A NOTE ON THE REAL BROTHERS GRIMM
In THE BROTHERS GRIMM, Matt Damon and Heath Ledger star as a fictional Will and Jacob Grimm setting off on an incredible adventure into the dark heart of fairy tales. Though the film does not follow the historical lives of the Brothers Grimm, it remains deeply indebted to the real Brothers Grimm and their tireless belief that stories would always be a vital means of exploring humanity's most compelling fears and undying sense of wonder.
The actual Brothers Grimm - Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm and Wilhelm Carl Grimm - were born one year apart on the cusp of the 19th century in Hanau, Germany. They later moved to a turreted stone house in Steinau, a small city that surrounded a 16th century castle. Following in their lawyer father's footsteps, the nearly inseparable brothers both went on to study law at the University of Marburg. It was there that they first began to collect folk and fairy tales - ancient tales passed down orally from mothers to children and full of rogues and royalty, wolves and witches, stepmothers and servant girls and all manner of magical situations and moral dilemmas. The brothers came at these tales out of their fascination with language, folk history and German culture. In the hopes of preserving a way of life that was under threat, they devoted themselves more and more to discovering, writing and publishing the tales they gathered from German peasants.
In 1812, though they were at the time near destitute, the Grimms published their first book of fairy tales - Children's and Household Tales - and went on to publish more than 200 tales in the coming years. Their endlessly influential collection would ultimately include the stories that would later becoming known as "Cinderella," "Sleeping Beauty," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Hansel & Gretel," "The Frog King," "Snow White," "Rapunzel" and "Rumpelstiltskin." Their final collection, known as Grimm's Fairy Tales, has been translated into an incredible 160 languages.
Today, these stories are an indelible part of pop culture and have been transformed into nearly every form of media - from opera to movies to rock music to fashion. The very style of their writing and structure of their tales has influenced children's literature for well over a century and has had an indelible impact on fantasy filmmaking.
Wilhelm Grimm died in 1859, with his brother following him four years later in 1863 - yet they will continue to live on through the stories that bear their name and the indelible marks they have left on the human imagination.
FROM REAL LIFE TO REEL LIFE
Once upon a time there lived two dashing but diametrically opposed brothers, cynical Will and Jacob the dreamer, who became known far and wide as THE BROTHERS GRIMM. The brothers roamed the land collecting and spreading fairy tales - tales of danger and mystery that to this day enchant and terrify people of all ages with hair-raising stories of magical good battling epic evil and ordinary humans confronting the eternal riddles of monsters, mystical beasts and wicked witches. Indeed, the Brother Grimm brought forth the yarns responsible for some of the world's wildest dreams and darkest nightmares for centuries.
Of course, the Grimm's fairy tales are simply highly entertaining stories that only the gullible and the superstitious believe in - hoaxes of a sort. They're certainly not for real. Or are they? Now, visionary filmmaker Terry Gilliam - who created the unforgettable visual worlds of "Brazil," "Twelve Monkeys" and "The Fisher King" - creates a rip-roaring adventure for the legendary story-telling siblings that will bring them face-to-face with a cursed village in which the most wild and fabled fantasies have become . . . reality. Casting two of today's most charismatic screen stars, Matt Damon and Heath Ledger in roles unlike anything they've done before -- as the brothers who start out as frauds and unwittingly become heroes -- Gilliam combines elements of comedy, fantasy, horror and romance in an epic quest and forges an outrageous adventure inspired by some the best-known tales ever told.
"Fairy tales are my kind of world -- the world of fantasy and extraordinary things," says Terry Gilliam of why he decided to tackle the production of THE BROTHERS GRIMM. "We ended up with a script I really believed in. The idea was that if you could create very real characters in a real world then, when these strange and scary fairy tale elements begin to intrude and take over, the audience will believe in this world completely and have a lot of fun exploring it."
From the start, Gilliam chose to go beyond the factual lives of the Brothers Grimm to create an escapade for them that nevertheless is richly inspired by their smart, frightening and endlessly compelling stories. He explains: "We owe the real Brothers Grimm a lot of thanks for the film but the story isn't about their historical lives. We've basically created a fairy tale about them, in which they, at first, appear to be hip and heroic guys traveling from village to village ridding them of trolls, witches and all kinds of fantastical nightmares -- but we quickly learn it is all a clever con. Meanwhile, Napoleon's Army, which has invaded Germany, is trying to ensnare the brothers and stamp their kind out. But soon they are all caught in a world that is exactly like the tales the Grimms have been collecting. In the end, the fairytales have become real and reality has become entwined with fantasy."
Paying homage to both the grandness and ghoulishness of the Grimm legacy, Gilliam playfully weaves throughout the film's non-stop action recognizable threads from some of the most popular Grimm fairy tales that have been read and loved around the world. "Red Riding Hood, Hansel & Gretel, Rapunzel - there are references throughout the movie to those Grimm fairy tales that are most familiar to the audience," the director notes. "Although there are actually several hundred Grimm fairy tales, we wanted to stay with the ones that really resonate in people's imaginations."
Most of all, the film celebrates the very spirit of these dark stories- with their high-octane, psychologically suspenseful mix of contrasting magic and fear, wonder and vengeance, comic enchantment and blood-curdling evil. "Fairy tales have always been the way the world exercises its fears and its darkest imaginings and, also the way it sustains its belief in happy endings," Gilliam observes. "I believe fairy tales were always meant to be a little dangerous and disturbing, to stir things up. Perhaps the idea is that if you survive through enough fairy tales, you're prepared for the real world."
The true Brothers Grimm had a similar belief about the undeniable power and entertainment value of these tales. Living in the tumult of 19th Century Germany, they were immersed in a time when superstition and mythology were batting it out with rationalism and modern ideas. It was a time of radical changes in the previously remote and primal German countryside, as the Napoleonic Army invaded Germany - bringing with it the reason-based beliefs of the Age of Enlightenment. When Enlightenment collided with a way of life based on myth and ancient stories, sparks flew - and it was this incendiary conflict that Gilliam hoped to capture on screen as the Brothers Grimm head to the village of Marbaden believing more in hoaxes than in horses that can swallow children.
"I was very interested in the great conflict between the belief in fantasy and the ideas of the Enlightenment, which actually became quite rigid in its own lack of belief in anything mysterious," notes Gilliam. "We made that a real part of the story. And of course the conflict goes on today."
Also at the heart of the story are the bonds that can tie brothers together - and sometimes tear them apart. Will and Jacob Grimm are entirely opposite in their personalities and philosophies, yet when they arrive in the cursed village of Marbaden, their mutual attraction for the same woman soon complicates the already spooky proceedings.
"These are two brothers who clearly love each other and also despise one another at times and they have a very intense sort of brotherly relationship," Gilliam observes. "Will is the charmer - he walks into the room, the girls look to him and he can have anything he wants. Jake on the other hand is caught up in this belief in storybook princesses and is searching for the ultimate romance. And Lena Headey, who plays the trapper Angelika, is the perfect for the two brothers."
Most of all THE BROTHERS GRIMM was a chance for Gilliam to delve into the darkest depths of his own imagination to bring to life a pitch-black, humor-laden universe woven of menacing forests, looming castles, lurking wolves and cryptic beasts with his trademark cinematic originality and flourish. The concept was to create an initial raw, 19th century reality for the Grimms - and then warp it into a surreal dream world from which they cannot seem to escape.
"We realized from the beginning that in order to have the film truly look like a fairy tale that we couldn't shoot it in a real forest or a real village because nothing quite like it existed -- we were going to have to build it all. So we created nearly everything from scratch, built castles and barns, brought an entire forest of trees into a soundstage, trained ravens and horses, crafted hundreds of models - and it was by far the largest production which I've ever done," sums up Gilliam.
A CHARISMATIC PAIR OF GRIMMS: MATT DAMON AND HEATH LEDGER AS WILL AND JACOB
The thrilling quest of THE BROTHERS GRIMM starts with the comical and compelling brothers themselves - one, a hard-nosed, savvy con artist trying to make a living in the hard times of Germany under Napoleonic invasion; the other, a wide-eyed dreamer who still believes in a magic fables and happily ever after. Both will have their beliefs tested as they head into the cursed village of Marbaden. To bring their adventure to life in a larger-than-life way, Terry Gilliam sought out two accomplished actors who he hoped would surprise him in every way.
"Matt and Heath were obviously the heart of the movie for me," explains Gilliam, "but at first I thought Matt would play Jake because he's usually more of an introspective and sensitive character and Heath would play Will because he's usually cast as the straight-ahead hero. But then Matt came into our first meeting and said he wanted to play Will. I wasn't sure about it at first, but then Heath came to me and said 'Well, I'd like to play Jake.' And then I realized that this was absolutely the right thing because I love to cast against type and turn things completely around. And it worked because they are both very surprising in these roles and it's not what you've seen before from either one."
Gilliam continues: "I've never seen anyone work as hard as Matt did to become a character so unlike who he really is, and also so unlike any character he's played before. His entire bearing is completely different and I hope the audience will respond with the same excitement that I did to it. And Heath is someone who the world is used to seeing as a more conventional hero but here you see that he also has another kind of nervous, quiet side to him that's very intriguing. Like Matt, he simply wouldn't give up until he got the role right. They were both very impressive."
Matt Damon jumped at the chance to work with Gilliam. "I think every actor wants to work with Terry, he's so visually creative and so passionate about everything he does," he says. "And to be handed such incredible material as THE BROTHERS GRIMM on top of that was a godsend. I thought it was very dark and very funny and it's not at all like anything I've done before. It's a fairy tale, of course, but it's also got elements of a quest movie, of an action-adventure, of horror, of comedy and even romance."
The fictionalized character of Will Grimm, a smart and cynical trickster who is unprepared for a world in which fairy tale situations become real, instantly intrigued Damon. "Will's pretty much in the storytelling business for the financial gain and fame," Damon observes. "And as a result, he is very unwilling to believe that forests can really be enchanted. He thinks there has to be some kind of a scam involved and it takes his brother to get him to see that there are things in this world that can't be explained, that are simply and truly magical."
He also was quite taken with the way the brothers' relationship shifts as they encounter the mystifying events that unfold in the village of Marbaden. "I have a brother myself and was struck by how the script seemed to offer a really honest treatment of a sibling relationship, and how the dynamic between Will and Jacob is constantly in flux and changing, which is the way it really is between brothers."
To further seal that ineffable fraternal bond, Damon and Ledger spent hours hanging out with one another on the set. Comments Damon: "We simply spent a lot of time talking and having beers at the end of the day - because that's the sort of stuff that really creates an authentic feeling of brotherhood."
Though Damon read up on the life and times of the true Brothers Grimm to prepare for the movie, he quickly realized that his character was a departure from the historical figure of Wilhelm. "The real Grimm Brothers were amazing German scholars and incredible patriots who collected these stories so that the German people could be proud of their folk history and not believe that it was as barbaric as they were being told," he notes. "They were pretty incredible people who were quite influential in many different ways - and they worked together until the end of their lives. But obviously, their autobiography is an entirely different story than this adventure. This movie takes a much more fun and lighthearted angle on who they were to get deeper inside the essence of fairy tales they made so famous."
Like Damon, Heath Ledger was instantly enchanted by the prospect of working with Gilliam. "I've always thought he has a brilliant mind," says the actor. "He elevated this project to a whole other level and he inspired us - inspired this kind of eccentric, daring quality out of everyone involved in the film. The whole production felt very new and different and fun."
Especially new and different for Ledger was the personality of Jacob Grimm, the twitchy storyteller who finds that the enchanted worlds he has always secretly believed in really exist. "This role was a real opportunity to leap out of my skin," Ledger says. "It's a comic role and Terry gave me the gift of allowing me to feel comfortable and free enough to go to extremes and really express myself. I had the time of my life doing it."
