Over the course of three movies, the Back to the Future movies played around with lots of variables – parallel timelines created by the smallest change in the past, characters whose entire nature flipped to their polar opposite, and sometimes back again. But while the films explored multiple Biffs and the perils of Marty McFly almost hooking up with his own mother, the character of Marty underwent some equally dramatic changes in the real world. By now most fans have heard the stories (and seen the footage) about how Eric Stoltz was hired to play Marty, and was then replaced by Michael J. Fox after five weeks of filming.
What you might not have heard is that the Marty-That-Wasn’t also had a Jen-That-Wasn’t. Actress Melora Hardin (Monk) was originally cast as Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer Parker. When Stoltz was replaced, they decided to pair Fox with a different gal-pal as well, and Hardin was let go…without ever having filmed a single scene. The role of Jennifer was eventually played by Claudia Wells in the first film, and Elisabeth Shue in Parts II and III. Hardin’s brush with the trilogy may have become just another interesting cinematic footnote, but the actress provides a few insights into the experience in a new interview with Wired.
When [Eric Stoltz and I] read together, we had great chemistry. I got the part and was so happy, it would have really been my first big movie. It was supposed to be a two-picture deal – they already had the future idea for Back to the Future Part II and knew this character was going to be in it. Even though the script was completely secret, you had to sign a deal for both.
So what ultimately kept her from keeping a part in what would become one of the most beloved movie trilogies of all time? Maybe they didn’t think she had the right chemistry to match up with McFly? Or perhaps Fox had somebody in mind and called in a favor? None of the above. She was just too tall. Hardin told Wired:
I just remember getting a phone call in my parents’ kitchen, Bob Gale and Zemeckis both called me. They said, ‘Unfortunately we had to let Eric go and we think you’re too tall for the new guy we cast. His name is Michael J. Fox, but you’ll be towering over him. This has nothing to do with you, we think you’re lovely.’ I burst into tears.
There you have it. A budding young actress stripped of the role of a lifetime simply because Michael J. Fox is a wee little man. If it’s any consolation, at least she can remember that she’s probably a huge star in Fringe’s alternate universe.