Cast credits can undergo numerous changes over the years. Some actors did not immediately have their most iconic roles. And others ended up parting with famous characters. In the case of Eric Stoltz playing Marty McFly, some matters ended up beyond his control.
While we all see and know Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, the role used to belong to Stoltz for a time. And the transition was handled in as awkward a way as possible. However, many people involved did not see a spark with Stoltz that they so needed for the character. Here’s how Eric Stoltz almost had – then lost – the role of Marty McFly.
For a time, Eric Stoltz stood out among the greats
The studio behind Back to the Future had a wide selection of candidates for the role of Marty McFly. They included Johnny Depp, John Cusack, and even Charlie Sheen – but the studio passed over all of them. Above all, they wanted to recruit Michael J. Fox for the part but Fox was busy filming Family Ties. So, the role went to Stoltz, who approached it in a very unique way.
Eric Stoltz went the route of a method actor, demanding total immersion into the part, both on and off-screen. That meant he required his peers to call him Marty even in their personal lives. Those around him did not have very consistently high opinions of this. Co-writer Bob Gale admitted, “We thought it was silly, but we figured if it helped him do his job, it was harmless. There were a few people on the crew who’d worked on Mask and they called him Rocky, the name of his character in that film.”
Unfortunately for Eric Stoltz, the studio and those who worked with him just did not think he had what it took to be Marty McFly at his funniest. But that did not mean they thought him a poor actor. He simply had skills better suited for other genres and titles. Christopher Lloyd, otherwise known as Doc Brown, expressed as much. He asserted, “I felt for Eric. He was a really good actor. Although he was doing the part well, he was not bringing that element of comedy to the screen.”
Producers decided to fire Stoltz in January 1985. But they still continued filming. The Twin Pines mall scene was especially difficult because producers felt bad about having the decision made but continuing to lead Stoltz along. “When we would set up a shot and we would shoot Chris Lloyd’s angle, but we wouldn’t do the reverse on Marty,” the director of photography explained. “I’d say, ‘Don’t we need the angle?’ and Bob would say, ‘No, no, no, let’s not worry about that’. It didn’t take long for me to see that we were saving our energy for what would come next.” And so, about halfway through, they let go of Stoltz, negotiated a contract with Fox, and reshot scenes with Fox as Marty McFly.