Before Michael J. Fox skateboarded into America’s hearts in Back to the Future, a different actor was cast to play Marty McFly: Eric Stoltz. The Mask star spent five weeks shooting the movie before director Robert Zemeckis and producer Steven Spielberg decided it wasn’t working out.
That awkward transition is explored in an excerpt from Caseen Gaines’s new book, We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy, published this week on Vulture.
According to the cast and crew members interviewed by Gaines, Stoltz was very dedicated to the role of Marty McFly, but his extreme Method acting could drive other people up a wall. He demanded, for example, to be called “Marty” at all times, even when he wasn’t shooting. (When co-star Christopher Lloyd was informed that Stoltz would be replaced, he replied, “Well, who’s Eric?” — either jokingly or actually believing that his real name was Marty.) During a scene in which Marty had to push bully Biff (Thomas F. Wilson), Stoltz insisted on using full force with every take, leaving Wilson with bruises.
Watch Michael J. Fox in ‘Back to the Future:’
But the real problem wasn’t Stoltz’s behavior; it was the fact that he wasn’t funny. “Eric is such a different actor, and he could be very difficult,” says Back to the Future star Lea Thompson, who says she was “really good friends” with Stoltz. “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.”
After showing him the un-funny dailies, Zemeckis got Spielberg’s permission to replace Stoltz with Fox (who had been his first choice all along). However, they couldn’t bring in Fox right away, so shooting continued as if nothing was wrong. In the end, Zemeckis broke the news privately to Stoltz and the cast, then informed the crew of the change via bullhorn.
The footage of Stoltz as Marty McFly was buried until the release of the 25th Anniversary Trilogy Blu-ray in 2010, which included a few shots as a special feature. Watch the video below, and read the full excerpt on Vulture.