If any classic book were considered 'unfilmable,' it would have been Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a scathingly funny account of a wild and horrifying journey into 'the heart of the American darkness.' Revered since its publication in 1971, Thompson's quasi-true novel tells of freelance journalist Raoul Duke, sent by Rolling Stone magazine to cover a motorcycle race in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Accompanying him on his trip are his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, along with a car trunk-full of marijuana, mescaline, acid, cocaine, uppers, downers, ether, tequila, beer and rum. Their serendipitous, drug-crazed antics reveal not only the thin veneer of civilization upheld by the United States during the height of the Vietnam War; they also show the depths of man's ability to debase and even destroy himself in his quest for the ultimate thrill.

Terry Gilliam was not the first director to attempt a film version (others who have tried and given up include Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone and Alex Cox, who was fired by this film's producers shortly before Gilliam was brought on board in the Spring of 1997). But the Monty Python graduate and director of such wild cinematic rides as TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL and TWELVE MONKEYS is probably the only one who could have done the book justice, by creating a film as raucous, disorienting and funny as its source.

With a startlingly fiendish performance by Johnny Depp and a crazed appearance by Benicio del Toro (THE USUAL SUSPECTS), FEAR AND LOATHING recreates the manic whims of the book while translating its most fervid notions of fear, paranoia and hopelessness to the screen pretty much intact. It succeeds moreso than any other motion picture at showing a drug haze from the inside.

Morgan: When was your first encounter with the book?

Gilliam: 1971. I don't know when or where, but I just know when it came out I read it, and it immediately touched all sorts of nerve ends. I was living in England by then — I had left the States in 1967 — but I knew exactly what Thompson was talking about. I think we shared the same kind of disillusionment that underlies the book. When you first read the book that isn't necessarily what comes through, but it is what it's all about. And the writing is so funny, outrageous.

A film version had been in development for years. Had you been approached before about working on it?

Gilliam: Yes, I'd had two occasions before where a script was sent to me. One was about the end of 1989, and I thought, 'Wow, it would be really good to usher in the '90s with a film based on that book.' But I got involved in FISHER KING at that time. And the scripts I'd read, none really quite did the job. They start well because the book starts well, but in the second part the same problem always happens — and in a sense it happens in the book as well. The book itself just kind of peters out, it's always to me been one of the problems with the book; it's got a very weak ending. The earlier scripts just became boorish in the second half because the guys were just crashing around the place, there's no substance to what they're doing, and because it has to be a reaction to something, there have to be all these reflective elements that weren't in there. I think that's probably the thing that people have shied away from [in their adaptations].

Can you describe your process of adapting the book?

Gilliam: Tony Grisoni had written for television, and he wrote a Jon Amiel movie, Queen of Hearts. We've been working on a couple of projects together for some time. When I decided to do Fear and Loathing, I called him up and asked him. And what was interesting was he knows Alex Cox, and when he had heard that Alex was going to direct it, he actually called Alex up and asked if he could co-write it with him. Alex was working with Tod Davies, so it never happened. So Tony got a second chance to write it.

How long did it take you to do your version of the script?

Gilliam: We wrote it in 8 days, and then we read it, and I didn't like it. So we re-wrote it in two days. A lot more work happened through the course of rehearsals and everything — we were constantly writing, rewriting bits, changing, but the basic idea was to work very fast. I think we made the right choice because if you take too long at it, you just get depressed because there's so much in the book you're leaving out.

But the book needs that energy and speed, you almost can't stop and think about what you're doing.

Gilliam: That's what we were trying to do. We went through the book, we underlined all the bits we liked, said, 'Okay, boom boom boom there goes that, there goes that, bing, let's go!' The first third of it is almost straight from the book. The bigger choices were how we dealt with the latter part. That adrenachrome sequence is a real turning point, The Drug Too Far, and then bang he wakes up and he's got to piece things back together again.

What we discovered is that we put too many things in there and you can feel it with an audience.

