Twelve Monkeys: From the Evangelist

Edited by Phil Stubbs
On this page are recollections of working on 12 Monkeys, by Thomas Roy, who appeared on screen as The Evangelist.

Thomas Roy is Associate Producer for the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, and he has created more than seventy insane holidays for a periodical entitled Chase's Annual Events (Contemporary Books). Also, Thomas has worked on Saturday Night Live.

Thomas has just started a new business with his partner, Jennifer Sullivan: The Improv Academy. They've started two classes in Central Pennsylvania, and the company has been contracted to teach Improv in Philadelphia.

Thomas Roy with Vanessa Webb as Fortunato and Montressor in Edgar Allan Poe's Cask of Amontillado.

In December of 1994, I was playing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol," at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, when I received a Tuesday phone call from Mike Lemon Casting in Philadelphia to attend an audition for a film called "12 Monkeys," to be directed by Terry Gilliam. The audition was slated for the following Tuesday, and, fortunately, it was a day we were not doing a show, so everything was set. Then, on Wednesday, I noticed that my left eye was acting strangely; it was as though a curtain were being drawn over it.

By the grace of the universe, a doctor friend of mine happened to drop by, and when I told him about my eye, he took a look and picked up the phone. It turns out my retina was detaching. Next morning I was undergoing re-attachment surgery, which was successful, and I was sent home. I was able to perform Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but it was a horrid experience, whacked out on pain killers and decongestants to keep the swelling down, eye-patched, disoriented, but a "trouper" nevertheless.

Came time for the trip to Philadelphia for the audition, and friends were having doubts as to the sanity of that act. But actors do not operate on sanity, so, of course, I went. I entered the casting office, and was taken in to see Mike Lemon and meet Terry Gilliam. I had been called to audition for the part of one of the scientists on the panel who talks to Willis.

Well, it must have been the painkillers, coupled with the months of doing various English accents at the Faire (a Renaissance-era Bishop, the British actor Edmund Kean during our Poe production, as well as Scrooge), so that when I opened my mouth to answer his "How are you, Tom," it was with a definite British response: "Oh, well...I'm quite alright, but my eye, you see, is giving me a bit of a problem. The retina, you see, has detached itself, and I've just had it corrected, and now my entire skull, including nerve endings and muscles, are quite pissed about it. Not to mention the painkillers." He looked at me for a second, then asked, "How long have been over here (in America), Tom?" Mike Lemon laughed, and Terry said, "What's funny?" Mike said, "He's from Philly. He's just been doing so many English characters that it just rolls out."

"Wow," said Terry, "you fooled me; I had you pegged for a middle-class Londoner who learned his upper class dialect at university. Tell you what, I have another part that might be better suited for you. Go outside and get the script for the Street Preacher. Take a look, and come back in when you're ready." So I did, and I got the part, more, I think, because of my eye than my talents. But wait! There's more!

That was in December. Move forward to late February, and the newly-established "12 Monkeys" Production Offices set up at the old Philadelphia Armory. I'd been called down there for a beard-sideburns-and-eyebrow fitting, and, as I'm walking from the check-in office to the make-up trailer, I see Terry coming the other way. Certain that he'll not remember me, I prepare to say nothing. He sees me, and with a big smile and a wave of his hand, says, "Hi, Tom, and how's your eye?" I was astounded. Here's a BIG director, with hundreds of people and thousands of things and millions of dollars on his mind, and he not only remembers a little actor, but the actor's formerly ill EYE as well! That is the mark of a consummate professional, not to mention a gracious and kind person.

So, a couple more weeks go by, and it's time to film my scenes. I arrive at the Met, on North Broad Street, Philadelphia, and I'm sent to my trailer to wait. A few minutes go by, and there's a knock on the door. It's Terry, holding a paper cup in his hand. "Hi, Tom, all set?"


"Comfortable with the line changes?"

"What line changes?" say I.

"You didn't get the line changes. Oh, dear. You'd think, wouldn't you, that in a multi-million dollar operation like this, where there's one person whose sole job it is to make sure actors get line changes, that the actor would actually GET the line changes. Wouldn't you?"

"Yes, one might assume that, but I've been an actor for a lot of years, so nothing surprises me."

"That's the spirit. Look here, I'll go and get the line changes and be right back. Do you need anything?"

"Is there any espresso about?"

He looks at his paper cup and says, "It's half gone, but here you go. I'll bring some fresh." With that he was gone, and I drank from the cup, remembering for some reason Robert Heinlein's "Stranger In A Strange Land," and thinking that now Terry Gilliam and I were "water-brothers," although it was espresso that we shared.

