Actress Claudia Wells, 49, starred as Marty McFly’s girlfriend in the first movie, before making way for Elisabeth Shue in the sequels. But what has she been up to since?
Claudia Wells almost didn’t get to star in ‘Back To The Future’. The then-teenage actress had been cast in a now-forgotten sitcom called ‘Off the Rack’ and the TV network wouldn’t share her.
“I had to back out of the movie,” says Wells. “They cast Melora [Hardin], which is interesting because we were quote unquote friendly competitors acting-wise.”
Eric Stoltz had been cast as Marty and Wells had already done a photoshoot with him (the lovey-dovey shot you see in film with Stoltz replaced by Michael J. Fox), but when he was fired, it was decided that Hardin was too tall to play Fox’s girlfriend.
“I was brought back in,” she says. “It was meant to be.”
Of course, the film franchise went on to become a cultural phenomenon, that’s now celebrating its 30th anniversary.
“I’ve got appearances and bookings every day from now until the end of November,” she explains of her global workload, which has seen her celebrate the movie alongside other cast members everywhere from London to Tokyo.
“Baffling is the only word for it,” she admits. “I didn’t quite grasp how big the phenomenon is until five or ten years ago. We’re in October 2015 after all these years of the fans waiting for it and it feels like the movie came out 15 minutes ago.”
Wells says that she has seen Hardin since and they’re friendly, though “not one word has ever been mentioned [about ‘Back to the Future’].”
She hasn’t met the other Jennifer Parker though, as the role was taken over by Elisabeth Shue for the sequels when Wells had to withdraw from Hollywood to take care of her dying mother.
She admits it was weird to see Shue reshooting her final scene from the first film (see two versions of the same scene below - Wells is in the top pic), but was it sad not to carry on for the rest of the saga?
“No,” she says. “It was just one of those things. I’ve had my store for almost 24 years and I wouldn’t have had that if I’d done ‘Back to the Future 2’ and ‘3’. I think it all worked out the way it was supposed to be. The fanbase are so loving, they tell me I’m their Jennifer.”
The shop she’s referring to is Armani Wells, a men’s designer resale shop in Los Angeles that she founded.
“What’s funny is I didn’t mention anything about being Jennifer Parker for a very long time,” she says. “I would have customers come in and say, ‘you never told us you were an actress! We just watched you on television last night.’ Now I have a shelf of iconic ‘Back to the Future’ things because fans come from all over the world to visit. They know Jennifer Parker owns the store. I love it every bit as much today as I did the very first day I opened.”
The daughter of a scientist who researched tropical diseases, Wells was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and her parents divorced before she was two.
“My sister and my brother went to live with my father and his wife and I lived alone with my mum,” she remembers. “That led to being able to move to Los Angeles because it was just the two of us.”
Starting out as an actress, she auditioned for some of the biggest movies of the 1980s, including ‘The Goonies’, ‘Gremlins’ and ‘Young Sherlock Holmes’, but ‘Back to the Future’ was her first cinematic role.
Thirty years later, she’s a single mother with a 20-year-old son, who’s more interested in maths and science than following in his mum’s footsteps.
“I didn’t really talk to him much about my acting while he was growing up,” she says. “He saw it more when we started going to the conventions and people were asking about how it feels to have Jennifer Parker as a mum. I think it added to my cool factor.”
Having stepped away from performing for almost 25 years after ‘Back to the Future’ – apart from a short stint as the small-screen version of Phoebe Cates’ character in an abortive 1986 TV adaptation of ‘Fast Times At Ridgemont High’ – Wells is keen to get her acting career back on track.
“I knew in my heart that I wasn’t done with [acting],” she says. “People are finding me and casting me in things, even though I’m not out there pursuing it myself.”
Projects include an episode of ‘The Mentalist’ and the sci-fi movie ‘Alien Armageddon’. She’s filming indie film ‘Quinn’ and next year should feature in dance pic ‘Breakin’ Evolution’.
“I’m really looking into doing more gritty and raw roles,” she says. “Not just the girlfriend.”
In the meantime, ‘Back to the Future’ duties take up most of her time and she’s become close to several of the cast.
“We’re in touch more now than we ever were on-set,” she reveals. “I’m great friends with Chris [Lloyd] and Lea [Thompson]. James Tolkan, aka Mr Strickland, is one of my best buddies. Goldie Wilson (actor Donald Fullilove), I dress him at my store to make him dapper for all his events.”
In fact, she’s looking forward to the 50th anniversary.
“I was talking about that to [writer/producer] Bob Gale the other day when we were walking out onto the field to throw the first pitch for the Miami Marlins,” she says. “It’s an amazing privilege that I get to be a part of the family.”
You can see where Claudia will be appearing on her site www.claudiawells.com
The ‘Back to the Future’ 30th anniversary trilogy is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray.