SANTA MONICA, California — When people normally see Verne Troyer, sadness is the farthest thing from their minds. The world's smallest movie star has brought laughter to millions as Mini-Me, the diminutive sidekick to Dr. Evil in the "Austin Powers" films, and reteams with Mike Myers in June for the comedy "The Love Guru."
The drama he most recently finished shooting, however, has grabbed international headlines with its tragic and ultimately inspiring behind-the-scenes story. This week, an emotional Troyer tried to hold back the tears, speaking about his "Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" co-star and friend Heath Ledger.
"I've just got to say thank you to Heath for letting me be a part of his life for that short period of time," Troyer said, thinking back to the day the world first heard about the Oscar nominee's January 22 death. "It's just tragic.
"What happened was that we had just finished filming in London, and I had a scene with Heath, as did Christopher Plummer ... Lily Cole and Andrew Garfield," the actor recalled. "We had all just worked with him and we all flew back. He flew back to New York, I flew back to L.A., and two days or three days after he was in New York was when it happened. I was still recovering from jet lag back in L.A., and I didn't know about it until my manager called me. She wouldn't tell me on the phone. She literally came over and told me. And I just literally broke down."
At that sensitive memory, Troyer had to pause for a moment and request a tissue. But still, he insisted on finishing up the thought.
"He was such a talented actor and just a good person all around," he added. "I couldn't believe it."
Written and directed by legendary filmmaker Terry Gilliam, Troyer admitted that any attempt at summarizing the fantasy world of "Parnassus" would be futile. Still, he gave it his best shot.
"Christopher Plummer plays Doctor Parnassus, and I play Percy. -> My real name is Percival St. Antwon Delatrane III," he grinned. "It's a traveling theater group, and we have an old horse-drawn carriage, and the wagon folds out into a theater with a stage. We travel from town to town. We have a magic mirror that people go into to experience their imaginations, and they have a choice of which direction they want their lives to go. There's one direction where it looks good, but it's actually not good, and then there's [one] that doesn't look good, and that's probably the right path to take."
After Ledger's death, there were concerns that the film could be scrapped and the actor's final scenes lost forever. Then, Troyer remembered, something very special happened.
"We had Johnny Depp, we had Colin Farrell, we had Jude Law come in and do scenes, just to honor Heath," he explained. "[Now], when Heath goes into the mirror, he comes out as another person, and that's where these other actors come in."
As those A-listers helped complete the film, Troyer and many of the other people in the "Parnassus" family devised their own tribute to the "Brokeback Mountain" star. "There was a note that Heath had written his e-mail on and had given it to Holly, who is Terry's daughter and a publicist for the film," he explained. "After his e-mail, he scribbled a heart on it."
Now, that very scribble is inked forever on Troyer's right hand. "A lot of us went and copied that heart and had it tattooed, in remembrance of Heath," he explained, showing off his heartfelt symbol. "We had it copied identical to how he scribbled it. ... [We have it in] various places. I believe Lily got it on the inside of her arm. Holly got it up on the inside of her arm."
As it now stands, "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" is looking like it will survive to give Ledger's legion of heartbroken fans the opportunity to glimpse the last scenes he ever performed before a camera, likely sometime in 2009. Troyer understands why they're eager to experience one last Ledger memory — and will always be happy that he was able to do the same.
"It's a scene where we've just picked up Heath, and he was knocked out, and we put him in the trunk of the carriage and he comes out of the carriage not knowing where he's at," Troyer recalls of his favorite memory of the late actor. "Then I come out of my quarters, which is underneath the wagon, in a drawer that pulls out. ... It was this scene where it's just me and him. He was off-camera [for a while]. It was basically just on me, and I got to react off of him. He helped me get through a scene [where I had to say my name]. I stumbled a couple of times trying to get through it.
"Terry, don't get mad at me," he continued, offering his director an apology. "I have footage, personal footage, of that scene that I took on my camera. And that's something I'm going to treasure for a lifetime.
"Heath meant a lot," Troyer added, "to a lot of people."
Check out everything we've got on "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus."
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