(The following article is from contributing writer JL Watkins)
In celebration of Back to The Future Day, Lea Thompson visited us to reminisce about the iconic sci-fi comedy trilogy which has come to mean so much to so many people. Playing Lorraine Baines McFly, the actress solidified her place in pop culture history. Lorraine was the mother of Dave, Linda and Marty McFly and the wife of George McFly. At first glance she was a reserved woman who upheld the social morals of the time period. But as Marty discovers upon his trip back to 1955, she was actually a love-obsessed wild child who liked to park with boys and drink the hard stuff she swiped from her old lady's liquor cabinet.
Throughout three Back to The Future films, Lorraine went through a lot of transformations. Especially as Doc Brown and Marty continued to alter the time line. Lea Thompson even got to play one of the McFly ancestors in the Western-themed Back To The Future Part III. But as she tells us, her favorite iteration of the character came in Back to the Future Part II, when she got to play the broken down love slave of Biff Tannen. Especially because she got to wear those glorious fake breasts.
When we met up with Lea Thompson this past week, she had just come off a surprise guest stint on ABC's new comedy The Muppets. It seems every young boy in the 80s had a crush on Lea. And Kermit is no exception. Though, she won't divulge whether or not they actually 'hooked up'. She does offer some new insight into the making of the Back to The Future trilogy. And she shares her favorite movie. Guess what? It's not what you might be thinking. We kicked things off by asking Lea about her unusual encounter with the world's most famous frog. Here's our conversation.
What happened with you and Kermit? Or are you guys keeping that off record?
Lea Thompson: Kermit and I...He asked me specifically not to talk to the press, because of the whole thing with Miss Piggy. So I can't say anything. I'm really sorry.
Now, tell me this. Howard the Duck played a much bigger hand in getting you on his fantasy list than Back to the Future did...Right?
Lea Thompson: You know? I would be inclined to say the same thing. Because he knows that I'm open minded. I'm speci-ally open-minded. (Laughs)
Having this week be all about Back to the Future's 30th Anniversary, which arrives the same week as a new Star Wars trailer, and getting to talk to you...I feel like I fell into a ditch somewhere back in 1985, and I'm having one heck of a fever dream. All of these franchises are so special to so many people. But here we are in the future. It's finally 2015. Do you think there are any movies that are coming out this year that will be remembered, and still resonate with fans 30 years from now the same way Back the Future has?
Lea Thompson: I sure hope so. And I hope I'm alive to see it. But I don't know. It's interesting what sticks with people. Of course there will be a movie like that. Everyone has a different kind of movie that means a lot to them. I mean, a lot of people love Some Kind of Wonderful. That is a movie that I did that means a lot to them. So, you never know. There are lots of iconoclasts that will pick up on strange movies, and love them. I was recently talking with one of my best friends...She was in a movie called My Demon Lover. I was with a really good friend, and I had no idea that she would have seen that movie. And she was star struck. It didn't happen with any of these other movies, but she was star struck about My Demon Lover. She couldn't care less about me being in Back to The Future. So, there is always something for everybody. There is always going to be some movie that turns people on.
No, way! I saw My Demon Lover when it came out. I was obsessed with that movie, too! I love the guy that is in that movie. Scott Valentine.
Lea Thompson: You're kidding me! Oh, my god! that is so great!
I watched that movie last year on the summer road trip. I was stuck in the back seat with the dogs, and I remember watching that and loving it all over again.
Lea Thompson: Oh, my girlfriend Michele Little, she is the girl in that.
Yes, I know her! I think that is one of the great 80s movies. And they have never put that back out on DVD or Blu-ray. Its hard to find.
Lea Thompson: See? So, you never know what people will be obsessed with in the future. It is amazing how people worldwide are excited about Back to the Future. I think it's because there must be some deeper significance to the movie that makes people want to revisit. And it's unique, because you not only have the nostalgia value of the 50s, but now you have a nostalgia for the 80s when you watch it. It's like you get more bang for your buck. The movie has taken on an even deeper parody...What's the word? Not parody. A deeper type of resonance.
I just watched the trilogy again this weekend. And they have this crazy behind-the-scenes book that is coming out this month, too. I don't know if you've gotten a chance to see that.
Lea Thompson: No!
It's really a great book. It has all of this stuff jam packed into it. Like posters and removable photos. I like one of the quotes from Christopher Lloyd, who talked about having to recreate scenes from Back to the Future for Back to the Future 2, and how he was really stressed out, because he didn't know if he could find the same energy and cadence. You had that experience too. But for you, it was different. Lorraine was someone you got to re-interpret in a number of different ways. Yet, you also had to revisit some of the same scenes from the original movie. What was that process like for you? Was it scary to come back for the sequel?
