual beast with its own specific characteristics that took a lot of ingenuity to bring to life.

Viewers' Role

Even as our team worked tirelessly to create an aesthetic, visual, and musical sense of dreams, nightmares, and enchantment on the screen, I still hope to leave much of the film's excitement to the audience's imagination. I always believe when I am making a film that 90 percent of what is seen should be in the shadows so that the audience is doing the imagining. The work of the cast and crew is to provide the hints and let the viewers fill in the rest. I want the audience to be put through their paces, to be truly frightened and moved. The less we show and the more we imply, the better it is.