Were you comfortable working with the device of a voice-over narrator?

Gilliam: It's essential, because Hunter Thompson's language is so important. The voice-over seemed to be the obvious way to do it. So you end up with Duke on-screen, and then you hear this other Duke — Duke the journalist. Johnny's voice is slightly different in the voice-over than it is in his 'speaking' voice, so you can have this situation where you're looking at a frazzled guy in real trouble, but the voice-over is very calm and journalistic. That works nicely.

What sort of conversations did you have with Johnny Depp about his performance?

Gilliam: Johnny had spent so much time with Hunter, he absorbed Hunter — his mannerisms, the way he spoke, he was totally there. And because he knew Hunter so well he was inventing things on the set that are great. It just became a very simple way of working: He'd say, 'Hunter does this,' and I'd said, 'Oh, we've got to do that,' and very quickly incorporate or embellish that idea. He's technically one of the most astonishing actors I've ever worked with. There's nothing he can't do, technically or physically, and at the same time the character's totally believable. Some of the most enjoyable days were just the days where it's him and me on a scene rather than a lot of other people, where ideas would flow very quickly.

For one thing, Hunter is a magpie, and one extraordinary thing came out of the fact that Johnny said, 'This is what Hunter's like with food.' There's a scene in the North Star Cafe at the end with Ellen Barkin as the waitress, which may be the best scene in the film, it's certainly the most powerful — it's really tense and ugly. After Benicio cuts the telephone up with a knife and takes the lemon meringue pie and walks out, Ellen's just left this quivering mess. Johnny gets up and he grabs his tape recorder, his jacket and everything to leave, and because he's been playing with his food in the course of the whole scene he picks up the plate with his food on it and starts out the door of the cafe with the food. And as he reaches the door he looks back and sees the state she's in, he hesitates, and then goes back and puts the food down and leaves. It's an intriguing reaction to the violation of Ellen that he's witnessed (and obliquely participated in).

What concerns did you have with balancing these two over-the-top characters, Duke and Dr. Gonzo?

Gilliam: They're very different. The way Benicio played Gonzo, he's not as funny as Gonzo is written. He's much darker. He's actually a dangerous, threatening presence at times. Whereas Johnny's very light on his feet. Johnny was very facile with things, while Benecio struggles. On many different levels there's a heaviness and much more anger there, something that isn't quite smooth. So as a pair they balance very nicely.

Because of that dangerous side, does that make Benicio funnier when he is trying to be funny, because it's less expected?

Gilliam: No, I don't think he's as funny as in the script. He's charismatic, because you don't know what he's going to do next. He so unpredictable, and he's not only unpredictable in the acting, the physical business of doing it, I didn't know what he was going to do next, nor did Johnny, nor did he, I think. You get hypnotized by him because you just don't know what the guy's going to do. He's like a bull to me, like some really dangerous animal in the midst of this thing. It's like some primal force is what he really is.

And Duke is the searcher, basically. I keep referring to them as Dante and Virgil, and Johnny is Dante, but Virgil is not the gentle poet. He's the Minotaur maybe!

During location shooting in Las Vegas, did you have problems with gaining access from the casinos? Because the book and film do not paint a very pretty picture of the community.

Gilliam: Yeah, that was the problem. Cooperating with our vision wouldn't gain the hotels much! We ended up with a couple of the old hotels who for whatever reason were at least accommodating enough to let us shoot there. We were only able to shoot inside the Riviera and inside the Binions. The Riviera was actually very accommodating. And as far as exteriors, the Palace Hotel we converted into Bazooka Circus. We had to wheel in this 20-foot-high clown head which is a huge open mouth as our entrance. Then they'd got six lanes of car in the entranceways for cars to come in and disgorge the clients, and we were allowed to use two lanes at any one time. So we were dancing around a casino that was functioning. And so that was all very difficult stuff. And each thing we had to get done in a night; we were not allowed to come back anywhere!

