In three years, we’ll see the 40th anniversary of the first of Robert Zemeckis’ popular sci-fi trilogy — 1985’s Back to the Future. While for plenty of fans it’s probably impossible to separate the role of Marty McFly from Michael J. Fox, he wassn’t the first actor cast as the time-traveling teen. In a new interview, Christopher Lloyd — who plays Marty’s friend and mentor Doc Emmett Brown throughout the Back to the Future trilogy — reveals that when he heard about the casting, he was not happy at all.
It’s probably one of the more well known pieces of cinematic trivia that it wasn’t Michael J. Fox, but Eric Stoltz (Pulp Fiction) originally cast as Marty McFly. As The Hollywood Reporter recalls, six weeks into production, Stoltz was replaced by Fox when it was decided the role of Marty needed an actor with more of what Christopher Lloyd calls “comic flair.” In 1985, Fox was best known as the conservative son of two former flower-children, Alex P. Keaton, on the hit sitcom Family Ties. Once he was on board for Back to the Future, Fox worked on the sitcom in the day and the movie at night.
According to a new interview with GQ, Christopher Lloyd wasn’t happy when the news of the recasting came, and it’s tough to blame him. Lloyd’s dissatisfaction had nothing to do with his estimation of Fox’s abilities as an actor, however, but with his doubts about his own. After six weeks of filming with Stoltz as Marty, everything would need to be reshot, and Lloyd wasn’t sure he could do it. “I had no idea the change was coming,” Lloyd recalled. “My biggest fear, because I was really working to get Doc right, I thought, ‘I don’t know if I can get it up to do [all the scenes over] again.’ So I was worried about it. But, it all worked out.”
Unsurprisingly, Christopher Lloyd said that after his initial concern about the recasting, he saw that his team-up with Fox made for a perfect fit. He said he and Fox shared “a chemistry that lasted the whole time.” He added that their connection came naturally: “It would just be there. You didn’t have to work for it.” That says a lot considering that — while 1989’s Back to the Future Part II and 1990’s Back to the Future Part III were filmed back-to-back — there was a four year break between the production on the first two films.
Fittingly, while Christopher Lloyd had reservations about the recasting of Marty McFly, he had a lot more reservations about even getting involved with Back to the Future. In a 2013 interview, the actor confessed that when he first got the Back to the Future script, he literally threw it in the garbage. Lloyd explained that he was in Mexico making a movie when he got the script, and at the time he’d been wrestling with the idea that he was a sellout for working in the movies. “There was always this kind of thing that the theater was my home,” Lloyd said, “my roots so to speak and my conscience was bothering me a little bit that I was coming out to Hollywood to ‘sell my soul.'” He said he threw the script in a wastepaper basket, but reconsidered when an unnamed friend convinced Lloyd to “never leave a stone unturned.” Without explaining exactly what it was about the discussion that hooked him, Lloyd said that once he agreed to talk to Zemeckis about the movie, “that was that.”