As we go up to 88mph and hurtle into Back to the Future Day, it is easy to forget that if it were not for a simple casting change, the film – and futures of those involved – as we know it, would never have been the same.
Heading into production on Back to the Future, the cast was set; Christopher Lloyd as Emmett Brown, Lea Thompson as Lorraine…and Eric Stolz as Marty McFly.
Yes, for those unaware, Michael J. Fox was not the first choice for what would end up being his greatest role.
Stolz was cast in the role and actually filmed scenes for five weeks, before executive producer Steven Spielberg looked at tapes of the footage and decided that Stolz wasn’t “getting the laughs” as McFly.
Says director Robert Zemeckis;
“He’s a magnificent actor, but his comedy sensibilities were very different from what I had written with Bob Gale. And he and I were just never able to make that work.”
Reportedly, while most admired Stolz as a very good actor, there were concerns over his ‘method’ approach to the role, which included insisting that he be called Marty on set at all times, and getting very involved in all scenes. On one such occasion, during a scene in which McFly would push bully Biff, Stolz insisted on using full force on every take that actor Thomas F. Wilson was left with bruises.
Co-star Thompson, who admitted being very good friends with Stolz, admitted that he really wasn’t right for the role in which he was cast.
“Eric is such a different actor, and he could be very difficult. 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.”
Once permission was obtained from Spielberg, Zemeckis informed Stolz of the decision to replace him. And an iconic role – and career – was born.
The Back to the Future 30th Anniversary trilogy Blu-ray is available now.