- On Chris Marker's "La Jetee" that "Twelve Monkeys"
is ''inspired by''.
TERRY GILLIAM: I've never seen "La Jetee". If I do something based
on something else I make it a principle not to read or see the original:
I'll be intimidated by it, or I'll feel an awesome sense of responsibility.
So I avoid that problem. When I made "Brazil" I'd never read [George
- On the story and its time frame:
TERRY GILLIAM: Well, see, it seems to go from now to maybe thirty-five years
in the future to the First World War to six years ago to... or maybe none
of those things. Maybe it's all in the mad man's mind. Who knows. One of
the things in the script I felt was important was for the audience not to
know much about this man who claims to have come back from the future to
trace down a virus before it mutates and effectively wipes out the human
race on the planet.
*Or* : He may be a mad man who's got a messiah complex. Who knows.
I like the idea of keeping it ambiguous. I think we should try to avoid
defining things precisely. Too many films are packaging the world too neatly
for us, and I don't think the world should be packaged neatly. But hidden
things and unknowns... The more you can encourage that on the screen, the
better for the mental state of the world.
- On creating the visuals -- and finding the right balance for them.
TERRY GILLIAM: The tricky thing is when you get a script, there it is, you
read it, it's complete. How do you interpret it? That's always been my problem.
In past films, it had not been that much of a problem: except for "The
Fisher King," they were my own scripts, and "Fisher King"
was a contemporary story. "Twelve Monkeys", which David and Janet
Peoples wrote, has a lot of fantastic elements in it so I was fighting with
myself on it; how far to go; how far not to go.
In the end I always sort of give up and just go for visual spectacle and
the things that excite me.
If I'm doing scenes where two people are driving along in a car, talking,
they don't get my juices flowing, because there's not much need for me in
that. But when we can create a future world with people living underground,
then they do start flowing and we get... whatever it is we get.
- At the risk of sacrificing the narrative in the process ?
TERRY GILLIAM: That old battle... I think my films never had a narrative
problem. People disagree, but then they're possibly visually illiterate,
certainly cinematically illiterate. Yes, I leap around in time and space.
Yes, I like to confuse things. But I don't actually go out of my way to
do so. Perhaps because the visuals are so... either complex or disturbing
or ironic or bizarre, people get distracted by them and can't see that,
in fact, the story is fairly -- fairly -- straightforward through the piece.
On the other hand, since I am usually drawn to complex stories, within *that*
context, I think I tell the story reasonably clearly.
- On reality and Hollywood films.
TERRY GILLIAM: I think it's very funny to hear "reality" and "Hollywood
films" in the same sentence. Talk about an oxymoron! I think Hollywood's
perception of reality -- which millions of people seem to buy -- is so distorted
and so crazy that I've always had a problem with it. Compared to it, I am
a documentary film-maker: I just put on film what I see around me.
- On "The Human Condom"
TERRY GILLIAM: There was something about the idea that people putting layer
upon layer to protect themselves from a potential infection, end up in a
sense isolating themselves from one another. And I became obsessed with
I went to the dentist while shooting in Philadelphia, and I was amazed by
how obsessed with layers of latex even dentists are. Even the lamp over
one's head had a latex -- had a condom on its handle. So there's all this
latex, sealing people from other things, if not themselves. And so when
it came to doing a suit for the character Bruce Willis plays to come above
ground, I just wanted to do something that was like a human condom.
And Bruce Willis has a very penile-shaped head, which completes the human
- On Bruce Willis's "nakedness".
TERRY GILLIAM: Bruce has got one of the great architectural craniums in
the world! It's just a great, beautiful thing to photograph. It was his
idea to shave his head, and it changed him a lot. It makes him much stronger,
much more dangerous. He looks like a prisoner from a Soviet Gulag. Those
kind of images intrigued me: prisoners of war, prisoners of camps... It
made him kind of naked in a way. In fact, he's very naked in this film.
There's a lot of nude scenes of Bruce Willis and none of Brad Pitt. Or Madeleine
Stowe. Sorry, folks.
And Bruce handles nudity amazingly well. I mean, when you do nude scenes,
everybody is always very nervous and trying to make you feel comfortable,
which of course has the exact opposite result. But Bruce is just very natural
about it. Off with the clothes and on with the work... He's also got a good
- On Brad Pitt.
