A RED-KNEED TARANTULA NAMED TERRY
by Hans ten Cate
Wednesday, 20 August 1997

Although Fierce Creatures was in every regard a two-Python project, showcasing the talents of ex-Pythonites John Cleese and Michael Palin, one additional Python bears mention. In fact, this little bugger even makes a guest appearance in the film - right under our noses! We are speaking, of course, of Terry Jones, the Mexican red-kneed tarantula.

This scene-stealing arachnid had, as its on-screen and off-screen moniker, the same initials as a famous Welsh-born Python. "It was called Terry," explained Michael Palin, "after Terry Jones who, with my good self, wrote a half-hour script for the BBC in 1967 called 'The Zoo,'" which later became the basis for Fierce Creatures.

Michael Palin, who plays insect-keeper Adrian "Bugsy" Malone in the film, got to spend quite a bit of on-screen time with Terry. One of the funniest scenes in the film, in fact, features Cleese, Palin, and Carey Lowell hiding in a hotel closet, eavesdropping on the hard-hearted executives and their plans to close the zoo. Suddenly, it is discovered that a tarantula has escaped the confines of Bugsy's pocket. The trio of zoo keepers tear their clothes off in a panicked search for the spider, all this while trying to prevent the executives from discovering their hiding place.

The on-screen chemistry between Palin and Jones is perfect as ever. Red-kneed tarantulas are described by Palin as "deceptively friendly creatures and no danger to humans as a rule." Famous animal trainer Rona Brown was impressed by how comfortable each of the actors were with the animals. Michael was very much at ease with the tarantula, according to Brown.

Terry the Tarantula had an acting double and an animatronic version provided by Asylum and Animated Extras, for shots where the original animal just wasn't working out. But, by and large, there just wasn't any substitution for the real thing. During a publicity tour in Australia in February, Palin noted that "everyone asks about my tarantula spider. No-one can believe... that it was a real one in the movie."


Sources:

  • Steve Grant, "Zoo's Company," Time Out, No. 1381, February 5-12, 1997, p.30-31.
  • Michael Palin's journal, posted on PythOnline, January 24, 1997 (www.pythonline.com)
  • Fierce Creatures Notes, Universal Pictures, Fierce Creatures Website (www.fierce-creatures.com), accessed: December 16, 1996