While Michael J. Fox was destined for the role of Marty McFly in Back to the Future, it took awhile for him to actually get the part.
Most of that was due to the success he enjoyed on the sitcom Family Ties. During a panel at Wizard World Philadelphia, our onsite reporter Brandon Davis heard co-creator Bob Gale and Michael J. Fox (alongside Lea Thompson and Christopher Lloyd) talk about how that ultimately came to be.
It started with Bob Gale being asked if Fox had always been the first choice. “This is true. Bob Zemeckis and I were big fans of Family Ties, uh we saw that Michael J. Fox had the best comedy timing of anybody on TV, uh, especially anybody his age, and we knew he would be a perfect Marty McFly. Except, there was just one problem, he was on Family Ties, uh, and when we approached the producer of the show Gary David Goldberg about seeing if he would permit us to get Michael off of the show to do our future film, he read the script, and was very very effusive about how much he loved the script, to the extent that he said “the script is so good that I can never let Michael read it because Michael will hate me for the rest of his life by saying no you can’t do this movie. Michael was carrying Family Ties at that time. Meredith Baxter Birney, his co-star, was pregnant, and so Michael had the lion’s share of the work, and Gary said: “sorry guys, no can do.” We understood that, and so we began a massive search for another Marty McFly.”
Even after the first pass, the script still ended up getting to Fox. Fox said: Oh yeah. My first memory of Back to the Future is was in a trailer in Pasadena doing a movie where I had a snout on and had hair on my face, and I was drinking my lunch through a straw, and the set I was on was Werewolf, and someone came and told me they were scouting locations for a Steven Spielberg film in the neighborhood we were shooting in, and I just thought wow, why can’t, why am I a werewolf when I could be in a movie like that, and I heard Crispin Glover was in it, I knew Crispin, and I thought “F*** Crispin Glover."
He continued: "He’s in a Steven Spielberg movie and I’m a werewolf, and then it just happened as time went on, I didn’t know anything about the film and then Gary pulled me into his office around Christmas-time and said that he had this conversation with Bob and Steven earlier in the year had asked about my availability and he said I wasn’t available and he didn’t want to tell me about it because he didn’t want to make me upset, and I said that’s fine. He said now they need you to replace the actor they hired and he gave me the script in an envelope and said read this script, and I picked up the script like this and said that’s the best script I’ve ever read. Two weeks later I was in a parking lot in pomona….(Port Hueneme) with flames running through my legs.”
Luckily for us, he ended up grabbing the part, as no one else could've brought that character to life like he did.