Dreams: Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys interview from The Big Breakfast

Edited by Phil Stubbs

The Big Breakfast was a daily television programme screened from 7am to 9am each weekday on UK's Channel Four. On Thursday 18 April 1996, the show was hosted by Mark Little (whom Aussie soap Neighbours fans will remember as battleaxe Mrs Mangel's son Joe) and Gillian Taylforth (whom Britsoap fans will recognise as Kathy Mitchell). At 8am, Mark and Gillian introduced the items in the show for the next hour and introduced Terry Gilliam. However, Terry was nowhere to be seen, but the camera started to wobble with a banana placed immediately in front of the lens. The camera then moved very close to Mark's left cheek from a low angle, and Mark expressed concern about the direction of the show.

A cut to the control room revealed that Terry Gilliam was himself directing the programme. Terry ordered one of the cameras to peer into Gillian's mouth. After various bits of confusion, Terry cut to the news.

After the news, Mark, Gillian and Terry reviewed the morning's papers in a garden underneath a blanket. Later in the show there were two interviews of Terry, both in a pink bed floating in a nearby canal...
Gillian Taylforth: Thankyou Mark thankyou. Yes, this morning we're doing lots of things we've never done on this show before like interviewing one of America's top film directors...
Terry Gilliam: Sleepiest!
GT: ...on a bed floating in our canal. And here he is, a surreal genius behind Monty Python's Holy Grail, Brazil and the new smash hit 12 Monkeys. Terry Gilliam welcome welcome welcome to The Big Breakfast. [Cheers from small audience gathered around the canal]
TG: I thought it was going to be the two of us and not this crowd watching. I was promised big things here.
GT: You just said to me this is the casting couch. Now what do you think of it then - this is brilliant isn't it.
TG: This is excellent.
GT: This is the first time they've ever done this on this show.
TG: It's also the most placid moment in the show too. I'm actually enjoying it. The rest is so frenzied.
GT: Oh that's brilliant.
TG: It's quiet - just you and me... and ten others.
GT: Well if it sinks then you know you've done your big bit for The Big Breakfast because this is the first time... Now don't worry about falling in 'cos we have got we have got a frogman somewhere round - oh he's there. There's the frogman. [Frogman waves from the canal]
TG: Perfectly safe.
GT: We're alright, we'll be alright then.
TG: He's the one that's in trouble.
GT: Exactly, if we fall on him. 12 Monkeys - 12 Monkeys it took sixty million dollars at the box office in just the first three months. Were you surprised about that?
TG: Yeah it's been kind of a surprise I mean admittedly we got Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt in it but it had all the possibilities of failing because neither of those actors are doing what their fans expect them to do.
GT: Exactly, yeah, yeah.
TG: And it's been amazing in fact what's extraordinary - it's been playing in Germany for three weeks - it opened the same day as Toy Story and for three weeks we've been number one beating Toy Story which is basically impossible.
GT: Really, that's brilliant.
TG: It seems to be working everywhere - it's nice. Maybe the audience is as intelligent as I think they are as opposed to what Hollywood thinks they are.
GT: That's true. Why the name 12 Monkeys - where did that come from?
TG: That was just - it was there. What it reminds me of is Thirty-Nine Steps - the Hitchcock film.
GT: Oh I love that.
TG: It may be a red herring but we're not gonna tell this to the public but there's an army, a group called the Army of the 12 Monkeys that apparently release a virus that killed five billion people in 1996 and 1997. So we don't have much time!
GT: Now we're all dying to find out here 'cos you're going to be talking to Mark a little bit later about the film. But just tell us, the girls want to know and I want to know what's it like. Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis working together and what were they like? Dish it, dish it, come on Tel, dish it.
TG: Firm buttocks, that kind of thing?
GT: How did you get on with them? They're both powerful people.
TG: Because what was interesting in this one is that they're both trying to prove something. They were trying to escape from the traps that they both find themselves in. They're both big superstars and they're being neatly categorised and Bruce does action and Brad does blue-eyed bimbo stuff. And they've done the opposite. Brad becomes this incredibly manic funny funny fast-talking character and Bruce becomes very internalised and very vulnerable. It's kind of amazing. I think what was nice was the days they worked together because...
GT: I was going to ask you how did they get on?
TG: ...Bruce was like the old gunfighter. Brad was the new kid in town so Bruce was very fatherly rather than becoming competitive, it was just the opposite. They really supported each other. Bruce was always around and he was saying 'I've been through all this stuff before'. I'd reached the point when we started Brad had just sort of exploded everywhere - he couldn't even walk out into his back garden because there was six hundred mil lens on him. I kept trying to encourage him to do really awful things with animals so he'd do something so appalling they would never photograph him again.
GT: That's a great idea. I'll try that one. Now the premiere is tomorrow night and you're taking your children with you aren't you?
TG: It's actually tonight is the premiere.
GT: Tonight sorry Thursday.
TG: My daughters are coming Amy and Holly and I think Holly's going to make a film of the premiere of the party to be shown tomorrow.
GT: Oh wonderful. We're going to show that on The Big Breakfast tomorrow?
TG: That's what they promised, yeah.
GT: Oh brilliant.
TG: So it's nice.
GT: Are you looking forward to it? I'm dying for it when it comes out here, I really am.
TG: I think what's nice I was on a show the other day the people talking about it they said that when they left the cinema they cried for a very long time, I know it's very...
GT: Hello?
TG: Hello? But it is a comedy, folks, but it failed so badly as a comedy they were crying.
GT: Terry thanks ever so much - see you later on in the show. Coming up after the break our competition: Old Dear What Can The Chatter Be?

