Watch: Back to the Future writer Bob Gale talks to Yahoo about the sci-fi classic
One of the most timeless movie favourites of all time was made in 1985, takes place mostly in 1955, has a sequel set in 2015 and a threequel set in 1885.
In the week we celebrate Back to the Future Day — 21 October is the day Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travels to the future at the end of the original/beginning of Back to the Future II — we present a brand new batch of wild behind-the-scenes stories about the classic franchise courtesy of producer and writer Bob Gale and co-star Lea Thompson.
“We kept making excuses,” says Gale, who co-wrote the original film’s screenplay with director Robert Zemeckis and the two sequels by himself. “Maybe the movie will be OK if we use that take of Eric, and that take of Eric, and cut it all together. … It wasn’t working.”
Zemeckis and Gale, backed by executive producer Steven Spielberg, finally made the difficult decision to part ways with Stoltz (Mask), who was delivering a much more serious take on Marty than they had anticipated. The filmmakers were ultimately able to strike a deal with their first choice for the role, Fox, even though the actor was shooing Family Ties at the time. That meant Fox would shoot NBC’s hit sitcom by day, Future at night and into the early morning, and hardly sleep.
“He was exhausted all the time,” Gale says.
“You could tell he was exhausted, we felt really bad for him,” Thompson adds. “But he was a trouper, and he was young. Michael at that point was in such great comedy shape. He was just so tuned-up that he could actually pull this off getting zero sleep. They had some kind of station wagon, they’d throw him in the back with blankets. It was so sad, poor guy.”
While the film helped further boost the careers of young actors like Fox and Thompson, there were plenty of near-misses, too. One bonus feature on the new 4K UHD release reveals auditions from Ben Stiller, Jon Cryer and C. Thomas Howell (who all went out for Marty), as well as Billy Zane (who tried out for Biff Tannen before getting cast as his sidekick Match) and Kyra Sedgwick (Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer Parker).
“My thanks and kudos to all the actors who gave us permission to use those auditions on this,” Gale says. “There were a lot who didn’t do that. You don’t see Johnny Depp and you don’t see John Cusack [both auditioned for Marty] in these. They just said, ‘no’ to us when we asked.”
Gale also revealed that the role of Lorraine McFly, Marty’s mother who harbours a reverse-Oedipal crush on him when he’s transported back to her high school years, came down to Thompson versus Jennifer Jason Leigh, which Thompson wasn’t aware of.
“Jennifer Jason Leigh beat me out for about a hundred other parts, so I guess I should have gotten one,” Thompson cracked. “And this was the one to get.”
Gale also clarified headlines that have floated around the Future-verse in recent years: That seminal bully Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) was based on the pre-presidential Donald Trump. In short: Part 1 Biff, no; but Part 2 Biff, completely.
“There’s nothing Donald Trump-ish about Biff in Back to the Future 1,” Gale says. “He’s just a quintessential bully pushing people around. When Biff becomes the casino operator in Back to the Future Part II, were we thinking about Donald Trump? Sure.
“A guy who’s arrogant and very self-centred, absolutely Donald Trump was on our mind.”
Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy is now available, including for the first time in 4K UHD.
Watch an exclusive clip of Billy Zane auditioning for Biff Tannen:
—Video produced by Gisselle Bances and edited by John Santo