movie. So the execs sat down in a meeting and decided that the best way to attract Robin was to bring in a director he’d worked with before. But to a man they were all busy doing other pictures and they ended up right at the bottom of the list with my name. That‘s how it came up.’

‘My greatest fear for Fisher King was that this ‘feelgood’ side would make it turn out like When Harry Met Sally or Parenthood. Not bad films, but lightweight fluff. It made the producers nervous, but I really tried to push the dramatic, painful side ofthe movie and there are scenes in the final version that they wanted me to cut because they’re too tough on the audience. The fact that you come out smiling at the end doesn’t mean to say that the journey to get to that moment hasn’t been a difficult one.’

Stops on this journey include days and __ nights on the streets with Parry’s homeless compadres and disturbing moments in an

asylum, prime candidates for the scenes any '

anxious studio would want to soften. ‘Well, actually there was an element ofsaying something really important about society,’ says Gilliam by way of reply. ‘The studio guys thought that we could make a wacky, positive movie about homelessness, like it’s okay because Robin Williams gets saved.

That’s just bullshit. The film’s about these four characters and the rest of the world‘s out there, I don’t have any solutions.’

Nevertheless, the manner in which Lucas finds himselfcaught up in Parry’s mystical quest does seem to ascribe to the notion that the truest wisdom is found in those souls on the very fringes of rational humanity, a point Gilliam concedes. ‘Once you’re outside the mainstream you‘re on the edge, and that’s a place that’s always intrigued me because you invariably measure yourself against it. Parry, for instance, believes in his vision so strongly that his madness is a choice, a way of dealing with the world that has traumatised him. Either you become totally comatose or you reinvent the world in a way that helps you carry on living. If you invent an interesting enough world you can drag other people along with you and, in essence, that’s really what I do as a filmmaker.’

In this instance, although the ride ofthe Red Knight and the scene with Grand Central Station waltzing through rush hour are the kind of fantastic imagery that has always been associated with Gilliam’s work, it’s really the character development in The Fisher King that bears the emotional load and the intimate scenes of human relations that carry the film forward.

‘The thing was that some of those scenes could possibly seem a little bit soap opera if they weren’t handled right,’ he admits, ‘but having spent a long time in getting the casting right with the great actors we had I knew that I just had to create the right atmosphere for them to work in and it would play— just as long as I didn’t do anything too stupid and fuck it up. Maybe because it’s visually less demanding or exciting, Fisher King allows you to concentrate on what’s going on with those characters. The emotional scenes go on for five minutes, developing an idea and making the characters more real. I just can’t write those scenes very well and I certainly couldn’t have drawn out the parts for the women as brilliantly as Richard LaGravenese has done.

‘I think as I get older, it’s about getting less clever. The scene with Robin Williams and Amanda Plummer saying goodnight on her doorstep is kind of sentimental, but it makes me cry every time I see it. I’m really. really proud of that. The other stuff I knew I could do. Waltzing in Grand Central Station, once you’ve got the idea, is just about logistics.‘

The Fisher King (15) opens widely across Scotland on Friday 8 November.

The List 8—21 November 19917