When Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale decided that Doc Brown would fall in love in "Back to the Future Part III," they both had in mind a single actress who truly embodied their vision of the character who could capture the heart of the enigmatic scientist. Happily, that actress was just as excited at the prospect of traveling back in time with the filmmakers.
"I loved being the new kid on the block," says Mary Steenburgen of becoming a member of the "Back to the Future" family.
"I have two children," explains the actress, "so as a result, we've watched 'Back to the Future' countless times on video. When I met with Bob and Bob, and they told me what they had planned for 'Part III,' and that it was a western, my eyes lit up."
Steenburgen relished the chance to participate in what is her second western. "The western is indigenous American storytelling. It's what we have that nobody else does. If you've never done one, you tend to take westerns for granted, but as an actor, if you know how infrequently in your career you're going to get the opportunity to be in one, you treasure those occasions."
Her first western was also her screen debut, "Goin' South," starring Jack Nicholson. Co-starring in the film was Christopher Lloyd, who spoke one of the first lines ever uttered on screen to Steenburgen. "Chris played a character named Towfield. In the film, when I spurn his advances and save Jack, who is a criminal about to be hung, Towfield says 'I've asked you out a thousand times, and all I got was the flap of your umbrella."' While on the set in Sonora, Steenburgen had a picture taken with Lloyd and sent it to Jack Nicholson, along with a note that read, "It took him 12 years, but Towfield finally got the girl!"
In addition to her previous experience in westerns, "Back to the Future Part III" is her second time travel movie, the first being "Time After Time," which found H.G. Wells, portrayed by Malcolm McDowell, traveling to modern day San Francisco, where he gets involved with a 1980's woman, portrayed by Steenburgen.
"Actually, I've played the same scene in that film and in 'Part III," she reveals. "I've had a man from a different time period tell me that he's in love with me, but he has to go back to his own time. My response in both cases is, of course, disbelief, and I order them out of my life. Afterwards, I find out I was wrong and that, in fact, the man is indeed from another time, and I go after him (them) to profess my love. It's a pretty strange feeling to find yourself doing the same scene, so many years apart, for the second time in your career."
Another facet of the script that initially intrigued the actress was the amount of action she would be required to be a part of. "I've never really done an action movie before. The films that I've done in the past have been more about people talking and confronting each other, than displays of real action. When I first read the script, I wondered not only how I was going to hang upside-down over the wheels of a speeding steam engine, but how I was going to live through it all."
Although Steenburgen was a novice at the physical action, she took to it with great aplomb, quickly mastering the skills required for the various stunts required of her, including extensive horseback riding, dancing and train-walking.
"Once we got into the action scenes, I had to be even more careful because I started to take the action for granted and was totally unafraid. I'd be standing on the train, casually talking to Chris as we moved backwards to do another take. Then I'd look down and remember that if I let go for a second, I'd be under the wheels of this enormous locomotive. For the last third of this film, I felt like a female Indiana Jones."
Steven Spielberg Presents A Robert Zemeckis Film. "Back to the Future Part III." Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Thomas F. Wilson and Lea Thompson. Music by Alan Silvestri. Edited by Arthur Schmidt, Harry Keramidas. Production design by Rick Carter. Director of Photography, Dean Cundey, A.S.C. Executive Producers, Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy. Story by Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale. Screenplay by Bob Gale. Produced by Bob Gale and Neil Canton. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. A Universal Picture.
as of April 24, 1990