Our problem was trying to make a Vegas that looked like Vegas in 1971. We were very limited in what's there that we could use. The key shot that establishes Vegas, the majority of it is computer generated. The Mint Hotel doesn't exist any more, so all of that had to be recreated. Circus Circus, which in our script is 'Bazooka Circus' (because Circus Circus wouldn't let us near their place), we had to build all that. It was great because we were able to take it much further than the reality.

What did Circus Circus say? Were they being courted to allow location shooting and turned it down?

Gilliam: They were asked whether we could use the place, but in the end we just wanted to use the entrance, not even the whole place, and they just wouldn't have anything to do with it, and that's why we changed the name as well, to keep their lawyers at bay.

We were in the Binions Horseshoe, shooting it as the interior of the book's Mint Hotel, and we could control 6 tables that were close to camera. So we had our extras there and the rest of the scene was the casino running as normal. But the strange thing was we couldn't use phony money at the tables; we had to gamble with real money, and the dealers are their dealers! So we had a chance of either losing the budget or doubling the budget. That was strange!

Vegas is a truly depressing place, I think. I was there for 5 weeks in all. It just gets to you, it's non-stop. It really is the American Dream, and all of America is there. I don't know what Vegas is because it's a total disconnection from any reality that exists on the planet. Nothing has any meaning, it's all ersatz, everything is pretending to be something but it has no reality. Even the architecture doesn't have meaning — they'll have an Egyptian column on a Romanesque arch. It's just weird; all meaning is removed from everything, even though you think you're seeing things. At New York New York you have all of Manhattan in one city block tied up with a rollercoaster. You walk through Grand Central Station and you descend into a sort of Central Park with all the phony trees, and there's a good Italian restaurant in there called Il Fornaio, and they ask you, 'Do you want to dine in or out tonight, sir?' You can sit inside where's there's a ceiling above you or you can sit 'outside' where there's still a ceiling above you, painted blue. It's just bizarre!

But on the other hand it's a totally democratic place because the people think they own it, they paid for that town — they don't own it, but they're certainly paid for it! And I think there's sort of an awareness of that by everybody walking around there.

The best thing about Vegas is the desert surrounding it which is beautiful; the days we were out in the desert shooting were just wonderful. But the time spent in Vegas itself, it wears you down.

Had you been to Vegas before?

Gilliam: Once, in 1967 on my way out of America, I passed through it.

You were living the book before the book even came out?

Gilliam: That's why I felt one with the book in many ways. It's a book you can actually read a lot, because the more I read it, the more I discover in there. It's such a grab-bag of stuff. Working on the film and getting back and looking at the book again and again, I actually appreciate it more. But I think we're as close to Gonzo filmmaking as the book was Gonzo journalism.

How would you describe Gonzo filmmaking? The process, or the story you tell?

Gilliam: It's a bit of both. Because we were like sharks, we had to keep moving — you can't stop, and there's no looking back, ever. You just have one chance at everything.

Did you ever reshoot scenes?

Gilliam: No, I'm pretty certain. We had a problem with the hitchhiker scene, we didn't get it all done and we had to go back to finish it off, it wasn't a reshoot per se, but basically we just had one go at things and then moved on. When Thompson wrote it, he basically had all these scraps and stuck them together, and in some ways the film is all these scraps stuck together. And on my bad days I wonder whether the whole is in fact greater than the sum of its parts or not, or whether it's that all the individual bits are terrific [but the whole doesn't] add up to something in the same way the book does. I didn't want to be precious about it; I took what I got and tried to make the best out of it, and that was freeing up in many way. On the other hand it was always a bit disturbing, always feeling I'm not really quite getting what I want, whatever it is that I want, which I'm not too certain I know!

Towards the end, Duke plays back incidents and comments on his tape recorder in a jumbled fashion, so bits of scenes are shown fragmented, and seemingly out of context. It's a nice effect.

Gilliam: That was a good gimmick, and it kind of works. We chopped it up even more, after the L.A. screening. There were several flashbacks and we'd cut it down so they're just snatches, and they set up a nice sort of energy.

From the time you were hired onto the project you had a very short pre- production period. Were any of the chief crew members — cinematographer, set designer — already in place or were they all brought on by you?

Gilliam: Everyone was brought on by me. Julie Weiss did the costumes on TWELVE MONKEYS and worked on this one. Alex McDowell the production designer was new. And Nicola Pecorini, the cinematographer, this is his first Hollywood feature film — he did a very low-budget feature in Europe the year before (RHINOCEROS HUNTING IN BUDAPEST). Nicola's energy and his enthusiasm was what was far more important than his credit list. The way we were working, we had to work fast, so it was good to get somebody who, you know, this was his big break, so he works twice as hard as anybody else.

Were special techniques used to create Duke's drug-soaked point of view for the audience?

Gilliam: Strangely enough, we didn't get very clever at all. I shot it in the same way I shot everything else, almost. There's a few different things that were odd, like carpet patterns crawling up people's legs. It's presented a bit matter-of-factly: Oh, just carpet crawling up people's legs! And women turning into moray eels, well, they just turn into moray eels. All of that was done in a straightforward way.

We did little things, like there's a moment where Duke's looking around and we'd print a frame four times, and then skip four frames, and then print the next one down the line four times, so you get a weird kind of jitter. Watching it you can't quite work out what it is, but you know that something isn't right.

And in the scene where's he's spilled acid on the sleeve of his red woolen shirt, we shot it at 96 frames (or four times slower than normal), so the action's moving slowly, but we do these jump cuts, so it's like glitches in time and movement, and that works quite nicely.

The whole film is shot with extremely wide angle lenses and so it all looks disorienting, I'll be honest about it! And the camera is tilted an awful lot of the time, so the horizon is never very level, and the camera floats — a lot of it's done very subtly. And I think it all adds up to a pretty disquieting experience for a lot of people! Unfortunately I've been at it so long it looks normal to me.

The Drudge Report printed some really funny quotes [from preview screenings]. There was 'The most bizarre film ever made,' 'I was sick afterwards,' 'I think somebody might have laced my popcorn with angel dust,' 'It makes the TRAINSPOTTING gang look like aspirin chewers.'

That's going to get the crowds in!

Gilliam: It's kind of interesting that one actually is achieving effectively a drug trip in the course of watching the movie, with all the uppers and downers in it. Both the most manic wonderful stuff and the really depressing stuff. I think the whole film ends up like a very extended drug trip, or a very short drug trip depending what drug you're using! And yet I don't think it's about drugs. There's a side of me that says it's a character piece, that's all it is.

And yet when we were first cutting it, I'd show it to small groups of people, it was so funny to listen to the audience. These small groups of like 20 people are laughing away, especially the guys who had taken drugs before — not before the screening but when they were younger they were more heavily into drugs — they would stop laughing at a certain point, because they get to the downside of the trip. And a couple of people would be in there just ashen-faced, thinking, 'Oh Jesus, oh Crikey.' It gets these very strong reactions, and what to me is going to be the most interesting aspect is the extent of the reactions, and who likes it and who doesn't like it. I don't think there's going to be a middle ground on it

Do you find anyone's reaction to be that they think this is a pro-drug film?

Gilliam: No. It's not that it's pro- or anti-drug, the movie is just showing you both, giving you the whole experience. Then you can decide for yourself what you think of drugs. But I don't think anybody's going to say, 'Wow, that's a pro-drug movie.' Maybe a lot of people will make noises like that, because they will miss the point. I'm not sure what they'll have learned, if anything, especially with the way we end it now. I mean, whatever one is feeling it ends on a high.

As it should!

Gilliam: Wrong word! It's funny because we put the last song is 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' and suddenly the words seemed different to me when I was watching it because when Mick Jagger sings 'It's all right, in fact it's a gas,' it's not such an outrageous anthem — it's almost reassuring you: It's all right, don't worry, it's actually kind of fun. It changes the meaning of the song, at least it did for me.

In the book there were many references to specific songs, like the Jefferson Airplane's 'White Rabbit.' Did you adhere to that when putting together the background score?

Gilliam: Yeah, but unfortunately the one we don't have in the film is the one the book starts out with: 'Sympathy for the Devil.' The real connoisseurs of this book are going to say, 'What? No Rolling Stones?' But we couldn't afford it.

You'd think the Rolling Stones themselves would be fans of the book, and would say, 'Forget paying, use the song!'

Gilliam: But the Rolling Stones don't own their stuff. Allen Klein (the Stones' former manager) owns it, and Allen Klein is a greedy, fat bastard who is trying to charge huge sums of money for this stuff, outrageous sums of money, so we were only able to afford one Rolling Stones song, which we saved for the end. And anyway, using 'Sympathy for the Devil' at the front didn't really do what I wanted it to do. I wanted to start mid-drug, on a high! And so we used Big Brother and the Holding Company (Janis Joplin's first band) and 'One Toke Over The Line.' It's much more crazed!

Interestingly enough what we ended up using throughout the film was stuff like Perry Como singing 'Magic Moment,' and Debbie Reynolds singing 'Tammy.' There's a lot of very ironic songs: there's 'Yummy Yummy Yummy, I've Got Love in My Tummy,' Frank Sinatra singing, 'You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me,' which works really nicely, Wayne Newton singing 'Strangers in the Night,' then there's Tom Jones of course singing 'She's a Lady' and 'It's Not Unusual.' It's a really intriguing mix. It's not just very smart, cool rock songs; it's hard to put your finger on. Then there are a few sequences towards the end when the drugs take hold that Ray Cooper scored. He's been involved with music in my films since TIME BANDITS; he actually did what original music there is in the movie. But they're not written; they're created by hitting things, making noises, playing, and then combining it all.

I don't think music should be a fashion statement in this film. I was talking to somebody the other day about how the '70s have become fashionable now, with BOOGIE NIGHTS and so on, and those films seem to be concentrating on the look of the place; somehow they seem to ignore what was going on, politically especially. And that's not the '70s that interests me.

Can you talk about your work with the supporting actors, like Christina Ricci?

Gilliam: Christina had to do three different days with us. She's an amazing actress. I don't know exactly what's going on inside of her, but she somehow lets you see the stuff! And to play the inner self, on drugs, the state she plays is really good because it's not an obvious drug thing. She's just a very lost girl.

That could be mistaken for the religious fervor her character has.

Gilliam: What you think more about is the fact that she's this real innocent creature that this monster Gonzo has got his claws into. At that moment they are people in the audience who think we're talking pedophilia here, and that of course is the word you can't use these days, so there's a walkout at that point as well. I think the line, 'Shooting the nipples off a 10-foot bull dyke,' we lost a few people at that point! The New Puritans, the ones who want to tell us exactly how we should or shouldn't behave and think, are very offended by language. I think the one word we don't use is 'nigger,' because Hunter never used that word; besides, Quentin Tarantino's got the copyright on that!

And Katherine Helmond is back as a hotel reservations clerk?

Gilliam: Yeah. And once again I stretched her face! [In BRAZIL, Helmond played a woman who submits to outrageously aggressive plastic surgery.] This time is really, really bad what I've done to her! I mean, there are few people that would put up with what I've done to Katherine!

But then all the cast, all the people who did their little stint were quite wondrous. Gary Busey is fantastic, his scene is very strange and a good scene, it's the intermission in the middle of the movie. He plays the highway patrolman. He's really good.

Now that's dangerous: Gary Busey stopping you on the highway.

Gilliam: Yeah, he's really dangerous and I had him ad lib something at the end, which was not written in the book, I think it's very funny. And Cameron Diaz is the blonde TV reporter in the lift that Gonzo becomes obsessed with. Again brilliant, just comes in for a day and does a great performance. Those are the moments that really become enjoyable when you've got good actors turning up all really there to enjoy this thing. They're all there for the right reasons, and they go to work and it's wonderful. 