FROM OFFICERS TO SORCERERS: AN ALL-STAR CAST JOINS THE BROTHERS GRIMM
Surrounding Will and Jacob Grimm on their journey are an assortment of remarkable characters - ranging from political buffoons to ravishing backwoods trappers to chillingly wicked witches - for whom Gilliam assembled an all-star cast made up of some of theatre and cinema's most gifted actors
Reuniting with Terry Gilliam after memorable roles in Gilliam's classics "Brazil" and "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen's," is two-time Tony Award winner Jonathan Pryce, playing the key role of General Delatombe, the French governor who has imposed his imperious rule on the German countryside where The Brothers Grimm have been plying their so-far fraudulent trade in demon hunting and exorcisms.
After reading the script for THE BROTHERS GRIMM, Pryce was convinced that this story that probes the very nature of what is scary, funny and unforgettable in storytelling, was perfect Gilliam territory. "I think everybody who read the script felt that this was a natural Terry Gilliam film, because it's a big, big picture filled with all kind of invention and it involves all the subjects that have always interested Terry: magic, the supernatural and the whole notion of story-telling," says Pryce. "The film was filled with the kind of larger-than-life images that Terry can create - but it's also a little different for him because it's the most purely fantastical adventure he's ever done."
In taking on the role of the somewhat dastardly Delatombe, Pryce brought his trademark theatricality to it. "I think Terry's joy in employing people like me and Peter Stormare, who come from a theatrical background, is that we're fairly fearless in not worrying about going-over-the-top," he notes. "And we trusted in Terry to pull us back from that brink. Still, his two main directions on this film were always pretty much the same: funnier and darker."
Pryce describes his uptight character as having four main interests in life: "Delatombe is interested in repressing the people, suppressing the people, and in finding a very good meal," he laughs. "And then of course he is also interested in keeping tabs on those pesky Grimms - which is what leads us all into this incredible and unexpected adventure."
Pryce's Delatombe also has a most unusual sidekick - the hilariously and ineptly heinous henchman who hails from Parma, Italy: Cavaldi. Playing Cavaldi is Peter Stormare, the Swedish born actor who began his career on the stage under the direction of Ingmar Bergman and moved on to appear in some of Hollywood's most acclaimed films of recent years.
Stormare grew up on Grimm in his native Scandinavia - and knew right away that Terry Gilliam could bring them to life as no one else ever had. "The real Grimm fairy tales have a darkness and a mischievousness that kids both love and fear and no one has really captured that on screen. Terry has that trend-setting Monty Python humor, that dark, sharp, witty humor, and when you put that together with the Grimm tales it's a great mix," he says. "I knew it would be really fascinating to take part in this world and the role of Cavaldi is a great one."
Stormare continues: "I especially liked that the story is about how people become ensnared and entrapped in the stories they tell, by their own myths and legends."
Cavaldi himself soon becomes wrapped up in the Grimm's enchanted tales, despite his assignment to extract the truth from them with his monstrously malevolent, yet decidedly ineffective, wickedly engineered machinery. Stormare developed a great affection for the unusual character that has built a tremendously inventive chamber of horrors that, despite its devilish looks, has a bark far worse than its bite. Though he is one of the film's most dodgy characters, Cavaldi also brings in some of the film's most playful black comedy.
"Cavaldi is a great character because he has all the elements of a living human being. He's not simply evil and he's certainly not just good," the actor comments. "He can be funny, he can be moving, he can be mysterious and he can be brutal. Terry explained him as being like this demon who torments and inspires the Brothers Grimm throughout their quest."
The role also gave Stormare a chance to work closely with Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, which he describes as a unique pleasure. "I've worked with a lot of great actors, but I've never met two more devoted young stars than Matt and Heath. They both really had to have a lot of guts to come into this world that is entirely unlike reality."