Lea Thompson: It was a really interesting challenge. And a fun challenge to recreate the same scenes themselves, but also various aspects of the character. One of my favorite characters is Lorraine from alternate 1985, the one that is Biff Tannen's love slave. That alternate universe character. I just loved creating that one. Someone so beaten down. In juxtaposition to Lorraine, who was so full of life. The young Lorraine. It's a super unusual movie to be known for. And I find it interesting, people don't seem to be scared about how old I am, now. They are used to seeing me old.
I don't know. You guys today, you and Michael J. Fox...You guys don't look as old today as the movie made you look in 1985. Even Christopher Lloyd looks the same today as he did in 1985. The make-up is a little more pronounced and profound than what you guys ended up actually looking like in the future. Maybe the whole cast just aged well?
Lea Thompson: In some ways, yeah. But they did a good job. And I already get to look forward to everyone knowing what I will look like in 1987. Hopefully I'll still be working when I'm 87, and then we can compare on whether or not they got the make-up right then.
I remember watching the movie for the first time in the theater. My parents were there with me. And I heard it from a lot of people. Even Siskel and Ebert touched on this aspect when they were reviewing the movie for the first time. That this is an awkward movie for a son and mother to sit and watch. Even with dad there. It's an awkward family movie. I know you have kids. Did you have that awkward experience watching the movie with your children?
Lea Thompson: Nah, I didn't have that experience. Only because, to be totally honest with you, I don't know that I have ever sat my kids down and watched one of my movies with them. I don't even remember that. It's not my kind of style. I don't have that type of memory. I think what has been uncomfortable with them is that, like, their friends or their friend's fathers will be, like, 'Your mom's so hot!' That was a little bit hard for them to take. That, they didn't like. It's weird. I've always been a little bit embarrassed. Though, they are used to it!
Now, the big book that is being released this week in conjunction with the movie's anniversary. There is a quote in it from you. You talk about how you maybe weren't so nice to Michael J. Fox when he came in to replace Eric Stoltz. Just because he was replacing a friend of yours in a lead role in motion picture. Do you remember any defining moment that won you over to having Michael J. Fox on set? Especially because, everyone has heard that Eric Stoltz was fired, but until you look at all the photos in the book, you don't realize just how much of the actual movie you guys shot before Michael J. Fox came in.
Lea Thompson: Yeah, it was difficult. I'd already done a movie, Some Kind of Wonderful, where I met my husband, with Eric Stoltz. So I knew him really well. Yeah, it was a really difficult thing. But, you know, Michael has such comedy chops. And such old fashioned comedy chops. You know? With his falling down, and his spit takes, and his double-takes, and his voice cracking, and all the incredible things he did and worked so hard on. All these little skateboard things, and the way he opens the latches. The way he slides across the DeLorean. I really grew to admire his style. He worked very hard on every single shot. And I really appreciated it. It was a different style of acting. And it was one that was really appropriate for the movie.
Now, let's talk about Crispin Glover. In the behind-the-scenes book, they make him out to sound like a real lunatic. Someone that was very hard to handle and deal with. They make it sound like he was on another planet. They were upset with some of his behavior and some of the choices he made. But man, watching the movie, he just steals so many of the scenes. He's brilliant. But reading some of the crew members takes on his behavior, they make it sound like a real nightmare. Was this just a clash of artists wanting different things? You were in the middle of it. What is your take on the whole thing? Because it sure seems like it worked out in the end, in everyone's favor, despite some of those problems.
Lea Thompson: Oh, look! I'm right there with you. When I watch the movie, I really admire his performance. I think he is absolutely brilliant, and he pulls off some incredibly difficult acting. Unfortunately, there was a clash of styles. And he is an odd duck. He's definitely a strange dude. I agree with you, he was absolutely brilliant. I remember watching Back to the Future when we went to do Back to the Future 2. We all went back to Amblin and watched the first movie. And everyone laughed the most at him. He was the funniest person in the movie. He was just so funny! He was crazy.
The story is that he showed up to set with his hair like we see it in the movie. With the sides shaved short, and long on the top. That is the George McFly cut. But, man, the filmmakers were so mad at him. But in the end, it was definitely the right choice for that character.
Lea Thompson: I know. Well, I'm with you on that. I'm an artist. I try to stand up for fellow artists. And I think he was brilliant. He was! You just have to watch the movie. He made some very difficult scenes work. When he punches Biff? He does that thing, when he punches Biff...I know everyone is working together to make it brilliant, but you needed that actor to fully commit in a completely powerful way. And he did! He was amazing. He had a great part. And I'm sad that he's not here to celebrate his amazing work, you know? He was amazing.
Now, when you went back and watched the movie, right before you made Back to the Future 2 in 1988, was that the last time you've seen it?
Lea Thompson: No! I actually saw it really recently at the Hollywood Bowl. They took out all the music, and the L.A. Philharmonic played the music while they showed the movie. You know how they do that now? So it played to 14 thousand people. It was so fun. It was a really great moment.
Are you happy looking back at your performance in the movie? Or do you ever dwell on certain aspects that you could have done different? Are you able to step back and watch it as an audience member? Removed from everything that went into making it?