TERRY GILLIAM: At some point along the way we were looking for Jeffrey and
we met Brad. Brad was very keen to do the part, because it was so unlike
anything he'd ever tried to do before: a fast-talking, wild, crazed person.
I was intrigued by the idea and I always try to cast against type.
We caught Brad at a perfect time in his career, I think, because, you know,
his face has been all over the place. "Sexiest man in America".
And he hates it. He was very bold in saying "I don't want to look like
Brad Pitt" and we went along with it -- and those blue eyes are gone.
They don't even look at us in the same way. We worked very hard at changing
his look. He's no longer the sexiest man in America and it's wonderful.
I think both Brad and Bruce have taken big leaps and they're dangerous leaps.
They could have fallen flat on their face but I think it ended up amazing.
- On the locations.
TERRY GILLIAM: The locations I've used were old disused power stations around
Philadelphia and Baltimore. Nuclear plants, factories, power stations: "cathedrals
of technological progress." I've always had a problem with the belief
that technology was going to solve all of our problems; so I'm drawn to
shooting in those places, particularly for this film, which is about decay
and about nostalgia. These great spaces were considered to be providing
the solution to all of our problems, yet now they're just wasted, lying
there, rotting. And that seemed very much what a lot of the film was about.
About putting your faith in the wrong things.
On the other hand, these places are phenomenal. These big turbines, these
condensers, are extraordinary things! If you were to build a set, you would
never do it that way. And yet these were real things, functioning bits of
technology that provided power for us, and they're more fantastic than any
art director's going to invent.
- On (the city of) Philadelphia
TERRY GILLIAM: Philadelphia really intrigued me because architecturally
it's really interesting, and it has this incredible sense of decay, of something
that failed. What was once the first city of the nation has now just sunk
in some post-industrial malaise. It's a very nice melange of the beautiful
and the bizarre: Beaux Arts monumental, 1930s Art Deco architecture, and
just rotting decay.
- On Breughel, Hieronimus Bosch, and other influences.
TERRY GILLIAM: If I have a visual style it's incredibly eclectic. I've always
been obsessed with viscera, guts of things whether they're physical or mechanical;
showing the inside of things, not just the surface of things. When it comes
to ironic, or disturbing, or surreal images, I rush back to Breughel, to
Bosch, to Magritte, to Max Ernst.
Goya is a favorite because he's always been about the horrors of war. There's
terrible anguish in his stuff, but at the same time incredible humanity.
I'm not fascinated by just the bizarre for the sake of the bizarre. There
has to be a humanistic side, which Breughel, Bosch, Goya all show. They
can see the bizarre side. They can see the tragic and horrific side; yet
there's a sense of humor, and joy, and love of human beings.
- On the ubiquity of television
TERRY GILLIAM: Television seems to be ubiquitous in "Twelve Monkeys".
Every scene has got a television screen in it doing something. It's because
I think television is this awful mirror that we all look into every day,
but it distorts the reflection and I hate it. It trivializes life. Rather
than really enlightening us, it ends up just dragging us down to the lowest,
into the boring and the tedious. And however much you try to resist it,
you begin to believe the world really is that way.
So we've included it in the film. And it shows commercials that are doing
strange things, and cartoons, which works very nicely as a juxtaposition
to some of the scenes that are going on.
- On the Video Ball
TERRY GILLIAM: The video ball is in the Engineering Room where Cole is interrogated.
I'd seen a drawing of a wall with this hard-edged chair just sitting up
there halfway up, and a big round ball just hanging there. I became obsessed
with this image. That's why, when Cole (Bruce Willis) is interrogated, he's
hoisted up to the middle of this wall, and we turned the ball into a thing
with lots of video cameras on it, and it's like a great eyeball that's right
in his face.
Again, I liked the idea of separating people from people. They're facing
him, but there's this video ball between them with their faces on it. Their
eyes, their mouths all talking to him. Again, technology interposes itself
- Is "Twelve Monkeys" darker than "Brazil"?
TERRY GILLIAM: I don't think so. I think it's a tragedy in a strange way
but it's also a love story, and it's about death and resurrection. It's
probably more hopeful.