It’s no Hollywood secret that Back to the Future was set to look very different. While audiences now could not even begin to imagine how the time travel movie would have looked without Michael J. Fox wearing that classic red puffy vest, that certainly wasn’t the case to begin with.
Most of us know that Back to the Future (AKA: one of the best movies of all time) had another star all lined up and ready to go. They’d already shot a significant chunk of the movie with Eric Stoltz, who had already worked for years in various movies and TV series.
But why did Michael J. Fox end up stepping in at all? Well, actually, the creative minds behind the iconic science fiction movie had actually wanted Fox from the very beginning. But he was tied to a recurring role on the comedy series Family Ties, meaning that they had to look elsewhere, eventually landing on Stolz.
In his new Apple TV Plus documentary, Still, Fox recalls the Family Ties creator Gary David Goldberg telling him, “Steven [Spielberg] wanted you for the lead role [in Back to the Future]. They came to me asking if there was any way I would let you out of the show. I didn’t mention it to you then as it was just impossible.”
Ultimately, Stolz and Back to the Future proved not to be a very good fit. They wanted an actor who had more comedic tendencies, whereas Stolz was approaching the character in a more straight-laced manner. Six weeks into production, the decision was made to part ways.
Desperate to get their hands on Fox, the movie’s creators made the call to spend the money and time reshooting from the top, and ended up creating one of the most demanding jobs in cinematic history in doing so.
Fox recalls the experience, one which ended up taking a lot out of the young actor, in his new movie.
“A driver would pick me up at 9:30am and take me to Paramount where I would spend the day shooting Family Ties,” he explains. “Then at 6pm another driver would pick me up and shuttle me to whatever far-flung location we were based at this evening [for Back to the Future]. I would work on the film until just before sunrise. At that point I’d climb into the back of a production van with a pillow and blanket and another driver would take me home again.”
“I’d catch two or three hours of sleep before driver number one would reappear at my apartment… and then start the whole process all over again.”
For more big screen throwbacks, take a look at our lists of the best ’80s movies of all time, best ’90s movies, and best teen movies ever made. You can also check out our Still review to find out what we thought of the emotional retrospective.