TRANSCRIPT: TERRY GILLIAM ON "THE LATE SHOW"
by Hans ten Cate
Sunday, 17 March 1996

Terry Gilliam made an appearance on December 27's Late Show with David Letterman last year. Noticeably, this was also the premiere date for Gilliam's film, 12 Monkeys.

It is always exciting to see one of the Pythons on a major television network. This wasn't Terry's first appearance on a Letterman show, he appeared in February 1982 to promote "Time Bandits" and in February 1989 to promote "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen." And, of course, Gilliam's December appearance was equally entertaining.

Unfortunately, Mandy Patinkin (a very gifted and entertaining singer/actor), preceded Gilliam that night and went on a bit too long about a recent White House performance of his. As a result, Terry Gilliam's interview didn't last for more than ten minutes and there was no time for a "12 Monkeys" movie clip! I guess we'll forgive Mandy some day, but even Terry seemed a bit flustered.

Below is the complete transcript of Terry's December 27 appearance.

TERRY GILLIAM: THE LETTERMAN DIALOGUE

LETTERMAN: Ladies and Gentleman our next guest was one of the founding members of Monty Python and... has since gone on to direct such films as "Brazil," "The Fisher King," and now "Twelve Monkeys" which opens today. Please welcome one of Hollywood's true creative visionaries, Terry Gilliam. Terry!

[Terry comes out from back stage wearing trench coat, scarf, fedora, boots, and gloves. Terry smiles and waves to the audience. Dave walks to meet him and they shake hands.]

LETTERMAN: Hi, Terry how are ya? Good to see you again! How you been? [They sit down.]

GILLIAM: [rubbing his hands] Woof!

LETTERMAN: Welcome to the show. What, do you gotta catch a cab or something?

GILLIAM: Well, no, no. Everything they told me was true... it's freezing in here! Wooooh!

LETTERMAN: No, it's damn balmy today. Yeah. How ya doing?

GILLIAM:I'm fine, I'm fine. That Mandy Patinkin sure can talk, can't he?

LETTERMAN:[laughs] ... yes...

GILLIAM: [looks at his watch, laughing] Is there a show left, here?

LETTERMAN: [laughing] How... how about that song?

GILLIAM: That too. Well, I don't get to jump around like he does.

LETTERMAN: Do whatever you like.

GILLIAM: No, no. I gotta keep warm this way.

LETTERMAN: Tell me about, recently, maybe not so recently, I don't know when it happened, some kind of near death experience?

GILLIAM: Near LIFE experience.

LETTERMAN: Near LIFE experience?

GILLIAM: Near LIFE experience. No, we were making a film. In FACT, a film called "Twelve Monkeys," which opens today...

LETTERMAN: Ah-huh.

GILLIAM: ... that's why we're here. And in fact, I've come here to take names and addresses of all these people here who AREN'T in the cinema tonight and are here...

LETTERMAN: [laughs]

GILLIAM: This... this is not nice. I mean, WHY??!! We've worked hard!! Long and hard! And you're here, watching him... not watching us!!

LETTERMAN: Why don't you take them with you? Why don't you treat them?
[audience cheers and applauds enthusiastically]

GILLIAM: Now we're talking. [laughs] Free tickets!! Free tickets!!

LETTERMAN: Spend a little of that Hollywood money...

GILLIAM: Free tickets. That's a great idea. We've been, in fact I've been trying to get Hollywood to sell two tickets for the price of one and a half.

LETTERMAN: Ah-huh. How does that work?

GILLIAM: Well, I just think it's it's a very exciting, tense film that you, the more you see it the better it gets. So, why not? Why not? For $10.50, you get two viewings of the film. Nobody 's done that yet.

LETTERMAN: No [laughing]

GILLIAM: Anyway, the near death experience...

LETTERMAN: ... you look like you might be in a production of some Dickens work somewhere in town...

GILLIAM: [laughs loudly] I'm comfortable at least. [points to the audience] These people... I'm watching the audience, they're all freezing out there.

LETTERMAN: No, they're fine!

GILLIAM: Is... no, there not!

LETTERMAN: No, no... [audience cheers]

GILLIAM: That's... it's the only way they can keep warm with all this shouting, yelling, and applauding...

LETTERMAN: ... now, now we're getting somewhere, aren't we?

GILLIAM: [laughs] You're a clever one... [chuckles]

LETTERMAN: Yeah. All right, so anyway, now ... there... something happened to you that it was either... uh...

GILLIAM: Yeah. Ah... no, I was, I was... we were making a film in Philadelphia and Baltimore called "Twelve Monkeys" and I... one of the things about making a film, the whole world is around you here. As a director, you're the center of attention...

LETTERMAN: That's right. You have to solve all of the problems...

GILLIAM: ... all of the problems...

LETTERMAN: ... all of the time.

GILLIAM: And it can go to one's head.

LETTERMAN: Yes.

GILLIAM: A certain megalomania can develop. A certain kind of tension... and so to try and get rid of that, I try to ride on the weekends... ride horses. Because on a horse you've got to be sensitive, and soft, and understanding... unlike a film director.

LETTERMAN: Are you an experienced equestrian?

GILLIAM: I'm a REASONABLY experience one. I usua... normally stay on top of them. And this time, I was out on this horse, it was a beautiful little... I was out in Philadelphia... this beautiful little thoroughbred. And a woman was taking us around this very complex, dangerous, spiky, rocky, precipice-full of... uh... park land. And...

LETTERMAN: [starts laughing]

GILLIAM: ... she hadn't been on a horse that long... recently, because the last time, which was about six months earlier, she had gone out on a horse, had gone out of control, run out on the street, and she got hit by a car, now, she was...

LETTERMAN: Oh, my...

GILLIAM: She was resuscitating... with us, and she was leading us through this thing... and I'm going along at a nice canter on my little horse here... and suddenly I hear this screaming behind... and, she comes roaring past on her horse. Mine... ears goes down, and he... cause he's a great racehorse... and off he goes.

LETTERMAN: Your horse's ears go down... now that's a signal...

GILLIAM: That's a signal!

LETTERMAN: ... now what does that mean?

GILLIAM: Get off now! [audience laughs]

GILLIAM: ... now... and, but... we were in trouble. Because there is no getting off... because if you get off that way there's a great rock...

LETTERMAN: Yeah.

GILLIAM: ... get off that way and there's a wall...

LETTERMAN: ... a precipice, sure, yeah...

GILLIAM: with things... to... to do things to your body... and it's, ah... and so I held on for dear life, but then, I managed to control this baby. And I was wheeling it around on a right-hand turn, you kind of do that... reeling it around...

LETTERMAN: [laughs]

GILLIAM: ... and, and somehow I lost balance - I mean, that wasn't as good, didn't look as good on the real horse - and I lost balance, he stumbled, and I went over... now, this has happened to me once before and I saved my life, and the horse's, by grabbing its neck, hanging upside-down, and strangling it.

LETTERMAN: That's something you can do. Oh, that, yeah...

GILLIAM: Strangling it, sure. You CRUSH the life out of that thing, and he falls down...

LETTERMAN: ... and then he collapses down on top of you...

GILLIAM: ... well, if you're not so clever! Well, this trick didn't work... this time he swung me under the horse, and... as I hit the ground, there were two men waiting with baseball bats to... hit me.

LETTERMAN: Oh. So that was...

GILLIAM: ... these were the hooves.

LETTERMAN: Yeah. Oh, man. You were actually just chopped up pretty badly, then.

GILLIAM: Well, uh, yeah. It was pretty... it was pretty messy. And so my assistant came up afterwards, and so I said "Am I all right?" And she sort of fainted and everything went... there was a lot of blood everywhere. But the great thing about it was... they put me in the hospital for a day and... they put things in me, nurses looked after me... and it was one of the finest days...

LETTERMAN: [starts laughing]

GILLIAM: ... of my filming experience... lying in those cool sheets, with CAT scans, and... and, these...

LETTERMAN: But, you know, had you been wearing this particular outfit, here tonight, you would have been completely uninjured... [audience laughs]

GILLIAM: [removes hat, laughs] ... uh... this is comfortable. [laughs, confused] This is not... this...

LETTERMAN: Tell me about the, uh... now I know from reading a little bit about your career as a film director, that you've had some, some friction, some difficulty, some down-right animosity... with studios on various projects.

GILLIAM: Well, there's always a problem, because there...

LETTERMAN: "Time Bandits," there was some difficulty there...?

GILLIAM: That wasn't so much the studio, that was the producer. And I... he wanted to make some changes. He didn't see that it was right, in a children's film, to have the two parents blown up at the END...

LETTERMAN: Ah-huh... [audience laughs]

GILLIAM: And I disagreed. And I think most of the audience disagreed with him too. And so I did threaten to burn the film...

LETTERMAN: You were going to burn the only copy of the film...

GILLIAM: ... the... the negative. The negative itself.

LETTERMAN: So you, you said you, you, you, you either do it my way or we're just going to set this thing on fire.

GILLIAM: It seems right that, you know, if you do all that work and you make something... if you can make it, you should be able to destroy it.

LETTERMAN: ... destroy it. I guess. Sure.

