Twister (1996): Are Jo and Bill Harding Based on Real Meteorologists?

Starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton, ‘Twister’ is a thrilling film that takes the audience on an adventure like never before. The story focuses on Jo and Bill Harding and their team of storm chasers, who are on a mission to launch a device called Dorothy that helps them better understand how tornadoes work. As thrilling as their job sounds, it is equally dangerous, if not more. The whole team, especially Jo and Bill, are putting their lives on the line, where one mistake can lead them to a bitter end. Fortunately, they are well-versed in the ways of the tornado and know what they are doing. The film is even better because it sticks close to real facts, delivering a story with a strong scientific foundation. How much of this realism seeps into the characters?

Jo and Bill Harding Actors Worked With Real Storm Chasers

While the idea of chasing a tornado and witnessing it from the inside sounds intriguing, the creators of ‘Twister’ knew that they had to make the whole thing as realistic as possible because, unlike dinosaurs and aliens, tornadoes are something that the audience has seen, and they would immediately be turned off if the movie showed anything less than realistic. Similarly, they also knew that the characters had to be well-written and feel like real storm chasers. For all of this, they resorted to the help of the people who do this job for a living.

All the characters in ‘Twister,’ including Jo and Bill Harding, are completely fictional, but the actors spend time with real storm chasers to see how they worked and all the things, fun or dangerous, their job entailed. The core of the movie combines two ideas. One comes from a PBS documentary that focuses on the job of storm chasers and how dangerously close they come to these things in trying to study them. However, the scientific foundation was insufficient for the characters to resonate with the audience. The writers looked towards the popular romantic comedy, ‘His Girl Friday,’ which gives Jo and Bill the tension of their broken marriage, which is complicated because they are still in love.

To help the actors understand what their characters were about, they were put in touch with people at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma. The actors, especially Bill Paxton, spent time with the real scientists to figure out their working methods and how they coordinated among themselves while chasing storms. The actors also accompanied the team on a storm chase, but the weather didn’t favor them, and they didn’t see any real storms. They also understood the workings of TOTO, the device on which Dorothy is based in ‘Twister.’ They were also trained in weather safety so they would know how the team kept themselves from getting in harm’s way while moving towards a force of nature that could easily destroy buildings.

All this informed the actors’ performances, who were given free rein to improvise and make the communication between the characters feel more organic and energetic to keep the dialogue from stunting. Apart from this, the people of NSSL also worked with the writers to help them understand the science of the matter and improve the script. The producers also worked closely with them to understand what would make the movie more accurate and exhilarating, especially the look of the tornado in different situations. Because the more real it looked, the better the audience would connect to it.

To sum up, the actors of ‘Twister,’ along with the team behind the scenes, worked hard to get into the skin of their characters and bring a realistic version of events to the audience. So, even though they are fictional, we relate to them, and it feels like we are right next to them, chasing a tornado and experiencing the thrill.

Read More: Where Was Twister (1996) Filmed?