Mark Little: I'm here with Terry Gilliam on the lilo of love.
Terry Gilliam: Thankyou.
ML: A couple of modern men now here.
TG: Exactly, there's nothing to be ashamed of in this world. Mark has revealed to me that in fact he is not a TV presenter but an actor in disguise. Clearly this is the casting couch that he's dreamed of all his life.
ML: Yes so Terry. What's the next one that's coming up about - about some private eye?
TG: Yes that's right. Men being men together.
ML: Men being men together - this is not a bad start, is it?
TG: No, no, no, this is the beginning of a wonderful thing.
ML: You have worked with some of the big names in the business.
TG: Yeah.
ML:We're talking de Niro, Robin Williams, Braddy Pitt.
TG: Braddy Pitt?
ML: Plitt?
TG: Well actually Braddy Pritt, somebody said yesterday. The non-stick sticky stuff, as he's known in the trade [Giggles]
ML: Who was your favourite?
TG: I don't know... I mean...
ML: As a worker.
TG: Robin is the most fun because Robin is just great. In the middle of the night - we're doing a night shoot and suddenly at three in the morning when everybody is falling asleep, Robin'll put on a show and he'll include the entire crew in it. That's a great thing. That's really important. I dunno. It's very hard because most of the people I work with, because I'm careful who I choose to work with, it's always been fun because I don't want to work with the nightmares. I don't want to work with those kind of people and so people that get on board my projects know it's going to be a rough go and they've gotta be good. It's like we're climbing a mountain and it's like getting an expedition together and you gotta be with people you're going to enjoy being with for months so... Brad, Bruce and Madeleine they sort of were just great. You think big stars and all of that nonsense. It wasn't like that I mean they're just good workers.
ML: And so how long between each project do you leave?
TG: After Fisher King with Robin and Jeff Bridges, it was four and a half years until I did this one but in a sense it was my own fault for becoming incredibly greedy because it was a successful film and suddenly all these offers were there and I kept running from one to another and never focussing properly and finally after four years I thought it's time to get behind the cameras to see if I know how to make movies anymore.
ML: And what was it about the 12 Monkeys?
TG: It's just so intelligent and different. It's one of those scripts you read. Wow! Because it was complicated. It was actually full of ideas that I wish I had written. I felt very comfortable I knew the characters I knew the ideas but it was done by David and Janet Peoples. David wrote Blade Runner and Unforgiven so it had a good pedigree. And here was this project. It seemed very unlikely 'cos it came from the, through the studios. I said this is not the kind of film that normally gets through Hollywood so let's help it continue on its journey.
ML: You do that well though - you tend to be able to sneak under the wire somehow.
TG: I've got them quite confused. They don't know exactly who I am or what I am. They see me as some exotic troublemaker. There always seems to be somebody out in Hollywood that wants to be the brave and bold producer who can tame the beast at last.
ML: And Hollywood - how is that as a place to work at?
TG: A hateful place. It really is. That's why I don't work there. I live in London and this film we did in Philadelphia and Baltimore. But I basically go out there with a bag and tell them to fill it up with money and then I run away as fast as possible. The problem is every... it's like a little village out there. Everybody at any moment is thinking the same thought. They know what works and what doesn't work. It's a very, very limited view of what's possible so I prefer to stay away from it.
ML: cos like the film The Player it comes across as a back biting sort of a place?
TG: Yes I think so cos there's there's a lot of money to be made so there's a lot of desperate and nasty people out there and you meet somebody who's half-way normal and you think he's a saint. But in the rest of the world he'd be just a regular guy. It's a strange place because everybody they start wanting to make films. They all start with great ambitions and great ideals and then little by little they're dragged down and...
ML: It's up to you as a director of an American movie to keep them on board. Do you have to chuck a strop every now and then?
TG: Not really I mean in this instance you know both Bruce and Brad were trying to escape from their success so I had two guys who were really keen to prove something, so they were very brave and bold.
ML: ...in the acting stakes?
TG: Yes that's right.
ML: Were they your choice? Or were they sort of thrust upon you?
TG: What happened at one point early on I didn't wanna do a film with big stars 'cos I'm fearful of all the nonsense that goes on with them and the studio wanted a star. I actually walked away from the project when they started mentioning people named Tom. And then they mentioned Bruce and I'd met him on Fisher King and I really liked him, so we had a long talk and we both seemed to have the same idea of what were trying to do... and Bingo!
ML: I know you as one of the Pythons as well.
TG: A fool.
ML: The fool in the background. But also the animator as well. Working with those guys was that hard work, was that fun work?
TG: I mean it's not very often that you get into the position where six people get to do exactly what they want I mean there was no producer telling us what we could and couldn't do. There were no marketing executives talking about the audience and audience figures. It was just the six of us making each other laugh and it's hard work to churn it out... you had to churn it out constantly.
ML: Yeah yeah do you still keep in touch with them?
TG: Yes we're all very close.
ML: Anything you want to say to John or Michael or any of the lads?
TG: John good luck on the rewrites for A Fish Called Wanda 2. I think it's called Death Fish.
ML: Fierce Creatures.
TG: Death Fish is a better title John. Stick with your first impulse!
ML: Wonderful to meet you. Good luck with the next one. Give us a kiss.
TG: Oh, Showbiz crept in there.
ML: Thanks Terry.

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