In Terry Gilliam’s modern-day fantasy adventure, Dr Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) has the extraordinary gift of inspiring the imaginations of other. Helped by his traveling theatre troupe, including his sarcastic and cynical sidekick Percy (Verne Troyer), Parnassus offers audience members the chance to transcend their reality by passing through a magical mirror into their imagination.

Percy (Verne Troyer) © Sony Pictures Classics
Percy (Verne Troyer) © Sony Pictures Classics

For Verne Troyer this drama marks a new direction in his career, as he is primarily known for his comedy roles. I spoke with him about playing Percy and about his memories of working with Heath Ledger in this movie, which turned out to be Ledger’s last.

Your character is like Doctor Parnassus’ conscience, always grounded him.

It’s almost like he was guiding him through the movie, I would say I feel like I was Jiminy Cricket to Pinocchio.

I heard that Terry gave the actors a lot of leeway to create their roles, did you like that or did you want more guidance?

Percy (Verne Troyer), Anton (Andrew Garfield), Dr Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), Valentina (Lily Cole) and Tony (Heath Ledger) © Sony Pictures Classics
Percy (Verne Troyer), Anton (Andrew Garfield), Dr Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), Valentina (Lily Cole) and Tony (Heath Ledger) © Sony Pictures Classics

Working with Mike Myers on the Austin Powers movies, he improvs all the time and you never know what he’s going to do, and it’s comedy so you try not to laugh. I’m kind of used to improv-ing and giving input into your characters and I think for an actor that just makes it more enjoyable, because you get to put a little bit more of yourself into it. I heard that Terry didn’t like people to improv, but Heath started doing it and Terry liked it, so we just kept going with it.

How important is comedy for you?

I like to be funny, I like to make people laugh, I like to make people happy. Doing this part is a little step in the other direction for me, taking more of a dramatic role. I enjoyed that more than I thought I would, so it’s something I’d definitely want to keep doing if I can. But I’m always going to feel comfortable doing comedy, it’s fun, it makes people laugh, it makes me laugh.

You worked a lot with Christopher Plummer in this, did you have any perceptions of what he’d be like, and what was he like to work with?

Going in I was so nervous to have this many scenes with an actor like him, he’s a legend. But he made me feel comfortable and I think that is what helped us have the rapport that we did.

How was working with Terry Gilliam, and his process?

I think this movie is a terrific Terry Gilliam piece. One of my favorite movies was Time Bandits, which had a lot of fantasy and things that were out of this world, with Terry’s imagination that’s what he does, he takes you to another world.

He knows exactly what he wants and the amazing shots that he gets, once you see it on film, it blows your mind. I had worked on the film and I had my own idea of what to expect but you’re not going to expect to see what Terry comes up with. He just takes you into another world and you just enjoy it.

Could you ever imagine when you saw Time Bandits that you would have the opportunity to work with Terry?

Never, watching Time Bandits when I was a kid, I loved the aspect of the history part of it, because I love history, I didn’t like it just because it had dwarves in it, but I never would have dreamt that I would have been able to work with Terry. In growing up I never would have imagined that I’d be here talking to you, it’s been a rollercoaster of a ride and I’m just enjoying it while I can.

What was it like working with Heath, and how hard was it to come back to the movie after Heath’s passing?

Tony (Heath Ledger) and Percy (Verne Troyer) © Sony Pictures Classics
Tony (Heath Ledger) and Percy (Verne Troyer) © Sony Pictures Classics

Let’s talk about working with Heath. I feel it was a tremendous honor to be apart of this film with Heath and having that opportunity to have that small chapter in his life. When I first met him he was such an open person it really surprised me. He was one of the nicest people I’ve met, having to do the film after the tragedy it was probably one of the hardest things I had to do, and probably for most of the others who were working on the film too. I didn’t really think about coming back to finish it, I didn’t really even think about the film at that time, until Terry called me and said that possibly he might try and finish it. That’s the only time I thought about the film after that happened. I think we all just came together as a family and helped each other through this tough time and finished the movie for Heath.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.