AICN Legends: Capone goes BACK TO THE FUTURE with Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson!!!
Published at: March 2, 2010, 2:13 p.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
Several of my recent Legends columns have been the result of a pair of very special movie theaters in the Chicago suburbs that I have never visited, although I'd love to on day very soon. They pull together Alamo Drafthouse-style events, such as mini-film festivals built around a visiting actor, or cast reunions of classic films. The Hollywood Blvd. Theatres in Woodridge and the recently opened Hollywood Palms location in Naperville have an aggressive team that brings these great happenings to the area, and fans turn out in droves. Upcoming events at Hollywood Blvd. include screenings of CRY-BABY with Traci Lords (March 12); THE EXORCIST with Linda Blair (March 13); THE FOUR MUSKETEERS with Richard Chamberlain (March 13); and a WEST SIDE STORY reunion with Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, and Russ Tamblyn (April 10). And I've been hearing about a Dan Aykroyd event since last year from the chain's marketing guru Angelique Brunsman. (I'm just now realizing I won't be in town for any of the March events thanks to SXSW; ah, well.)
This past weekend saw one of the theater's greatest achievements: a BACK TO THE FUTURE cast reunion with Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, James Tolkan, and Claudia Wells, put together for the first film's 25th anniversary and to benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. One of the Saturday night screenings was hosted by eFilmCritic's Erik Childress, and by all accounts, it was a blast. Here's video to prove it.
A couple of days before this particular night's festivities, I had the chance to sit down with Doc Brown and Lorraine McFly (Christopher Lloyd and the still adorable Lea Thompson) and chat about their experience making one of my favorite films in my formative years. They were a real treat to chat with over a Chicago stuffed pizza lunch.
Lea Thompson: So who do you write for?
Capone: For Ain’t It Cool News.
LT: Well, we’re cool.
Capone: You got to make this film near the beginning of Robert Zemeckis’ career, just as it was just starting to take off, and this was actually the film that kind of just propelled him into a whole other level of blockbuster filmmaking. What do you both remember about meeting him for the first time? What did you think of him the first time you met him?
LT: You know, I just keep thinking about how much joy he had making this movie and how excited he was about it, how much he loved the story. There was glee. He just had a lot of glee, in my recollection. I know from his point of view, he’s probably exhausted, especially making the two together, I just remember how much he loved the project and how great it felt when you could make him giggle or laugh or help him with something.
Like I used to get in character, when I was trying to get Loraine, it was so silly, I would read all of these '50s magazines and get all the stupid propaganda that was funny to me. So in order to snap into character with a long shoot, I would always sing “Mr. Sandman” to myself, so eventually he was like “I have to put this in the movie.” [Lea Thompson starts to sing the song.] And it would just get me into the character. He enjoyed that and put it in the movie.
CL: Wow, “Mr. Sandman,” I remember that song.
LT: I know, it was such a stupid song…
CL: I had such a big crush on someone and it revolved around that song…
CL: Anyways, that’s neither here nor there.
Capone: So what do you remember about meeting Robert for the first time?
LT: I think that’s here and there, actually.
Capone: Is there a song related to your experiences with the movie?
CL: [laughs] No, I just remember when we first started out, and I met him and I had a meeting with him, and it was expected that I come in with some ideas about what my thoughts were on the character. I had these ideas about what I wanted the look to be, etc. I just put them out there hoping that they were somewhere in the ballpark, and he just went “Okay.” I really appreciated his faith. And he knew how to talk to actors. Some directors don’t know how to relate to actors, how to get them to do what they want them to do, but he was natural at it and considerate and respectful. When a director has faith in me, I can’t go wrong; I can’t make a mistake. That’s a wonderful feeling.
Capone: I could not imagine that a character like that could be created and you not have some input, if only because you probably had a lot more experience than Robert did at the time in the world of film and actors. What did you bring specifically to Doc Brown?
CL: It’s hard to say. As far as the look, I wanted the long white hair and kind of an attitude and excitement about the character, but we were just on the same page. Although [producer and co-writer] Bob Gale--I see Bob Gayle and Tina, his wife, they are kind of neighbors--and his idea of Doc Brown initially, before I even came into the situation was somebody really laid back and quiet…
CL: Which Bob Gale is. He’s pretty laid back. So it turned out pretty well.
LT: That wouldn’t have worked. It needed your energy to pull it through.
Capone: Did either of you, at any point, at least in making the first one think “Wow, this is a really silly idea?” When you just say it out loud, it sounds very silly. Did any of you just go “This could really backfire” or was it just so clear that it was a great idea?
LT: Well, the first person who played Marty McFly, Eric Stoltz--I don’t know if you remember this, but I do. After the table read, I remember everybody was laughing and clapping, and I somehow got around to asking Eric what he thought and I remember him saying, “Well, you know it’s kind of a tragedy.” [She indicates that the room went silent.]
Capone: “Crickets chirping…”
LT: But it’s true. Marty remembered a past that everyone he loved remembered a different past. He remembers a past that no longer existed. He remembers events that happened that everyone else remembers completely different, and he was right, but it didn’t go over to big. Everyone was like “Okay…”
CL: Whoa, I didn’t know that.
LT: Maybe because I was hyper-aware of him getting in trouble, I was like “Oh, don’t say it!”
CL: I ran into him sometime afterwards, before the film was out. Coincidently, I ran into him and he kind of looked at me, and he said “Is it funny?” I think he had a sense like it was supposed to be amusing or a joke like that. He was a little bitter, I think.
CL: “Is it funny?” I didn’t know what to say.
LT: It was funny, but yeah that part of the story… I don’t know. I’m not sure I thought it was silly. I thought it was a really interesting idea, and strangely enough I had auditioned for a script about four weeks before I auditioned for BACK TO THE FUTURE that was the same exact idea, which was weird, although it went back to the '60s to see his parents, and he actually slept with his mom. I wonder if they every made this story.
Capone: Wow, I wonder why that never got made.
LT: I know, so that was very weird. I was glad to do this one.
CL: The first draft I got, they got the energy to what 1.21-something jigawatts [as it's spelled in the script]? Not from picking it up from a bolt of lightning, they were in the Yuma desert or whatever it is in New Mexico siphoning the energy from an atomic explosion.
CL: I’m serious.
LT: I remember something like that.
CL: Yeah, and it was like “I don’t know if this is going to fly.”
CL: That brought in some things to think about.
Capone: Like radiation.
CL: So they put their heads together and thought, “We can’t do an atomic explosion, that’s just too much.”
LT: I didn’t remember how much it changed, but I was telling someone just recently, maybe six months ago, I was walking in New York, and they sell scripts and they were selling a BACK TO THE FUTURE script, and I just picked it up and started looking at the beginning and I was like “This is nothing like what we did." I don’t know where they got this ancient draft. They didn’t get the production draft to copy, but it jogged my memory as to how much the script actually evolved.
Capone: Did you ever contemplate what it was about this particular film and the story that really just seemed to connect with people, especially younger people who were going back and seeing it several time? I know when I saw it, I went back several times to see it while it was still in theaters. “Why this story and not the one where the guy sleeps with his mom?”
LT: [laughs] I think the story was very resonant. I think it’s actually emotional about a mentor and about your parents becoming losers and what happened to their life and if you could go back and fix your parent’s life, I think that’s kind of a cool fantasy to have and change your past. It’s also like an adventure.