Hunter's in the film as well. I got him at the Matrix Bar, which is that flashback to the '60s San Francisco, and he's sitting there. It's a funny moment. There's a couple of moments where some people will say they're thrown out of the film by these gags. They're ideas that I think are partly what the film is about, so I do them.

Did Hunter's quasi-participation with the project give you any qualms about your approach? For example, did getting to know him threaten your ability to see the book, and the film, objectively?

Gilliam: Well, having met him, I was trying to actually not get to know him too well because of that very thing. Hunter was almost always in Aspen and that was fine. Faxes would go back and forth occasionally, and there were telephone conversations, but it was too great a responsibility to be too close to him and ruin his book! And he doesn't know anything about the process of making films. He's intelligent and respectful in some strange way, but I felt I had to keep him at bay.

I had never done that before — taking somebody's book and living on his book and trying to turn it into a film. It's kind of an awesome, ugly responsibility, so I didn't want him to get too close to me, or me get too close to him. Johnny had done that; he had captured the character, and I was trying to capture the work.

But strangely enough, during that trip I made to Aspen for the Monty Python reunion in March, I spent an evening with Hunter at his place and I really got to like him that evening. I could afford to like him then, once I was free of the book. The last thing you want is to be earnest about the translation of a book into a film. You've got to approach it in which the spirit that it was written.


Which brings up the credits, which were under dispute. The Writers Guild of America decided that the screenplay credits for your film should read 'by Alex Cox & Tod Davies,' who wrote the version of the script you originally threw out.

Gilliam: Ah, well, they reversed their decision, and we now share the credit with Alex and Tod but we're in first position, so its 'Terry Gilliam & Tony Grisoni and Alex Cox & Tod Davies.'

That's an unusual order. Usually the credits reflect the chronological order in which people worked on a project.

Gilliam: I'm told this hasn't happened before. The problem is that the Writers Guild's arbitration process is obviously very sloppy. They dug up other scripts that were written prior to Alex's, but what's weird is, what we've done is written a 20-some page document showing that Alex wrote less than we did, with a huge amount of supporting evidence — like counting the number of voice-overs compared to what the other scripts had — so basically you've done all the work for them. But to have gone from our having written (as far as their credit arbitration made it seem) nothing to having written the main stuff is a very strange thing.

I think it was a political solution, but it seems to me rather embarrassing for them to determine initially that we weren't worthy of credit at all and then suddenly we're in first position. The funny thing is that Applause Books is publishing a screenplay, but we had to get it going before we knew what the WGA's decision was going to be, and so it's called  Not the Screenplay of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It has a foreword by me about waking up one morning to discover that I hadn't actually written the film I'd been working on for the last year!

I'm still going to resign from the Writer's Guild, I'm going to make noise about it, because I think it's a ridiculous situation — a director who contributes to a screenplay is given less credit, under their rules and calculations, than a writer is given, even if the writer contributes less than the director!

For a detailed look into the differences between Alex Cox and Tod Davies' screenplay of FEAR AND LOATHING and the Terry Gilliam/Tony Grisoni version, click here

The interesting thing on this film was to have done it from start to finish — from scratch — in one year. I'd never done that before; I think that was a good exercise. And I like the fact that I think we've taken chances, and I like the fact I don't know exactly what we've done here. I don't know what it is, and I haven't felt quite like that since BRAZIL. So that may be a good or a bad thing, I'm never sure!

Were their drastic changes in the film during the editing stage?

Gilliam: There's a lot that was in that script that isn't in the finished film. We've done an awful lot of culling in the course of the editing process, and I've even cut out another eight minutes after the screening in L.A. a month ago.

For one thing, we cut the ending. The way we had it before, it really felt like a multiple ending — I think maybe we just did one ending too many! And there was a scene that I really like, but only the editor and I seem to get it.


