Terry Gilliam has said that he was being 'thrown' all kinds of A-list stars to lead his murky sci-fi thriller 12 Monkeys, including Tom Cruise, but he turned the Top Gun star down.
Gilliam went with Bruce Willis for the role of time-travelling convict James Cole, but even then, he had some... unusual reservations about Willis too.
Speaking on the occasion of the anniversary of the movie's 5 January 1996 release, Gilliam explained to Inverse that it all came during a period where he was hot property in Hollywood, following the release of the Oscar-winning The Fisher King.
“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.”
Then Bruce Willis was floated, but Gilliam said that he had a specific – and slightly gross – issue with the Die Hard star.
“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',” Gilliam went on. “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 a**hole.”
The movie, inspired by the 1962 sci-fi short La Jetée, and which seems strangely prescient now, tells the story of a virus which wipes out humanity, and the desperate, time-travel-based attempts to find a cure for it.
Gilliam also had concerns about casting Brad Pitt as the manic mental institution patient Jeffrey Goines, he explained.
“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 added. “I was actually scared sh**less that Brad might not be able to do the character because up to then we’d never seen him as a motormouth.”
Pitt spent time researching his role by spending several weeks at the Temple University hospital's psychiatric ward in Philadelphia, where much of the movie was shot.
His work won him an Oscar-nomination for Best Supporting Actor, as well as a Golden Globe.
Gilliam has said in the past that he had his eye on Nick Nolte for the lead role, with Jeff Bridges playing Goines, but the Universal studio objected.
He cast Madeleine Stowe in the role of Dr. Kathryn Railly after being impressed with her performance in the 1994 noir Blink.
Watch: 12 Monkeys writer on COVID-19