If the idea of putting in a little overtime sounds to you like a few extra hours at the office, or an occasional working weekend, consider the schedule of actor Michael J. Fox, who as Marty McFly in Universal's 'Back to the Future', volunteered himself for one of the most rigorous schedules in Hollywood history.
When the popular star of NBC's hit show 'Family Ties' was cast in "Back to the Future" as an adventurous high school student who finds himself traveling back in time to 1955, his series still had two more months of active production. For Michael, that left only one option: he would work both jobs simultaneously and catch up on his sleep some time next year.
Fortunately, the 24-year-old fireball is a bundle of energy, which may explain why he was able to put in a full day's work for "Family Ties" and then shuttle to a soundstage at Universal Studios and work until the wee hours of the morning.
"I knew this would be a gruelling schedule," admits the actor with a smile. "But I learned to enjoy it, and besides, if I can't handle it at this age, I might as well get out of the business!
"Fortunately, Alex, from 'Family Ties' and Marty McFly, are two distinct characters and it's easy to separate them," he continues. "If my energy does drop at all, Bob Zemeckis just snaps me out of it. The man is possessed; he never runs out of energy and I get psyched up just watching him work."
From mid-January through mid-March, a typical day in the life. of Michael J. Fox meant reporting to Paramount Studios for his TV show from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and then on to Universal for "Back to the Future" from approximately 6:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. But it was his Friday schedule that left both crews shaking their heads in wonder. Since "Family Ties" tapes in front of a live audience on Friday evenings, Michael would rehearse with his TV family from noon until 5:00 p.m., perform two tapings and then report to the set of his film at 10 p.m. The motion picture crew would then film until 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. leaving one exhausted actor a weekend in which to rest and recuperate, only to start the routine all over again on Monday morning.
"When I first started on the movie, we filmed several special effects sequences, and I remember being a bit intimidated by it all," says Fox. "On the very first day of work, I climbed out of a DeLorean wearing a yellow space suit, into a barn full of smoke and hypnotized chickens. After a while I learned to relax and enjoy all the commotion around me."
Fox admits that his favorite scene in the film takes place in 1955 when he performs Chuck Berry's classic "Johnny B. Goode" for a high school dance before the dawn of rock and roll. "I was able to live out two fantasies with this movie," offers Fox. "I've always wanted to do a big budget feature, with splashy special effects and a great. story, and I've always wanted to be a rock and roll star. In 'Back to the Future' I get to do both.
"When I was 14 or 15, I played in garage bands," he continues. I was kind of a hack guitarist, which means I wasn't good, but I was dedicated. When I started acting, I dropped the music, but when I saw this scene in the script, I knew it was for me."
Asked if there are any similarities between himself and Marty McFly, Fox says, "When I was in high school, I was very much like Marty. He's a little flashier, but more than anything, Marty learns that in order to get a lot of things done, you've got to take risks and he takes risks continuously through the course of the film. In a way, that's what happened when I came down from Canada. I was 18, by myself, and didn't know how it was going to work out."
Born in Vancouver, British Columbia and raised in a family with five children, Fox began working at age 15 in a regional TV series called "Leo and Me." After a small role in a television film with Art Carney and Maureen Stapleton, he moved to Los Angeles on his own and was soon at work on a Walt Disney feature, "Midnight Madness."
From there, he won a role in the critically acclaimed CBS series, "Palmerstown USA" by Alex Haley, and won guest starring roles on such series as "Trapper John," "Lou Grant " and "Family."
When the part of Alex Keaton came along for "Family Ties," he was not the producer's first choice, but a loyal casting director managed to wear him down and Fox soon became a network favorite and the recipient of approximately 500 fan letters per week. Ironically, it was the flexibility and solid support of "Family Ties" producer Gary Goldberg that made it possible for Fox to schedule his series and a motion picture at the same time.
"I've been very grateful for the kind of training I've received by doing a weekly series. I think that both Chris Lloyd, who did 'Taxi' and I have good reflexes and we've learned to adapt to a fast pace and quick changes," says Fox.
He jokingly describes "Back to the Future" as a "comedy- action-fantasy-adventure-coming-of-age film," adding, "It's got a lot of everything, comedy, gadgetry and a story that doesn't quit. I call it a $20 investment, because you may have to see it four times before you absorb all the terrific things that are going on in those two hours."
Steven Spielberg presents a Robert Zemeckis film "Back to the Future," starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover and Thomas F. Wilson. The screenplay is by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, with music by Alan Silvestri. It is produced by Bob Gale and Neil Canton. The executive producers are Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall. The director is Robert Zemeckis.
as of June 5, 1985