Last week in London, Heath Ledger was busy wrapping up nearly six weeks of long days and nights he’d spent at often-frigid outdoor locations, filming scenes for The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. But with Ledger’s death on Tuesday in New York, the movie has become a reported $30 million question mark, since there were additional weeks of studio-soundstage filming yet to be done in Vancouver.
Imaginarium is a fantasy tale, co-written and directed by Terry Gilliam, a filmmaker known for his outlandish visual invention (he previously worked with Ledger on 2005’s The Brothers Grimm). Christopher Plummer, who’s now 78, plays the title character, an eccentric theatrical trouper trapped in a deal with the devil (Tom Waits) that dooms Parnassus’s lovely daughter, Valentina (played by British-born model Lily Cole). Ledger was playing Tony, a roguish charlatan who gets mixed up with the troupe and begins a series of through-the-magic-mirror adventures to a strange parallel universe.
Early on Sunday, Jan. 20, Plummer boarded a plane back to New York and went on to his Connecticut home. Ledger took a different London-to-New-York flight and repaired to a SoHo apartment where, two days later, he was found dead. EW spoke with Ledger’s final costar about what happened, what the filming was like, and what may or may not become of the last scenes Ledger ever performed.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It seems incomprehensible.
CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER: We’re all a bit befuddled at the moment. It’s so sad. Heath did have a terrible, lingering bug in London, and he couldn’t sleep at all. We all — I thought he’d probably got walking pneumonia, which they seem to think he had. Of course I don’t really know, but that’s the latest.
Where had you been working?
In and around London. Lots of sinister-looking, horrible locations. Places like Battersea Power Station, where the interior’s all open, with huge hanging girders. The light comes in and creates this sort of vast, horrible Valpurgis Night. It’s a very sinister building, and it’s used sometimes for films. They shot some of [the new] Batman film in there. It’s a designated building, protected, so they can’t tear it down. It’s just standing there gaping at everybody. Very effective. The last few days we were shooting outside a pub. Always outside. Cold as bejesus. You know how damp it gets in London. And at night the temperature drops horribly, and that little breeze gets up. You have to wear tons of stuff.
How much is left undone on the film?
Oh, there’s an enormous amount left to do. This is why we were going to Vancouver. All the technical stuff, the green-screen, was to be done in Vancouver. God knows what’s going to happen now.
That seems like a pretty substantial blow to the movie.
Of course it is. The film wasn’t half made…. It’s just terrifying. It had so much going for it, and there was so much new stuff we were all going to put into it to help it along. It was a sort of work of invention, from all hands…. And Terry [Gilliam] has had this experience before, with [The Man Who Killed] Don Quixote, with Johnny Depp.
Which famously fell apart early in the filming.
And here it is again. My heart goes out to him because he’s worked so hard to get it off the ground. It just drives you mad thinking about it. I have no idea, and I can’t say, really, what’s going to happen to the film. We’re still in total shock over Heath’s death. It’s sort of literally unbelievable, because apart from the sleeping, he was in such good form…. There was a sweetness about him. He was a very charming and gentle guy, actually.
NEXT PAGE: ”He was in such a good, happy mood about the picture. He was enjoying the film thoroughly, and I’m here to say so.”