With all the fuss about Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning role as the Joker in The Dark Knight, it's easy to forget that the masterful performance wasn't his last. But the joke may be on fans who want to see the final frames of Ledger's career.
Ledger died on Jan. 22, 2008, in the middle of shooting Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, a fantasy about a travelling theater troupe. Ledger starred as a con man named Tony. Rather than let Ledger's death end the production, Gilliam completed the film using Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell to play different incarnations of the character. But even after all that, the film still has some obstacles to overcome before it can hit the big screen.
Parnassus, a $30 million production, has yet to land a distribution deal, perhaps out of studios' fear that the surrealistic film won't find a wide audience, according to Entertainment Weekly. While executives agree Ledger would be a major draw, many are waiting to see the film before committing. Gilliam won't screen his work until April, when the final cut is finished.
Though Gilliam's had a run of bad luck in Hollywood — he failed to get two versions of Watchmen off the ground and The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was derailed after only six days of shooting — he isn't worried about Parnassus' future just yet.
''I think people are going to be astonished when they see the film, and there will be a rush to want it,'' he said. ''So I'm happy to wait. Nobody came forward at the right time — and now it's going to cost them.''
But Gilliam wasn't always so optimistic about the film's chances — he admitted that he considered shutting the film down after Ledger's death, another casualty of the "Gilliam curse."
"We were in deep s---,'' he said. ''For me, it was like, 'Let's just close up shop here, because without Heath I don't want to continue.' He was so central. But everyone just kept beating me up, saying, 'No, you have to keep going for Heath.'"
Gilliam believes Ledger's performance will ensure the movie makes it to fans.
"'We would just sit back and say, 'Jesus, look at what he's doing!''' Gilliam said. ''Normally I don't encourage much ad-libbing, but with Heath, I just let him run. He was coming up with lines that were astonishing — bing, bang, bong! He was an extraordinary force.
"There's a prescience about the film that's quite interesting," Gilliam said. "There are lines you can't believe were written before Heath died. There are going to be a few gasps. I can guarantee gasps.''
How eager are you to see Ledger in his final role?