Lea Thompson: Yeah, that is the only way I've been able to survive. I almost have to think about it as though it is someone else playing it, just to be able to watch it. So, yeah! You know what? I was in such good hands. Bob Zemeckis is a genius. And all of the support, the costumes, the make-up, the score, the script...Everything came together in a really magical way. Which is rare and special. There is nothing...I don't really think about that, I would drive myself crazy. Do you know how many hours of film I have been on? A billion! Oh, god! I just have to step away and say, 'It is what it is.' It's out of your control at that point.
Now, as I was saying a minute ago, I was actually kind of blown away by how much you guys actually did shoot with Eric Stoltz. It seemed like a majority of your scenes were completed by the time the switch happened. How difficult was that for you to go back, and have to redo all of that stuff? Or did you see it as a great opportunity to maybe improve on something you didn't like the first time around?
Lea Thompson: I think, and I have heard the other actors talk about this, one of the hard things is that they would use some of the shots. Like, the close-ups in a scene where they would replace Eric. So, that was the annoying part. You were acting with a different actor. You know what I'm saying? They saved some of the close-ups, and they would just put Michael in the scene. That was the annoying part. Because you just act differently with a different actor.
Watching the movie, you can't tell. It looks seamless, yet it sounds insane to have been involved in that part of the process.
Lea Thompson: The part you can really notice, if you're really watching, is the skateboard scene. You know, the whole skateboard scene, where Michael leads the chase? Biff ends up with the poop all over him. They used all of the stunts with Eric's stunt person. He's a lot taller. It doesn't match. He's got this collar, and this slicked back red hair. They tried to make it work. They inexplicably have Michael's hair greased back in that one scene. And he's wearing this one costume...They couldn't explain why he was wearing it. It kills me (laughs), cause Eric had a completely different set of costumes that he wore. His whole costume design was completely different from Michael's. So that's the part I can always notice. Because the stuntman doesn't match Michael at all.
Some Kind of Wonderful came out in 1987. Is that your favorite movie of all time? I know it must hold a special place in your heart, since that's where you met your husband...
Lea Thompson: That movie is very sentimental for me. Because, yes, I met my husband on, and people love that movie. It is a very interesting movie. But I...I don't even know what my favorite movie would be...My favorite movie is the one I'm directing right now with my two daughters. Because that is awesome! To be able to direct my two daughters in the movie that they wrote.
Which movie is that?
Lea Thompson: It's a movie called 'The Year of Spectacular Men'. And my daughter wrote it a couple of years ago, when she was twenty-two. And we have almost wrapped production on it. And it is about 5 spectacularly bad boyfriends one girl has over the course of a year, right when she graduates college and can't quite figure out what to do with her life. It is a really, really great indie comedy. But, yeah, the fact that I got to develop and make a movie with my two daughters is a dream come true. It's really fun to be at this late point in my career and do something that is so different, and so scary. And just makes me giddy with excitement to go to work. That's great when you get to my age, and you get to do something that's really new and exciting? That's really great.
So that marks your dirercforial debut?
Lea Thompson: Well...Feature director. I have directed two TV movies and a bunch of episodes of Switched at Birth, my TV show, in its fourth season.
Okay, I have two last questions. Everyone seems to hate the idea of a Back to the Future reboot or remake, or sequel. But Christopher Lloyd said he'd love to do Back to the Future 4. What is your take on that?
Lea Thompson: I don't think it would ever happen. But if they asked me, I would, of course. I don't think it will ever happen. Maybe in twenty or thirty years? Something like that? Someone will dig it out of the vault at Universal and shake it up. But it has been a long time. It would have to be a very weird story to make it work. I don't know. It seems like they remake everything.
I don't know if you saw Guardians of the Galaxy, but fans when crazy when Howard the Duck showed up at the end. There has been some speculation that Marvel might make another one. And Marvel even said they are considering a short. Would you come back for that? Or do you wash your hands of all things Howard the Duck?
Lea Thompson: I'm 100% positive that they wouldn't want me to be involved. But of course I would. I have been true to Howard the Duck all these years. I have never stomped on Howard the Duck. That's not my style. If I do it, I live by it. I love that duck, and we did the best job we could. And people all over the world like that movie. I think it was George Lucas who said the technology was wrong. We just couldn't make that duck work. But now, they could animate the duck, and they could make the movie what it should have been. An R rated comedy with this sloppy duck. They just couldn't pull it off. And the script just wasn't perfect. But the cartoons themselves are hilarious. I think. I'd like to see Howard get his due. And not be slandered any longer.
Everyone went crazy when he came out at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy. That should tell you something right there.
Lea Thompson: It's been thirty years of people giving me a lot of guff about it. There have been a lot worse movies made than Howard the Duck. We definitely tried!
The Back to The Future Trilogy 30th Anniversary Blu-ray set is available today in stores everywhere. Happy Back to The Future Day to all! And remember, the future is what you make it! Now, go make some future!