Ledger's last performance hits screen in Cannes

Fri May 22, 2009 6:42am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White CANNES, France (Reuters) - Australian actor Heath Ledger's final performance before he died of an accidental overdose in January 2008 nearly never made it to the big screen, U.S.-born director Terry Gilliam said on Friday.

The film maker's first thought when Ledger died in New York was to ditch "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," which was only half finished.

But encouraged by people around him to continue, and helped by actors Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell who played Ledger's character in three separate dream sequences, Gilliam eventually completed the movie.

"The choice I made was to close the film down," Gilliam told reporters at the Cannes film festival, where the out-of-competition movie has its world premiere.

"I couldn't see how we could finish it without Heath because we were in the middle of production.

"Fortunately, I was surrounded by really good people who insisted that I shouldn't be such a lazy bastard and I'd better go out and find a way of finishing the film for Heath.

"That's what we did."

Gilliam decided to use three actors rather than one to complete the role of Tony, made possible because they appear in a land of the imagination entered through a magic mirror.

"I started calling friends -- Johnny Depp, and he said 'I'm there'. And I basically was just calling people who knew and loved Heath.   Continued...

<p>Director Terry Gilliam (2nd L) poses with cast members Verne Troyer (C), Lily Cole (R) and Andrew Garfield during a photocall for his film "The imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival May 22, 2009. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard</p>