Lily Cole on 'Imaginarium' and the 'Grotesque' Heath Ledger Effect
By Mike Ryan Posted Dec 22nd 2009 03:00PM
You're already well known in the world of modeling. Is there a difference that comes from fame from modeling as opposed to fame from acting? Do you feel you're almost starting over?
I don't even know how it operates, to be honest. Obviously this experience of promoting a film and talking and doing interviews is new to me. I've always avoided interviews when I've been modeling and I would still be avoiding them (laughs) if I had the option.
Well, don't I feel special...
No, no... I mean more the personal basis: Selling magazines to promote the film and that kind of aspect of it. Also, I'm quite happy to be here and I'm proud of it. It's a different beast to my experience of being in a high profile industry, previously, where you do the work and that's it.
Unfortunately there's a negative stigma when a model goes into acting.
Completely. There's a hideous kind of stereotype at the model turned actress that I hate to be a part of. But at the same time I think that most people fall into modeling accidentally when they're very young. I fell into modeling when I was walking down the street when I was 14 and someone asked me; one thing lead to another and it became quite the successful and lucrative career for me. At the same time it was never something I wanted to do with my life; the be all and the end all which is why I've continued to commit to school. And as soon as I had the option to take on an acting project, I took them, and hopefully I can do some more. There's also a naivety and a kind of judgment about what models are in that stereotype which isn't always fair.
Normally this film would just be thought of as another in the long line of great Terry Gilliam films. Now, unfortunately, it's also known for being Heath Ledger's last film. Were you personally prepared for the extra media attention?
No more ready than I was to be confronted with the prospect of someone you know dying; I think that was the biggest shock to the system. The media interest in it, I find is understandable -- I understand why he's a fascinating character and why there is this fascination and, inevitably, a large part of the story of the movie. I also find it very unfortunate and sad that this is such a huge part in the interest in the movie. It's one reason why I don't like doing the interviews so much because there's something grotesque as well having to talk about it. But I understand it; every interview has to ask those questions because it's inevitably part of the story of the film. But it's a weird position to be the sales pitch based on that.
Going from looking forward to promoting the film because you're proud of it to what it's become...
It's a different animal, entirely, yes. And it's a strange thing because it's something that's very personal and emotional and, therefore, strange to become so detached from what you're talking about. To put it in quite practical and... not commercial, but you know what I mean, commercial terms, really.
How much time passed before you found out the film was still going to be finished?
I was in New York and we were supposed to go back and film after a week's break. Obviously, because of what happened, that was postponed. It was kind of up in the air whether we were going to be able to finish it or not. At the time, for me, the tragedy and the grief of what happened overshadowed my concern with the film. And I didn't even know if it was right for us to finish it. It felt so strange to try and go about doing that; I was just dealing with my own stuff.
I would speak with Terry now and again to keep track of what they were thinking of doing. And there was of course the real possibility that we were just going to leave it there and I think, for a lot of us, we thought that maybe we should because it felt like such a strange thing to return to. But Terry made a decision at some point to finish the film --not long after; a few days later -- and once he made that decision it was like, "Okay, how? How do you do that tastefully and how can it creatively work?" When I heard they were going to get three actors to play the part [Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell] and it would all be friends of Heath doing it as a tribute, it felt like such a beautiful and lovely way to go about finishing his work. So it was about a month after he died that we came back together and went about finishing it.
Was there anything outside the imaginarium that still needed to be filmed?
Most of the real world stuff had been filmed.
There was one scene that stood out. All the characters were in the imaginarium and had just come back. Heath's character, Tony, was referred to as being right outside the door trying to get into the room. It seems like that would have been a scene he would have been in.
No, you're right. There were several scenes like that but most of the scenes in the real world have been shot but there are a couple of scenes -- you're right, like that scene -- where he was supposed to be in the scene and obviously he couldn't. So they had to re-write it and they made several script changes to facilitate that. Like Jude's piece in the imaginarium was extended because some of the scenes in the imaginarium were supposed to be in the real world. Because, obviously, they hadn't been shot they moved along his time in the imaginarium so Jude could play all of that.
Was it hard working in front of green screens for the scenes inside the imaginarium?
I kind of liked it, really, in a funny way. London had been so cold and so difficult. Exhilarating, but we had been shooting night shoots in winter in London which is really uncomfortable. And we went from that to doing the green screen which was the middle of the day, nice studio -- it was a lot more of a freeing kind of environment. It was quite interesting to use your imagination after dedicating yourself to a film about imagination. It was like the real test. Can we as actors use our imaginations?
Was it hard building a rapport with Depp, Law and Farrell considering they were all playing the same character? They all have quite different and distinct styles.
It was certainly challenging. Most of my scenes are with Colin and, that alone, he's a wonderful person to do it with and he was so sensitive to the situation and he himself was having a very hard time. He had lost a friend and he was playing his friend. And I was having a really hard time because I was playing the same character and I was playing against the same character and proposing the same relationship -- in a slightly more developed phase of it -- but as if nothing had happened when the cameras are rolling. There was this giant elephant in the room, really, that something tragic had happened. It was a sad and a strange thing to do but he was in the same muddy boat that I was and we worked from it together.
All things considered, the four actors playing one part does work for the film. Were you happy the way it turned out?
When we were filming it, Terry just kept saying, "I don't know if this is going to work but we just need to keep going." They would just try to get over one problem every day and just keep moving and keep going and keep producing this film. They didn't know how and I didn't know how it would all pull together -- especially when you have this big split in the character. I was reading in the press when I did see the film that it does work actually well. The three men do hold such a continuity; it's fits in with the storyline that they come in and they come out. The use of the mask and the use of the imaginarium are kind of clever devices that really facilitate it. And I felt extremely proud having met such a huge obstacle that, creatively, we managed to make it work.
Lily Cole Snapshots
Lily Cole is seen here alongside Heath Ledger in a film still from 'The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.' Click for More Lily Pics >>>
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