In the new book We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy, we finally found out why Eric Stoltz got fired from the Marty McFly role during production. It turns out the redheaded actor, who went full-blown Method-style on set, simply wasn’t funny. Michael J. Fox was hired and the result was cinematic magic.
As chronicled by author Caseen Gaines, Back to the Future could have gone in a different direction: Marty might have been played by Charlie Sheen. That’s not the only surprising fact unearthed in the new book, released to mark the 30th anniversary of the classic film. Turns out, there was another cast ousting that got everyone’s feathers ruffled. Crispin Glover, who played Marty’s dad, George McFly, did not appear in the two sequels. Read on to learn more about the Back to the Future backstory.
1. Johnny Depp, Charlie Sheen, and John Cusack were on the “unremitting” list for the lead.
Fox was always Zemeckis’s first choice, but he was “off limits” because of his heavy workload on the hit TV sitcom Family Ties. This sent casting directors hunting for potential Martys — and a lot of them. Depp was then known for A Nightmare on Elm Street, Cusack had appeared in the Brat Pack flicks Class and Sixteen Candles, and Sheen had made a memorable big-screen debut in 1984’s Red Dawn. It eventually came down to Eric Stoltz, who beat out C. Thomas Howell (The Outsiders) for the lead role. After Stoltz was famously fired, Fox finally came to the rescue.
2. Crispin Glover had to be contained.
The eccentric actor was a “polarizing figure” on set, according to the book. In one instance, he refused to stay in frame, wildly gesticulating his legs to the point where grips were forced to build a barrier around him just to get the shot.
3. Glover had to go.
Glover’s absence from the sequels is still a matter of debate. Lea Thompson, who played George’s future wife, Lorraine Bains, acknowledges Glover was “a bit of a handful” but that with his offbeat performance “you definitely got your money’s worth.” Thompson and the other actors and director Robert Zemeckis loved him. But the crew — who were constantly forced to work around his peculiarities — didn’t. To this day, producer-writer Bob Gale disputes Glover’s claim that he wasn’t invited back to other two movies.
4. Three DeLorean time-traveling cars were used.
One of the trio was steadily cut into pieces to accommodate cameras for certain close-up shots. A surviving original was meticulously restored by a group of passionate fans and is on display at Universal Studios Hollywood. And a replica of the automotive time machine eventually fetched $95,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research in 2011.
5. Michael J. Fox stepped up to the challenge.
Because the car was built for Stoltz’s 6-foot frame, some creative adjustments had to be made for 5-foot-4 Fox, including a wooden step to provide extra lift.
6. The working title of the first Back to the Future sequel was Paradox.
It required so many scenes, and an estimated three-hour runtime, that the filmmakers convinced Universal to split the sequel into two separate movies — Part II and III. The combined production budget was more than $70 million — a hefty amount for its day.
7. Making the hoverboards work.
The hoverboards used in Part II and III were a brilliant idea… on paper. But making them come to life onscreen required a patchwork of several special effects techniques. Beyond that, shooting the board sequences with actual people proved challenging. At first, stuntmen’s shoes were attached to the board. When that didn’t work, a contraption involving wires attached to the board and a harness around the performer’s legs was tested. No go. It finally worked when they had the crane the stuntmen were attached to move in a large swinging motion. Sounds dangerous.
8. Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown) still watches the movie.
“Seeing it all come together, and the life and excitement of it — I still get off on it,” Lloyd is quoted as saying in the book. “If I’m channel-surfing and I come to Back to the Future, I am very likely to watch the entire film. I still find it fun to watch.”
Back to the Future was released 30 years ago on July 3.
Watch a behind-the-scenes look at ‘Back to the Future’: