In 1985, Back To The Future dropped into movie theaters and changed the landscape of American cinema. The film, directed by Robert Zemeckis and produced by Steven Spielberg, introduced the world to the characters of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and Lorraine Baines-McFly (Lea Thompson), all of whom are now installed in our collective pop culture consciousness. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the film, which the cast celebrated by reuniting in London in July at London Film & Comic Con. On October 20, Universal will unveil a special edition Blu-Ray and DVD boxset, Back to the Future: The Complete Adventures, which includes the trilogy’s three movies, the complete animated series, a new bonus disc, a 64-page book and collectible light-up “Flux Capacitor” packaging.
Playboy.com sat down with Thompson and Lloyd in London following the reunion to discuss how much Back To The Future has affected both their lives and why it’s still so miraculous that its audience continues to grow every time it celebrates another anniversary.
When you read the script for Back To The Future, were there any scenes you found daunting?
Lloyd: When I first read it I didn’t read it thoroughly so all of those questions didn’t come up. I was kind of interested in doing something else and I almost passed on it.
Thompson: Didn’t you throw the script in the garbage and have to dig it out of the garbage?
Lloyd: I wasn’t going to tell that part!
You threw the script in the garbage?
Thompson: You’ve told that story before.
Lloyd: I have, but I was trying to repress it now. Yeah. I was doing a film in Mexico City and I was thinking about going back to New York because I came out from New York and I had things going there theater-wise. And I thought “What am I doing here with this Hollywood B.S.?” I had an offer to go back and do a play. I was going to be Hans Christian Anderson. I thought “That’s where I belong.” So my head was in that. And then my agent sends me this Back To The Future stuff. I just thought I didn’t need it and I literally put it in the wastepaper basket. That’s what I did, thank you very much.
So you had just skimmed over it?
Thompson: Well, if you read the dialogue you were like “What?”
Lloyd: I didn’t put that much through into it. I just threw it in. And then the girlfriend who I was with at the time, who became one of my wives eventually, she had known that in New York I would read the casting stuff and if there was anything in Brooklyn, downtown, whatever that I might be qualified to do I’d show up. She said, “That’s not the way you used to do things.” I thought about that and I pulled it back out and looked at it a little more seriously and I told my agent I’d come back and see Bob Zemeckis and I met him.
Thompson: You didn’t even have to read for the part?
Lloyd: I don’t think so. I don’t think I had to read.
Thompson: So Steven Spielberg said you didn’t have to read and you threw the script away?
Lloyd: I can’t go further down this road!
Lea, you must have read the script more carefully.
Thompson: I read it. I didn’t even think I could get an audition. They were probably looking at the big stars of the time and I had done All The Right Moves and Red Dawn and Jaws 3D. They were looking at Eric Stoltz in a movie we’d done together called The Wild Life and apparently, what I heard, is that they were like, “Who’s that girl?” I had to audition and I had to screen test and I had to do all that. I just thought it was a great part. And I had a good sense of humor and understanding of the subversive nature of the part. I got it completely. In my first job I was a Burger King counter girl in this now-famous commercial with me, Elisabeth Shue and Sarah Michelle Geller – all of us. I knew the subversive nature of that, like “We know what you want! Juicy pickles!” I knew the “be cute, but sex sex sex.”
So you weren’t daunted by anything?
Thompson: No, I got the crazy character and I knew what I had to do there.
When fans approach you on the street what line do they recount the most?
Thompson: “You’re my density” for me.
Lloyd: “Great Scott!” Or “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.” That’s the two that come up most of the time.
And how do fans think you’ll reply to that?
Lloyd: They’ve said all they need to say and want it back. Just “Great Scott!” and that’s made their day.
A lot of old films from the ‘80s and ‘90s are being remade now. How would you feel about a Back To The Future remake?
Lloyd: It’s not from our past because it’s still alive! It would maybe be a sequel or something.
Thompson: Bob Zemeckis controls the rights and he says they’re not going to make it again. He’s adamantly said no. But every once in a while somebody needs a mortgage and something happens. But the thing is that it would be very difficult to do a sequel because Michael’s older. Christopher could still play Doc. I’m jealous of that because they’re trying to make a musical and if they made a musical he could star in it as Doc Brown. I couldn’t be Lorraine McFly.
Lloyd: I don’t know if I have that in me. If they do a musical, Doc’s got to sing, he’s got to dance.
Thompson: You could totally do it!
When you reflect back now, do you think Back To The Future changed anything about film?
Thompson: I’m not sure about change, but I think it’s interesting that it’s so intergenerational. It’s definitely had a resurgence – not just because of the 30th anniversary or the 25th. It’s had a resurgence because there’s a lot of nostalgia for the ‘80s. And for some reason you can swallow this nostalgia for the ‘80s because there’s this nostalgia for the ‘50s too. I think that it still plays. It still plays almost like a current movie. There’s some bad makeup. That’s the worst thing in the movie as far as how it still looks. It still looks great.
Lloyd: There’s makeup that I had when I was made to be older and when the films were made the technology hadn’t arrived yet to have that kind of high definition. They were doing the makeup that worked in 1985. Now they’ve got super definition so what weren’t flaws at the time can be seen.
Thompson: But everything else holds up so good.
Lloyd: Oh, totally. One interesting thing that happens repeatedly is that people say “Oh, thank you so much.” Like “Thank you” from their hearts for that film because it changed their lives in some sort of way. I think that still happens. And when kids see a film, whether they’re adolescents or what, they haven’t seen enough films to become cynical or judgmental. So Back To The Future still has an impact on people with that kind of innocence. And they add to the fanbase. It just keeps spreading. For a while, when we do these reunions, I was thinking “There’s going to be a day where there’s going to be nobody lined up to get my autograph because it’s going to fade.” It’s the natural course of things. But this keeps accumulating and I think that’s because more and more young people see it and grow up and have children and they see it. It’s mushrooming.
Thompson: My mother-in-law, who is like 86, she watched the movie with her daughter, her granddaughter and her great-granddaughter. So there’s four generations of women who dig the movie and who can get it on different levels. I think there’s something important about some of the themes that are so powerful. I don’t think a movie just endures because it’s good or funny or it’s about a time machine or it’s about friends. There’s a really powerful message that one moment can change your whole life. One moment of courage. The idea that your parents are people and that one little thing could have changed their lives and not made them miserable and made them happy and in love. Each moment is important. There are turning points in our lives that we need to always be looking out for and the little tiny things you do in your life add up to making a better life.
Is there a film in your own life that you’ve felt passionately about the way fans of Back To The Future do about this trilogy?
Thompson: Harold and Maude. I love that movie so much. Have you ever seen Harold and Maude?
Lloyd: I don’t know. I’m not sure whether I did or not. I remember it was a huge, huge film.
Thompson: It was a great film.
Lloyd: I go back to an earlier era.
Thompson: To the dawn of time!
Lloyd: Yeah, the dawn of time. I remember my mother took me to see Gone With The Wind and I was very young and I got very scared during the burning of Atlanta. I went into the men’s room and then she couldn’t get me out because I kept flushing all the toilets. I know I was less than six years old. But the film that affected me was again with my mother. She was going to see [Sir Laurence] Olivier’s Hamlet in New York when it first came out. She was uncertain whether I’d get it or whether I’d be disturbed by it or whatever. I just was totally floored. The records came out and I was memorizing all the soliloquies. It just made a huge impression on me. I still love that movie. Have you seen it?
Thompson: No, but you’ve talked about it twice today so I’m going to go see it.
Lloyd: It’s an extraordinary movie. Olivier got an Oscar for it.
Thompson: I think you’re as good of an actor as Olivier, darling.
How old were you when you were memorizing the soliloquies?
Lloyd: Twelve years old.
Could you still recite them?
Lloyd: I could almost. The “To be or not to be” speech. Everything. [Begins to recite various speeches from Hamlet.]
Thompson: You see? Things aren’t accidents. This is why he’s a great actor.
Both of you found success with Back To The Future. What is the coolest thing that success has brought you?
Thompson: To me, to be sitting here with Chris thirty years later and talking to fans and meeting all the fans is an unimaginable thrill. It’s a feeling of accomplishment that you could touch so many people so many different places that you’ve never met. It’s the greatest gift ever.
Lloyd: How many films have come out where thirty years later are still alive and going?
Thompson: This is what I hear all the time: “When it comes on TV I have to watch it. I have to watch it. I can’t turn the channel because I have to watch the rest of the movie.” People say that all the time and that’s a real testimony to how good the movies are.