Terry Jones recalls the first time he saw Chapman perform in London, an odd duck playing alongside Cleese and fellow British comedian Bill Oddie.
"I couldn't take my eyes off Graham, because he looked like he'd just walked on off the street, and what was he doing on stage?" Jones said. "John Cleese and Bill Oddie were being funny on stage. Graham was not being funny. He was being serious, and that's why I think he worked so well as King Arthur and Brian. Because John wanted to do Brian, wanted to play Brian, and we persuaded him out of it. Because Graham was, he's just the rock around which everybody else is doing funny performances."
If Chapman seemed like the straight guy, the rock to the other Pythons' zaniness, it was an illusion that held up only in front of the camera. Behind the scenes, Chapman could be notoriously unreliable, boozing and partying and so bad about showing up on time that he became known as "the late Graham Chapman" decades before he died.
"A Liar's Autobiography" chronicles not so much the facts of Chapman's life as his trickster spirit, as a cartoon figure named Graham Chapman works through such issues as his alcoholism, promiscuity and confusion over his sexuality (he eventually decides he's 70 percent gay, based on a survey he did with himself).
Chapman provides the backbone of the animation voices, which the filmmakers culled from recordings he did of his book. Jones, Cleese, Palin and Gilliam added vocals (Idle was too busy, co-director Bill Jones said), making it a reunion of sorts with their dead colleague.
The film includes video of Cleese's notorious eulogy for Chapman, in which he lovingly bid good riddance to the "freeloading bastard."
"Graham would have been very cross if John hadn't said that about him," Terry Jones said.
Bill Jones and co-director Timlett had just come off of making the six-part documentary series "Monty Python: Almost The Truth -- The Lawyers Cut" when the opportunity came their way to do "A Liar's Autobiography." They didn't want to do another Python-related documentary, though, and it suited Chapman's unfathomable spirit to let his life play out in whimsical, free-form animated sequences.
"It's just an appreciation of his twisted humor. Not understanding who the man is or finding out any facts about the man's life, but getting a sense of him and getting at his feelings," Bill Jones said. "I think we're just trying to show the sort of thing he enjoyed, because he is sort of the forgotten Python. He hasn't been around for 23 years."