Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam Biography

Actor, Screenwriter, Filmmaker (1940–)
Terry Gilliam is a filmmaker and member of the Monty Python comedy troupe. His hit films include 12 Monkeys and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.


Born in 1940, Terry Gilliam grew up in Minnesota and moved to California in his early teens. In 1962, Gilliam graduated from Occidental College with a degree in political science. He moved to England in 1967. From 1969 to 1974, Gilliam worked on the British comedy television series Monty Python's Flying Circus. He went on to work in film, directing such imaginative adventures as Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985), The Fisher King (1991), 12 Monkeys (1995), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), The Brothers Grimm (2005), Tideland (2006),  The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009) and The Zero Theorem (2014).

Early Life

Born Terrence Vance Gilliam on November 22, 1940, in Medicine Lake, Minnesota, Terry Gilliam first rose to fame as part of the comedy ensemble Monty Python. He has gone on to have a substantial second career as a director. He spent his early years having "a Tom Sawyer kind of childhood," he explained to Mother Jones magazine. "We didn't have a television, and my dad was a carpenter, so we were always making things, whether it be a tree house or drawing something or building an igloo."

In his early teens, Gilliam moved with his family to the Los Angeles area. He attended Birmingham High School in Lake Balboa, California. In 1958, Gilliam enrolled at Occidental College. He graduated with a degree in political science in 1962.

Monty Python

Terry Gilliam moved to England in 1967. Before long, he landed a job with the children's TV series Do Not Adjust Your Set. Gilliam did animated segments for the show. He then took on a more adult program when he joined Monty Python's Flying Circus. This offbeat sketch show featured John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle. He was the only American among the cast. For the program, Gilliam was given full creative license to develop animated shorts.

After their TV series ended, the Monty Python troupe moved to film. In 1975, Gilliam co-directed their first big-screen effort, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He also made his solo directorial debut around this time, working with Michael Palin on Jabberocky, based on a poem by Lewis Carroll; Gilliam also wrote the screenplay for the film. While this effort proved to be a commercial and critical disappointment, Gillam fared much better with his next project, Time Bandits (1981), a fantasy adventure that proved to be a hit with audiences.

Two years later, Gilliam made his last film with his famous comedy group, Monty Python and the Meaning of Life, and went on to work on one of his most acclaimed films to date.

Gifted Director

Gilliam directed and co-wrote Brazil (1985), a dark satire starring Jonathan Pryce; the film tells a futuristic tale of a world where everyone and everything in bogged down by bureaucracy. Before its release, the director waged a public battle with his film studio to ensure that his version of the movie made it into theaters. Some studio executives wanted to shorten the film and change its ending. Brazil received a warm reception by critics. Gilliam, along with co-writers Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown, received an Academy Award nomination for best screenplay.

Continuing to direct, Gilliam found mainstream success with 1991's The Fisher King. This contemporary tale stars Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams and Mercedes Ruehl. Williams plays a homeless man on a quest and Bridges' character tries to help him. Gilliam returned to the future and time travel with the science fiction tale 12 Monkeys (1995) starring Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt.

After 12 Monkeys, Gilliam worked on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The movie is based on the book by Hunter S. Thompson and stars Johnny Depp as the offbeat literary legend. Both critics and movie-goers were divided on the film. Gilliam's failed effort to bring The Man who Killed Don Quixote to the big screen was recorded in the 2002 documentary Lost in La Mancha.

Turning to fairy tales, Gilliam directed the 2005 film Brothers Grimm, starring Matt Damon and Heath Ledger. The following year, he released Tideland, an unusual domestic drama of sorts. A young girl uses her imagination to survive her isolated life in the country. 

Gilliam reunited with Heath Ledger for his fantastical project The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009). Unfortunately, Ledger died of a drug overdose during the making of the film. In an effort to save the film, Gilliam brought in Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell to play different versions of Ledger's character.

In 2014, Gilliam released his next film, The Zero Theorem, which starred Christoph Waltz and Matt Damon. This science fiction drama earned kudos for its visual imagery, but it failed to attract much of an audience. 

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