I also think it’s a well-crafted movie, you don’t feel ripped off. How many movies do you go to and go, “Why did they have that? It never paid off. Why are they exploding things? Clearly they have no story to tell that makes any sense.” This had a great story and it was really well crafted, like I’ve said I always remember that I set up a joke, in like the first 15 minutes of the movie, they don’t pay it off until like 45 minutes later and people laugh. When the kid is at those bars like “Get used to those bars, kid.” I set that joke up so much earlier. The way he crafted the movie, and it’s kind of slow in the beginning, you realize that you must pay attention to each detail, because he is not going to rip you off, everything is going to pay off, and he had so much glee about it, like the things that were behind me and the things that are on the billboards… Do you know what I mean? That kind of well-crafted, hand-crafted, movie is very rare and I think maybe that’s part of it. You tell me.
CL: I think Marty was kind of the quintessential juvenile adult, you know? He loves to play the guitar and what do you call that thing again…?
LT: The skateboard?
CL: [Laughs] Talk about a generation gap. The skateboard was so popular then and still is and his being kind of an outsider. He was rebelling against his family. He’s rebelling against people at school. He’s just the quintessential little rebel, and I think young people love that, and there’s romance and all of that. Time travel is the quintessential fantasy to go back or ahead in time.
Capone: Just reading some trivia of the film, there are all of these little hidden things in the movie that all have to do with H.G. Wells and tiny sound cues and music cues that I certainly wouldn’t have caught when I was younger. Even your character’s name Emmett, I’ve read that spelling the pronunciation backwards--“E-M-I-T”--is “Time” spelled backwards.
CL: Huh, I did not know that.
LT: And Bob thought of a lot of those things.
Capone: I’m sure it was all intentional.
LT: Yeah, they’re not mistakes. He didn’t waste any brain time in those 12 hours sitting on that set, he would be like “Wait! Wait! Let’s do this.” He and Bob Gale were just like little kids in a candy shop. And when you think about it, they talk about manufacturing in this country is gone, the truth is the movie business is a hand-made, hand-produced, one-of-a-kind business you know what I mean? When really good people get together and they make something “hand crafted,” it’s pretty exceptional and it’s a really cool business that way and this was just a well-made piece of that stuff.
Capone: Yeah. Did Zemeckis originally pitch this as three movies to you? The way the first one ends could certainly be interpreted as setting up a sequel.
LT: That was just like an accident.
Capone: I just wondered if he had ever even talked about making more after this one, while you were making the first one.
CL: I don’t remember that.
LT: They didn’t really think in those terms, at the time.
CL: When I went into it…
LT: We didn’t have a contract. After that, they were like “You are locked in for 27 sequels!”
Capone: The idea of shooting two films back-to-back like that at the time was unheard of. Now, it’s a little more common I think.
LT: That was an accident too.
Capone: Was it really? How is that?
LT: They were only going to shoot one sequel, but then the script was really long and ungainly, and then they were like “Oh, gee, Michael is going to get too old and we’re all together,” so they just stretched it like that and renegotiated for the third one.
CL: They had this union, the crafts union thing where they couldn’t shoot 3 while they were doing 2, even if it was the same set or location.
LT: Oh, I didn’t remember that.
CL: There was a thing that prevented that from happening, because that would mean less pay ultimately, so they had to shoot them independently as well. They couldn’t combine them.
LT: You were working everyday. I was like not in the third one very much.
Capone: Michael J. Fox had mostly been doing TV up to that point and TEEN WOLF didn’t come out until at least a couple of months after the first BACK TO THE FUTURE. I think they were the same year if I remember correctly, but what did you think of him when you met him for the first time and got to spend some time with him?
LT: I was really snotty about it, because my friend Eric Stoltz had been fired, so I was cranky. I'd worked on a movie with him, so I saw Michael and thought, “He’s a sitcom star!” I shared like a double trailer with him, and then one day I couldn’t get out of my room, because these girls had wrapped the entire trailer with streamers. They were like “Oh my God, its Michael Fox!”
LT: So, I had to just realize he was a big star. Of course, then he was my son, so I fell madly in love with him. He’s the best.
