Director Terry Gilliam says he was initially hesitant to cast Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys, calling the actor’s mouth “rectal” to look at on screen.
Director Terry Gilliam says he was initially hesitant to cast Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys, calling the actor’s mouth “rectal” to look at on-screen. The 1995 dystopian thriller starred Willis as James Cole, a man sent back in time to prevent a virus from wiping out most of the world’s population. The movie also starred Madeleine Stowe as Dr. Kathryn Railly, and Brad Pitt as Jeffrey Goines, a side role that is considered to be the first time he threw off the shackles of his movie-star good looks and flexed his acting muscles.
Gilliam, who first found fame as one of the members of Monty Python, directed 12 Monkeys from a script by David and Janet Peoples. The movie was based on the 1962 French short film La Jetee, which told a similar story using almost all still images. 12 Monkeys was a box office and critical success, attracting acclaim for its strong performances and interesting, convoluted plot. A TV reboot of the movie was produced by Syfy and ran for four seasons, helping to continue the film’s legacy beyond its strong initial reception.
As part of an extensive oral history of 12 Monkeys, published by Inverse, Gilliam recalled the movie’s casting process. He reveals that he didn’t want Willis for the role at first because the actor made his mouth look “rectal” when acting. The director says it always felt like he was “looking at somebody’s a–hole” when watching him on screen, even comparing his mouth to that of outgoing US President Donald Trump. He says, though, that Willis won him over because he was smart and funny. You can read Gilliam’s full comments below:
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.” 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’s description of Willis is terrible, but the outspoken director is not known for mincing his words, having said he hated Black Panther recently and previously criticizing the Alien franchise. Hopefully, he had enough tact not to use the term to Willis’ face. Despite his harsh words, Gilliam clearly liked Willis for the role, revealing he’d turned down the likes of Tom Cruise and Nicolas Cage for the lead.
The decision turned out to be the correct one, with both Willis and Pitt putting in near career-best performances for Gilliam, sacrificing their Hollywood personas to get down and dirty in roles that weren’t very glorious. As a result, 12 Monkeys is still regarded as a great movie and is one of the best films in both the time travel and post-apocalyptic thriller genres.
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