DUKE enters the DARK, CLUTTERED INTERIOR. Scattered all about the store are BITS OF AMERICANA . . . OLD BARRELS, WAGON WHEELS, WOODEN YOKES. A STUFFED HORSE HANGS FROM THE RAFTERS. The sunlights shafts through high windows. AN OLD MAN is repairing an iron pot-bellied stove near the wooden bar. A NORMAN ROCKWELL PAINTING . .. ONLY REAL.

What'll you have?

DUKE can't quite believe this place -- too good to be true.

Ballantine Ale . . .?

THE PROPRIETOR serves the ale up ice cold. DUKE SMILES AND RELAXES.

Hard to find it served like this anymore.


Where ya comin' from, young man?

Las Vegas.

A great town, that Vegas. I bet you had good luck there. You're the type.

I know. I'm a triple Scorpio.

That's a fine combination. You can't lose.

A LOVELY GIRL appears. Seeing DUKE, she smiles. CAN THIS REALLY BE HIS LUCKY DAY? She approaches him . . . and . . . KISSES THE PROPRIETOR.

(caught off guard ... muttering)
Oh, my God! . . .

(not understanding)
This is my granddaughter.

Don't worry . . .
(Leans forward in confidence)
. . . and I'm actually the District Attorney from Ignoto County. Just another good American like yourself.


Wordlessly, the PROPRIETOR and his GRANDDAUGHTER go to the back of the store - GET ON WITH THEIR WORK - IGNORING DUKE.


DUKE puts some money down on the bar and SLOWLY LEAVES.

Gilliam: Having finally escaped from Vegas, Duke basically ends up making a smart-ass remark in the heart of an innocent place — the real American Dream — and he then walks out ashamed, and drives off. And nobody seemed to get it. Because the film is so twisted along the way, a great majority of people can't accept it as an innocent scene. They read into it all sorts of things, they were misinterpreting it.

And then there's the speech by Timothy Leary towards the end about how a whole generation of acid-heads got it wrong, and it's such a strong speech we decided effectively to just end with that. And it works. I'm sorry that I couldn't make that other scene work for more people.

It's a juggling act because we are not relying on drama or suspense or romance or anything to keep the film going, so [the question becomes], can we keep people interested and entertained enough at each turn? Is there something new and different and surprising coming up that will keep their interest? And it was clear that there were certain areas where it was lagging behind the audience's expectations.

What I think was interesting was it got more laughs than I expected, which is wonderful, but then when it goes dark and twisted, they're not sure what to make of it.

When you see it with a big audience, it's clear that different people are laughing at different things, so the overall effect when you're sitting there [because you hear laughter coming from one person or another throughout] is, 'Boy this has more laughs than any film we've seen in the last 30 years.' But then afterwards they say, 'Well, we were disappointed.' This always happens with my films, so I'm very used to this.

The good thing about it was we got a decent number of walkouts — I was worried that we might not, but we did.

You made your quota?

Gilliam: Yeah, I think we hit our quota, exactly! The decent people realized that it was not for them!


Hunter Thompson himself described the film as a "lonely trumpet call over a lost battlefield." Unfortunately, those critics who didn't like the film were not nearly as eloquent in their assessment of its qualities or faithfulness to the source novel. [Thankfully, only a few writers tried to emulate the gonzo journalism of the novel while penning their reviews.]

The film grossed approximately $11 million in the States; yet, while its gradual rollout in Europe should mean that it will make back its modest cost, the film's disappointing returns in America were saddled onto the already bending back of Universal head Casey Silver, who found himself out of a job by the time MEET JOE BLACK and the sequel to BABE finally landed (with a thud) in theatres in late 1998.

Excerpts from this interview appeared in Flix Magazine (Tokyo), Spring 1999.

For Related Articles on FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS by David Morgan:

  • Script Analysis — Compares the Terry Gilliam/Tony Grisoni screenplay with that by Alex Cox and Tod Davies

  • copyright 1998, 2009 by David Morgan
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