CL: I remember the night… We shot for eight weeks with Eric Stoltz and then we were in City of Industry and the parking lot and all of that stuff that goes on in the parking lot with the bad guys and I get shot. We were out there for about three weeks at that particular location, and it was misty and chilly and kind of drizzly all of the time, all night shoots, and we’d break for lunch about one in the morning. I remember we broke for lunch and we'd been shooting, Eric was there and we had been shooting up until and I remember coming back and Spielberg was there and all of these executives and whatever, and we were told to come gather around. It was kind of like a funeral. I remember Zemeckis saying that “We are very sorry, but we have to let Eric go and Michael J. is going to come in,” and it was like a very poignant sad moment, because Eric wasn’t a bad guy.
LT: He wasn’t there at that moment, was he?
CL: He had been there that night shooting, but he wasn’t there at that moment and I had no idea this was coming. It was a shock, but like a “Whoa” and then we knew that we would be doing a lot of reshooting, and I was very concerned, being so “How might I repeat myself as good as I did it before?” You wonder, “How can I get the energy up to do the same moments again?” Once he was on the set, it was just natural.
LT: I had snuck away to go see my boyfriend, and I was in Munich, and I wasn’t supposed to leave, but you guys were shooting that night stuff all of the time, so I was like “I’m going to go see my boyfriend” and I heard my phone machine, so long ago, “Beep, Hi Lea this is Steven Spielberg, call me." "Beep, Hi Leah this is Bob Zemeckis. Beep.” I was like “Oh no!” I thought I was in such trouble, because I was away in Munich. Oh my gosh…
Capone: I hadn’t realized you shot that much.
CL: At least six weeks, yeah, it was pretty rare to go and… That was kind of a hint that believed in the project, because it’s so expensive to reshoot.
LT: It wasn’t a little movie.
Capone: So I didn’t check the dates, but you said that you'd worked with Eric on a movie before, but this was before SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL, wasn't it? Or you had made another movie with Eric?
LT: I had made a movie called THE WILD LIFE.
Capone: Oh right. The one Cameron Crowe wrote yeah.
LT: And then later I did SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL.
Capone: One of John Hughes productions not set in Chicago.
LT: No, but we shot DENNIS THE MENACE here for John Hughes, both of us. Chris and I have been in a lot of movies together and not do any scenes together. I mean a lot. We have done DENNIS THE MENACE, all three BACK TO THE FUTUREs…
Capone: You don’t have any scenes together in any of the BACK TO THE FUTURE movies?
LT: Not really. We have one scene I think when I go with my books, and I’m like “Would you ask me to the dance?” That’s like the only scene we have in BACK TO THE FUTURE, and in DENNIS THE MENACE we look at each other and that’s it. He’s getting dragged away in a police car. Then we did something for Sea World, and then we did… Do you remember THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT? It was a really good movie, just a bunch of monologues with all different actors doing monologues with Robert Loggia?
CL: Yeah, oh I remember that.
LT: I stood there like this and you never said anything… There was something else that we did that I can’t even remember now that we did, but weren’t together.
CL: There was that Sea World…
LT: I think we did another movie where we weren’t even in any scenes together.
LT: That’s so funny.
Capone: So with John Hughes, did you ever actually get to meet John Hughes or was it just working from his script?
CL: He was around.
Capone: For both films?
LT: Yeah, for both of them. He was writing a lot, and they added a big huge sequence for you in DENNIS THE MENACE that wasn’t there where you got the beans and…
CL: I’ll say… God… [Laughs]
LT: They added like two or three months onto that shoot. It wasn’t supposed to be six months. We were here forever.
Capone: In DENNIS THE MENACE? Really, that was six months?
LT: Yeah, six months!
Capone: I grew up on the east coast, and to me, you were always that quintessential Midwestern girl. Growing up seeing ALL THE RIGHT MOVES or RED DAWN or SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL was like “She’s what I’m going to meet when I go to the Midwest to live.”
LT: [Laughs] Did it happen?
Capone: Yeah, a couple of times. What do you think about them remaking RED DAWN that by the way?
LT: RED DAWN? It’s remade…
Capone: It’s done. I know they finished it, yeah.
LT: What’s funny about it is one of my oldest and dearest friends is playing the father and he doesn’t get to say, “Avenge me!” I’m like “How do you make that movie without the great lines that John Milius wrote?” My great line, which is hilarious, is “Things are different now.” I don’t know. I’m really interested in seeing it. I wish they would have put me in it.
Capone: I think it’s coming out toward the end of the year, right? I’m kind of interested.
LT: It’s interesting in this political climate, because it was such a right-wing movie when it came out. It’d be interesting to see how they tone that down or not. Well, it’s funny when I go to the Midwest or get away from the coasts; I’m more famous for that movie than I am for anything else. Not Chicago, but the smaller cities.
Capone: I was going to ask you about that. Other than BACK TO THE FUTURE, what movies do people ask you about the most? Like this weekend, you are going to be getting some questions from fans. What films do they seem the most fascinated by? Good or bad.
LT: For me it’s probably BACK TO THE FUTURE, "Caroline in the City," HOWARD THE DUCK, and SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL.
Capone: Okay. HOWARD THE DUCK still gets a lot of…
LT: Huge fans.
Capone: What about you?
CL: BACK TO THE FUTURE, "Taxi," and then its kind of a scramble.
Capone: I would guess STAR TREK III would be in there somewhere?
CL: Not really.
LT: Oh, I love you in that. You're so good.
CL: Oh, I love that.
Capone: BUCKAROO BANZAI must come up.
CL: Yes, BUCKAROO BANZAI, a lot of people are into that and THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU’RE DEAD.
LT: It’s funny…
CL: Have you seen that?
CL: People are just really into that film.
LT: It’s funny what people notice you for.
Capone: So when I mentioned to a few female friends that I was going to be talking to you, they were all so mad that it just ended. They wanted to know how they would’ve wrapped it up. What would have happened?
LT: What upsets me was I always wanted Richard to come out of the closet, and then they did with "Will and Grace" and they kept saying “No, America wouldn’t accept that” and I was like “Wouldn’t that be awesome?” They were like “No” and then they made "Will and Grace" The same people--well, Jim Burrows.
CL: Oh really?
Capone: Who you definitely have some familiarity with [as a frequent director of "Taxi"].
CL: He’s great.
Capone: Speaking of which, what was it like for you with your cameo in MAN ON THE MOON, where you got to kind of put the "Taxi" cast back together and put those clothes back on?
CL: That was really good.
LT: Which one was that?
Capone: It’s the Andy Kaufman film with Jim Carrey, but they recreated the "Taxi" set briefly.
CL: They rebuilt the set, because we did the series at Paramount, but it was a Universal film? Something like that, so at Universal they rebuilt the set to every last little detail, the scratches on the table… The whole thing was rebuilt and they had…
LT: How weird.
CL: Yeah, it was and it was a live show, so they built the stands for the audience and all of that. Everything was recreated there and we all came back and did it. Danny [Devito] wasn’t in it… I think he was a producer, but he was there the whole time and everybody else from the cast was there, and it was a good 10 years later or more.
Capone: At least. [It was actually more like 16-17 years.]
CL: It was a great week to do the shoot of that. It brought all of us back together again, older. It was cool.
Capone: If you don’t look too carefully, they all look the same age to me.
CL: Yeah. And Jim Carrey was great. You would look at him and not just that he looked like Andy Kaufman, but he had a look in his eyes he was Andy Kaufman. He was really good.
LT: I’ve got to go see that.
Capone: All right, they gave me the wrap-up sign, so thank you both so much. This was really fun, and have a good weekend up in the ‘burbs.
LT: Thank you.
CL: Okay, thank you.
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