Fifteen minutes later he arrived with fresh espresso and showed me the script changes. "You going to be alright, Tom?"

"Terry, I've just last year performed the role of Undershaft in 'Major Barbara,' so I'm UNASHAMED, besides, I'm getting too old to be afraid."

"Atta boy, Tom. Look, someone will take you to make up and wardrobe, so you'll have time to look over the lines some before we go out to the set. See you later."

He left, and about five minutes passed until a production assistant came for me to take me to make-up. I sat down and was no sooner getting my beard applied when first Madeline Stowe and then Bruce Willis arrived. And what do actors talk about just before a shoot on a major motion picture? Stuff! Real stuff, just like anybody else at work anywhere. We talked about cats. We talked about Madeline's horses out west and how she was worried that something was wrong with their drinking water or maybe their feed. We talked about kids. We NEVER talked about acting or other things that people assume gets talked about, because, for most professional actors, our acting is a craft, much like carpentry or masonry. It is for inside ourselves, not outside.

The make-up and wardrobe done, we were driven, one block, to the North Broad Street site of the Met, a now-ramshackle enormous former pentecostal temple. Willis and Stowe are spirited away to deck chairs under a large umbrella, as the skies are dripping cold rain, and because all the lines in this scene are mine. They only have to cross behind me at the right time. I am ushered over to the sidewalk and to Terry.

He shows me two little sets of railroad track running perpendicular to each other down the sidewalk, and says, "Here you go, Tom. We're going to strap you to this dolly and wheel you down the track while you say your lines, and the camera will follow you on the other track, and you see those barrels behind and in front? They're filled with propane, and we'll be sending ten foot high flames into the air in front and in back of you while we film."

"You're kidding, right?"

"Didn't anyone tell you about this? You'd think in a multi-million dollar production like this...oh...well...are you quite alright, Tom?"

"Like I said, Terry, I'm getting too old to be afraid of anything. Gary Gilmore said, 'Let's do it' when he was about to be executed, so let's do it."

"Yes," he said. "We're UNASHAMED, aren't we?"

We shot the scene twice to get Willis' and Stowe's cross to my lines timed right, and Terry came up and asked, "Tell you what, Tom. This is my favorite shot in the script, so...do you remember still the lines you had ORIGINALLY learned? I'd like now to combine them with the lines we're now using and make the scene twice as long."

It's raining. It's cold. I'm strapped onto a dolly on a railroad track, and there are ten-foot high flames front and back. I'm wearing medieval garb, bearded and dirty, with a crucifix in my hand, and homeless people are shouting 'Amen!' to my script rantings, and he asks if I mind doubling my scene. Does a bear live in the woods?

So, 'neath an umbrella, Gilliam, Willis and I stand with the script supervisor and hand-write the new lines which we then go back and film, twice, and I am done. Terry tells me he might need me in a couple of months to do some voice-looping to be heard before i actually appear on screen, and I drive back home to Lebanon PA.

In April I get the call to go to Baltimore for voice-looping, so I drive to a ramshackle set there and am escorted inside to wait. Coffee in hand, I sit outside a room where they're filming an enormous fight 'twixt Willis and some villain, when I hear Terry yell "Cut," and the whole crew takes a break to re-set lights. Willis comes out to make room for their work, and I notice he heads for a young woman in jeans, sweatshirt, and baseball cap I hadn't noticed standing off in a corner. He hugs and kisses her, and I realize it's Demi Moore. But they're not being movie stars; they're just a husband and wife having real time together, just like the rest of us.

Terry comes out and says, "Hi, Tom, how's your eye? I have the voice loop lines for you, so I'll have one of the guys take you to my trailer to record them." We go to his trailer, and the sound guy holds a Sony cassette recorder mic in front of me, and I record my lines. No big sound studio. No little sound studio. Just a Sony cassette recorder. You'd think in a multi-million dollar project like this....oh, never mind.

New York casting director Toni Roberts once told me, "You know, Tom, you're a kind and generous guy. And kind and generous rises to the top in this business. Sure, there are always a few schmucks who make it, but 99% of the folks at the top are real people, kind people, gracious people. Always remember that."

And I have always remembered that. And Terry Gilliam proves over and over that it's true, one film after another. People want to work with him again and again, not just because of his unique talent and vision, but more I think, because he is a joy as a person, a gracious and kind person who'll ask you about your eye. I know I want to work with him again, and yes, a lot of that is because it'd be work in film, but, and I swear this is true, I felt that I'd made a friend in Terry Gilliam, and I miss him.

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