The Director's Chair Interviews
A Chat With Terry Gilliam
by Henri Behar
- 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 Orwell's] "1984".
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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