NYCC | Christopher Lloyd Recalls Classic Roles (Not Just Doc Brown)
Christopher Lloyd is unquestionably a legend, so it’s no surprise his New York Comic Con Q&A panel drew a standing room-only crowd, with countless fans coming to the microphone in Marty McFly and Doc Brown cosplay. (To one particular Doc, Lloyd nodded and said, “Hey man, we’ve got stuff to talk about!”)
The energy of the room was kinetic. Lloyd was gracious, thanking fans after each question, and his good-humored answers and laid-back demeanor were infectious; every comedic beat was met with applause and laughter. Dressed in black and wearing his gray hair slicked back, the veteran actor commanded, rather than demanded, attention.
But the afternoon’s Q&A session wasn’t limited to the subject of Back to the Future – many of his other projects were discussed, including Taxi, Clue, The Addams Family and even Star Trek.
Things kicked off with a reference to his role on Taxi, an audience member asked, “What do you do at a yellow light?” After a pause, Lloyd replied, “Slooooow down” – the audience erupted in laughter. And, if Back to the Future were ever given the remake treatment, who would he choose to play Doc? “Me!” he answered with a laugh.
There were plenty of classic quotes slung, one of which was perhaps the fan-favorite moment of the session: When a Marty McFly cosplayer took the mic and sasked, “Are you telling me that you built a time machine out of a DeLorean?” Lloyd deadpanned, “Exactly.” A fan of 1995’s Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead roughly quoted the movie by asking, “Have you ever done the foxtrot with a $2,000-a-night hooker in a Paris nightclub?” “Not yet!” Lloyd replied, laughing.
So what was Lloyd’s favorite thing about playing Doc in Back to the Future? He admitted he’s often asked which of the three films he most enjoyed making, saying, “It was Back to the Future III … because it was a Western, and who doesn’t want to be in a Western!” Lloyd recalled filming his favorite scene of the movie, which involved a beloved band, “There was a couple of nights when the township was having a dance … and we stayed up all night for two nights shooting that scene. It was particularly fun because one of my favorite bands of all time is ZZ Top, and there were musicians who played the music in the film for the dance – and it was ZZ Top and a few local folks. And between the setups … ZZ was playing all night. It doesn’t get much better than that!”
When asked if he regrets turning down any projects, he admitted that Martin Scorsese offered him a role in the ‘80s. “Over time, I think to myself, ‘What was I doing?’ This was Martin Scorsese – he so often used the same actors over and over again. That was a severe career mistake. So I have real regrets about that. Clint Eastwood cast a film once – I don’t remember the name of it – some years ago and I would’ve loved to be in it. … I couldn’t do it. I regret that a lot, and I would’ve loved to work with him – I think he’s a marvel.”
Most revelatory was what he divulged when asked whether he got along with Andy Kaufman – a notoriously eccentric personality – on the set of the TV show Taxi. “We seemed to be on the same wavelength. I liked him – he was a very personable, really sweet person, and some people ask me, ‘Was he crazy?’ He wasn’t crazy, he just … had an agenda and he had his own way of getting to it and doing it. He had a particular kind of humor. That was his take on reality.” Lloyd did admit, though, that, “Sometimes he could be irritating,” and recalled a particular night when they were filming with a live audience and they couldn’t find Andy, who was eventually discovered “in the parking lot meditating with his girlfriend in his car.” He also cited a time when Tony Danza was “livid about something” and “got a fire extinguisher and brought it to Andy’s dressing room and spouted out white foam.”
He went on to call Kaufman “a very dear person” before recalling “a so extraordinary thing he did” during one particular Taxi rehearsal. Kaufmann “was doing some sort of spiritual thing that touched on levitation … and he said, ‘I’ll levitate!’” Lloyd said. “There was a break in the rehearsal, and in the middle of the stage he sat down in the yoga position to levitate. And what gall, what courage, what commitment! He’s sitting on the floor waiting to levitate and everybody’s standing around thinking, ‘My God, he might!’ It was such a moment, and it went on for about 10 minutes.”
The story of the afternoon, though, centered on the 1985 movie adaptation of the board game Clue, in which Lloyd plays Professor Plum. “I felt like a beginner – I was with all these incredible people!” he said of his experience with the all-star cast, which included Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Michael McKean, Martin Mull and Leslie Ann Warren. “One thing that comes to mind … I’ll never forget, because it was hilarious, we were all upstairs and Martin Mull was on the stair below McKean, and it was the entire ensemble. McKean is probably going to kill me! And we were all standing there quiet and McKean farted, and Martin Mull – with great aplomb – pulled out his cigarette lighter and lit it.”
Turning to the cast of The Addams Family, Lloyd said, “We did two films, and eventually we felt like the Addams Family. … It was a wonderful ensemble and a great experience.” He called Raul Julia “a wonderful person and actor,” Anjelica Huston “a fabulous, fabulous actress” and recalled seeing promise in a then-11-year-old Christina Ricci. “We first got together to read the script, the cast and everybody, and here was this little girl,” he said. “There was a problem that came up, in the writing of the script, and everybody at the table was trying to come up with a solution. And then little Christina Ricci said, ‘Well how about if you do this?’ And everybody stopped cold – it was the answer. And it was so impressive; she was already obviously such a talented and intelligent young actress.”
Of similarities to his One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest character Taber, Lloyd said, “I get very frustrated sometimes when there’s some seemingly arbitrary effin’ rule that you’re supposed to obey and they wont tell you why, and if you don’t obey there are consequences.” When posed with the question, “Byte, kilobyte, megabyte, then…fill in the blank,” Lloyd shrugged, “I knew this was going to happen eventually!” After a pause, he exclaimed – in classic Doc Brown fashion – “Gigawatts!”
Star Trek fans were eager to know what it was like to play Kluge the Klingon in 1984’s Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. “It was great! I’ve never quite figured out why I was cast in that,” he admitted, chuckling. “Because I’m a nice guy and I had nothing to show up to that time that resembled that character in any way. I loved putting on all that make-up and the costume and wrestling with that big worm. I remember I had my first romance in a film on that Star Trek, and she was in another spaceship, and for some reason that was politically inconvenient, so I blew her up.”