Matt Damon got a particular kick out of Stormare's performance as Cavaldi. "Cavaldi is such a funny, funny character," he says. "He's supposed to be this famous interrogation artist from Italy, but he also has a lot of fear inside himself. He's someone who is all at once hilarious and dangerous -- and Peter rides that balance extremely well."
Adds Terry Gilliam: "Cavaldi is a villain but he's in the vein of a comical villain and he eventually turns out to be very heroic, in fact. The key was not to make him so buffoonish that he wouldn't be threatening and also not to make him so awful that he couldn't be funny. Being a brilliant actor, Peter loved the challenge. He's expansive, he's theatrical and he's outrageous. And together, Peter and Jonathan Pryce make for a wonderful act."
THE BROTHERS GRIMM also offers a stunning romantic beauty who cannot be resisted and an eternally evil sorceress who must be defeated. Playing the ravishing local tracker Angelika is rising young British actress Lena Headey, while the 500 year-old Mirror Queen is portrayed by international screen sensation Monica Bellucci.
Terry Gilliam was particularly taken with the character of Angelika as an alluring loner and a woman ahead of her time. "In many ways, she's sort of the first liberated woman in her village. No woman has ever left before and she's not only gone off, but also gone to the University in the city. She's sort of caught between these two worlds - on the one hand she's used to a certain kind of practical reality and on the other she's convinced that she lives in a world that is absolutely, undeniably cursed," he explains. "The actress playing her had to be not just beautiful but also tough and independent - and Lena brings that very strong presence to it. It's also a very physical part because she rides, she shoots arrows, and she has to have the aura of this strange mystery woman who refuses to play by the Grimm's rules."
Lena Headey especially enjoyed being the kind of woman who's willing to take on the boys, in this case the Brothers Grimm. "She's a savvy country girl and she thinks Will and Jacob are a pair of fools from the city who believe they can waltz in with their educated ways and clear this whole supernatural business up," she explains. "But then everything goes crazy."
Meanwhile, Angelika unwittingly drives a wedge between the brothers who both begin to fall for her primal charms. "I think Will and Jacob are curious about Angelika and she's equally curious about them," Headey observes. "She highlights something different in each of them and then Will and Jacob begin to see something different in one another and that causes all kinds of trouble."
Despite her character's skepticism about the Brothers Grimm, Lena Headey couldn't have been more pleased about the chance to form a romantic triangle with Matt Damon and Heath Ledger. "They're absolutely gorgeous and I was very happy," she laughs.
Most of all, Headey enjoyed the chance to go beyond the normal boundaries of reality. "It's just so great to be able to go completely into that world you believed in as a kid," she says. "I used to read the Grimm's tales when I was a child, so it's really cool to suddenly be inside of one. And the way that Terry Gilliam and the crew have created it, it's sort of like how you would see a dream, yet clearer and funnier and even spookier."
Finally, in one of the most enchanting roles of them all, Monica Bellucci takes on Marbaden's own fantastically wicked witch: The Mirror Queen, the 500 year-old immortal ruler who will stop at nothing to attain the eternal beauty that eludes her. Bellucci couldn't resist either the role or the film. "I'm a big fan of Terry Gilliam and have loved all his films," she says. "It's also a great cast with these two very strong and funny actors, Matt and Heath, as the Brothers Grimm. And most of all I love that it takes place in a fantasy world of monsters, witches and wicked queens."
Bellucci was not afraid to dive into the darkest of dark sides for the role. She continues: "Playing an evil queen, I felt that there can be so many nuances. I didn't want to play her as simply mean but rather as someone whose fate has become quite sad. She's going to live forever but little by little she's becoming old and decrepit - so there's something very tragic about her and that's part of what interested me."
Bellucci found her character to have many real elements, despite her magical nature. "I think many women would be ready to cast a spell to gain eternal youth and beauty," she notes. "I think that's one of the wonderful things about the Grimm stories- sometimes it is through feats of imagination that you can best see reality."
THE LOOK OF GRIMM: ABOUT THE FILM'S DESIGN
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS: TERRY GILLIAM (Director); EHREN KRUGER (Writer)