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12 Monkeys is a time-traveling sci-fi flick that revolves around visitor from the future James Cole, played by Bruce Willis, and mental patient Jeffrey Goines, played by Brad Pitt. Even though the film went on to be a critical and financial success, and even netted an Academy Award nomination, Willis wasn’t director Terry Gilliam's first or even second choice to lead the movie.
In an alternate timeline, there could have been some other big names of the '90s in his place. The director recently revealed that he had his pick of the litter when it came to choosing a lead for 12 Monkeys, and he turned down some serious A-list talent. In Terry Gilliam's words:
The pressure was to get a movie star in. 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.
While celebrating the 25th anniversary of the 12 Monkeys premier with Inverse, Terry Gilliam discussed his difficulties in selecting a suitable lead for the film. After turning down both Tom Cruise and Nic Cage (in the mid ‘90s, no less) Gilliam struggled to find someone who fit the bill of James Cole. The decision to go with Bruce Willis didn’t come easily, according to Terry Gilliam. He explained:
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.
Despite the director's oral fixation, Bruce Willis was eventually hired for the part, but the casting issues didn’t end there. The 12 Monkeys lead issue was complicated even further, as Brad Pitt also wanted the role of James Cole, but only after Bruce Willis had been signed on. This left Terry Gilliam in a tight spot, as he still wanted Pitt involved. Fortunately for both parties, he was able to convince Pitt stay on the project as fast-talking Jeffrey Goines, but not without reservation. The director stated:
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.
I think it’s safe to say that he was happily proven wrong, as Brad Pitt earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Academy Awards, a category he recently won, for his performance.
While some may consider 12 Monkeys to be one of the best sci-fi films of all time, there’s no doubt that the film would have been completely different if Tom Cruise of Nicolas Cage had taken the helm. Uh-oh, now I’m thinking about alternate timelines again. For those of you who are interested in more recent sci-fi film,s be sure to check out our list of the best sci-fi films of 2020.