Happy birthday, “Back To The Future” – which was released thirty years ago today. One of the most legendary stories of the now-iconic blockbuster, and perhaps one of the biggest what-ifs in the history of mainstream cinema, is obviously the chronicle of Eric Stoltz and the movies casting. The tale is well storied: while Michael J. Fox ultimately went on to play the seminal role of Marty McFly, it was then up-and-comer Stoltz who was originally cast in the lead part. And it’s not like they suddenly changed their mind. Robert Zemeckis and crew shot for five weeks on “Back To the Future” with Stoltz as Marty McFly, only to make the incredibly tough decision to recast the lead role and reshoot the entire movie over again with Fox (who was the director’s first choice, but they couldn’t get him at the time due to the shooting schedule of the sitcom “Family Ties”). Even producer Steven Spielberg agreed when a rough cut of the movie was assembled: Stoltz just wasn’t delivering the laughs they all knew the movie needed and were on the page.
While it’s been discussed over the years by various players, including Stoltz who’s been very sanguine about it all, new details are surfacing thanks to Caseen Gaines’ new book, “We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy.” An excerpt was published on Vulture this week and features some never-before-heard details and anecdotes. The overriding narrative of the piece? The cast and crew knew that Stoltz would eventually be fired. Why?
There appears to be two factors at hand and one was Stoltz apparently took the role a little too seriously and went Method for a role that didn’t call for it. The excerpt says, “Stoltz adhered to his method acting instruction and refused to answer to his real name, to the frustration and eye-rolls of many on the crew.”
“We almost always called him Marty,” ‘BTTF’ producer/co-writer Bob Gale said. “We thought it was silly, but we figured if it helped him do his job, it was harmless. There were a few people on the crew who’d worked on ‘Mask’ and they called him Rocky, the name of his character in that film.”
Described as a “pain in the ass” by some, he even left bruises on Biff (actor Thomas F. Wilson) by just going too far in the push-comes-to-shove cafeteria scene. The book also contends from its various interviews that Stoltz just wasn’t very funny and couldn’t deliver the screwball energy the movie needed.
“Eric is such a different actor, and he could be very difficult,” costar Lea Thompson, said noting she was “really good friends” with Stoltz. “It was a time when we were emerging from the ’70s. All the young actors wanted to be like De Niro and Pacino, which was good in a lot of ways… But it was not the right movie to behave like that. Eric had such an intensity. He saw drama in things. He wasn’t really a comedian, and they needed a comedian.”
Worse, apparently Zemeckis and producer Bob Gale knew Stoltz wasn’t working early on and needed to be replaced. They went to then-Universal head Sid Sheinberg asking if they could replace the actor with Michael J. Fox, the comedian they wanted in the first place. Sheinberg agreed to let them fire the actor, but not right away. So the actor was forced to slug away at it for several weeks unaware that he was eventually getting kicked to the curb. When Stoltz got the axe, he apparently took the new really hard. Ouch, you gotta feel for the guy.
Make sure to read the entire long excerpt over at Vulture as there are lots of fascinating details for “Back To The Future” fans. Meanwhile, Yahoo got their hands on the book too and they deliver interesting bits of trivia.
Evidently Johnny Depp, Charlie Sheen, and John Cusack were on Zemeckis early shortlist after they learned that Michael J. Fox was “off-limits” because of his aforementioned TV series. But eventually, Stoltz beat out C. Thomas Howell (“The Outsiders“) for the role. Crispin Glover was also a notoriously difficult actor on the set and he was obviously not invited back to the sequels (which led to a famous lawsuit that Glover won). According to the book, Glover was, perhaps to no shock, described as a “polarizing figure” and there’s an anecdote about the grips being forced to build a barrier around him just to get a shot because he refused to stay in frame. Thompson also acknowledges that the actor was a “a bit of a handful,” but worth it because he delivered the goods. And evidently the working title of “Back To The Future II” was “Paradox.”
It was apparently envisioned as one film originally, but then the filmmakers convinced Universal to break the movie into two parts. Don’t know about you, but I’m buying this book. Shame they don’t seem to have interviews with Stoltz in it, but it’s easy to see why he’d decline. I don’t think there’s every much hope of seeing all the footage that Stoltz shot in some form, but a few scenes were teased in the 25th anniversary Blu-Ray of the movie, which you can see below.
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