GILLIAM: Thirty million dollars here, there. It doesn't make any difference, it seems to me, in the long run...

LETTERMAN: "Time Bandits," by the way, is a great film.

GILLIAM: Thank you.

LETTERMAN: A very entertaining piece of work. [enthusiastic applause from the audience, Terry laughs]

LETTERMAN: And, then... and then, "Brazil," there was another kind of...

GILLIAM: A little contretemps ...

LETTERMAN: ...disagreement.

GILLIAM: ... a contretemps I believe we call it... and they, yeah the studio, in "Brazil," decided that they wanted a happy ending. AGAIN, a happy ending. Which was NOT the story that we had agreed to tell, originally. And so they began to cut the film. And they actually took an embargo against showing the film in the States at all. And so, the producers said, "we've got to take these people to court. We've got to get lawyers." I said, "they've got all the lawyers, they've got all the time, they don't have to release this film." And so I said, "we've got to make it personal." And so, the head of Universal at the time was a man named Sidney J. Sheinberg. And I thought, "let's get him out from behind that corporate responsibil... let's..."

LETTERMAN: ...embarrass him, lets humiliate him!

GILLIAM: And so I took an ad out in "Variety," which was a very simple ad, a full page, framed in black (like an obituary notice)...

LETTERMAN: [laughs]

GILLIAM: ... and in the middle, in very small type, very personal type, said: "Dear Sid Sheinberg: When are you going to release my film, 'Brazil'?" Signed, "Terry Gilliam."

LETTERMAN: Yeah.

GILLIAM: And that kind of brought things into the open.

LETTERMAN: Now, did you at any time during this thought process that led to that, did you think: "well, that's it, I'll never work again. I'm done here. This is suicide."

GILLIAM: Yeah, I was kinda hoping this would happen.

LETTERMAN: [laughs]

GILLIAM: [laughing] But I've... I seem to have failed miserably. I'm forced to make films for the rest of my life. Yeah, it got... it got very rough. Because I mean, I was going on ... remember going on Maria Shriver's program with Bobby De Niro and she was, "hey, I hear you have a problem with the studio..." I said, "I don't have a problem with the studio, I have a problem with one man, his name is Sid Sheinberg and he looks like THIS!" And I pull out an 8 by 10 glossy... [motions taking out a photograph, and points to it enthusiastically smiling; Dave and the audience laughs]

GILLIAM: ... in front of, you know, millions of people.

LETTERMAN: But you have prevailed and, uh, "Twelve Monkeys," now, uh, now... how can you explain this film"? Succinctly. Tell us, where do you get in? Where is the access, here? What are we gonna look at?

GILLIAM: We're gonna see ... we're trying to find out what is real and what isn't. What is true and what is not true. Because we live in a world where nothing really is what it seems to be. I mean, you and I appear to be sitting here, talking to one another. In fact, I'm...

LETTERMAN: Well, speak for yourself. [Terry and the audience laughs]

GILLIAM: I'm in fact, a hand-puppet somewhere in London. At least that's what it feels like at the moment!! [Pretends to shift uncomfortably]

LETTERMAN: Easy! Easy!

GILLIAM: Woooaaahh!! [gets out of his seat as though someone just stuck something up his bum. Laughs]

GILLIAM: [continues] and, yeah, so it's... [Dave looks helplessly at the audience. Audience laughs, applauds, gives a few yelps]

GILLIAM: We are so fooled by the media, all the time. So, this is a film very much about that. It may be a film about a man who knows that 5 billion people are going to die in 1996 and '97, or he's just a whacko...

LETTERMAN: Hmmm...

GILLIAM: And these are the things you're gonna pay money to find out.

LETTERMAN: This is... also a very nice cast, here. Bruce Willis...

GILLIAM: Bruce Willis, Madel...

LETTERMAN: Brad Pitt...

GILLIAM: Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt.

LETTERMAN: Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt... [audience cheers and applauds]

GILLIAM: Yes. It's, ah... and few others. We got Frank Gorshin, the original "Riddler"...

LETTERMAN: Oh, yeah.

GILLIAM: ... who plays the head of a psychiatric unit. [audience laughs]

LETTERMAN: Yeah, excellent.

GILLIAM: Which is very nice. Nice casting...

LETTERMAN: All right, I know you want to get out there and continue driving that hansom cab...

GILLIAM: [laughs]

LETTERMAN: Happy New Year, and good luck with the film, Terry. Pleasure to see you again.

GILLIAM: [laughing] Thanks, David.

[cheers, applause, and general pandemonium from the audience. Terry puts his hat back on and waves to the audience.]

LETTERMAN: We'll be right back.