Terry Gilliam’s “12 Monkeys” 25th anniversary is today, as the film was released nationwide on Jan. 5, 1996. Inverse marked the occasion with an oral history that features Gilliam, screenwriters David Peoples and Janet Peoples, producer Charles Roven, and casting director Margery Simkin. The movie was inspired by Chris Marker’s 1962 short film “La Jetée.”

“12 Monkeys” stars Bruce Willis as James Cole, a convict that is performing back and forth time travel, only to find a cure to a virus that has erased the entire humanity, (nope, not that one, we hope). Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt also star in “12 Monkeys,” but it was the casting of James Cole that proved most important for Gilliam.

“The pressure was to get a movie star in,” Gilliam said. “That was at a time when I was still a hot director, so people wanted to come near me and touch me. So they were coming up with all these names. And I just kept saying no. Tom Cruise, Nic Cage, they were all being thrown at me.”

Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys
Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys

As so things are, Gilliam bounced back Tom Cruise, or anything that looked like such, and Bruce Willis was not his first choice for the James Cole role in “12 Monkeys”. Gilliam confessed to Inverse that Willis’ mouth had a “funny” look.

“I had never been a great fan of Bruce’s before, but I liked talking to him, and I thought, ‘OK, this guy’s smart; he’s funny,’” the director said. “I explained to him my concerns about him as an actor. I hated the Trumpian mouth he does in films. Rectal. It’s like I’m looking at somebody’s asshole.”

Gilliam liked Willis enough after their meeting to cast him, but it turns out Pitt also wanted the role of James Cole. Pitt was instead cast as motor-mouthed mental patient Jeffrey Goines.

Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise

“Brad [Pitt] came to London, and we had dinner because he was keen to get on board to play the part that I had already given to Bruce,” Gilliam said. “I was actually scared shitless that Brad might not be able to do the character because up to then we’d never seen him as a motormouth.”

Head over to Inverse’s website to read the “12 Monkeys” oral history in its entirety.

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