Christopher Lloyd Dishes On The Admirable Cause Behind Expedition: Back To The Future – Exclusive Interview
While the anniversary of the release of the first film in the blockbuster Back to the Future trilogy has already surpassed the 35-year mark, director Robert Zemeckis’ time-traveling masterpiece remains, for the lack of a better word, timeless. That, of course, is in large part due to Zemeckis’ expert direction, but also the dynamic acting duo of Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd as the films’ indelible characters Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown.
In addition to the memorable acting, filmmaking, and the film’s unique storyline about Marty traveling back in time with the aid of Doc Brown to save the future of his family, another iconic element emerging from Back to the Future was the DeLorean DMC — legendary car designer John DeLorean’s futuristic-looking car that first hit the automotive market in 1981. Fitted by Doc Brown as a time machine that would transport Marty from 1985 back to 1955 (where he encounters the high school versions of his parents), the DeLorean that embarked on its dizzying trip from the Twin Pines Mall to the same destination 30 years in the past was actually only one of seven models of the car used in the trilogy — and now the cars are located in different parts of the United States.
In Expedition: Back to the Future, streaming now on Discovery+, host Josh Gates enlists the help of Lloyd to locate the A-car — the car backed out of Doc Brown’s moving truck at the mall in the film — to locate the vehicle so it can be donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, an organization that Fox created after being diagnosed with the disease in 1991. But since Expedition: Back to the Future is a docuseries with a comedy spin that finds Lloyd reprising his eccentric scientist character, the legendary actor and Gates find themselves in a quandary of completing the task of recovering the DeLorean A-car before time runs out and erases the future.
In an exclusive interview with Looper, Lloyd discusses his work on Expedition: Back to the Future — which also features appearances by Fox and fellow Future stars Lea Thompson (Lorraine Baines McFly), Donald Fullilove (Goldie Wilson), James Tolkan (Mr. Strickland), and Harry Waters Jr. (Marvin Berry), as well as trilogy co-creator Bob Gale. Also, the actor recalls his work on the classic 1985 film, as well as a life-changing film role long in his past — and his newest role.
Expedition: Back to the Future required Lloyd to play Doc Brown and himself
I’ve only seen one episode so far, but I am completely hooked. What a great concept in that the DeLorean is rare to begin with, and certainly your search for one of only seven models of the DeLorean used in the Back to the Future trilogy is an even more rare situation. How did you come to be involved with this project?
They called me up, and we talked, and I was excited about it but a little bit uncertain. I mean, I actually am Doc Brown [smiles] at the beginning and for the remainder of show, I’m myself. So, I wasn’t doing a character, I was being myself. Usually when I do [a role], it involves taking on another life. The one I’m taking on in this instance is my own, and so it had some intricate areas, in my head anyway, to explore.
That’s what I love about the series, and the way it unfolds. I mean, yes, essentially, it’s a docuseries, but it also plays out like a TV comedy that’s incredibly well-written. That’s not an easy task to accomplish. It works so well, pulling off that tricky balancing act, and so it must’ve been fun revisiting Doc Brown in that sort of way — even though, again, Doc Brown is a part of your life anyway.
Yes, as myself. Yes, [it was] wonderful writing with such a certain kind of wit and humor to it, which made it clear to me where we were going with the material, and yet it didn’t violate any thoughts I had about it. It just kind of melded. Yeah, it was good. I felt, too, I would see that there were a lot of humor in it, a little of it subtle.
Christopher Lloyd has fond memories of sitting in the DeLorean
The series is very entertaining and informative. I mean, I think one thing that moviegoers don’t realize is that these are just props on these films — even the DeLorean is big prop and a very expensive one — so nobody anticipates them becoming iconic pieces of movie history. So tracking this stuff down is definitely, as you show from the very beginning of the series, not an easy task at all, is it?
No, you think they have a lead, and then you find out, well, that was somehow in another location now. [You have] all those little glitches along the way, but I have to say it was just such a great choice [to pursue], that car. It’s futuristic totally for its time, it’s sleek, and it looks very speedy, it looks like it could fly.
It certainly does. Now, I’m sure you’ve done it since the film, but for me as a viewer, it was a goosebumps moment in the scene when you sat in what you thought was the A-car in the first episode. Even though it turned out that wasn’t the case, it’s still one of the cars, it’s still a part of movie history, and you’re the man who played Doc Brown. You’re a part of movie history too — it’s not too often that we get those two things melded together. Was it a "Wow!" moment for you, after all these years, to be sitting in that car again?
It was, it just brings back a lot of memories. Lea Thompson rode in it, and Michael [J. Fox], and somebody else somewhere. There were different shots we took. I remember we had to be… I think it was Lea Thompson, we had to be in the car for some period of time, and the windows had to be closed, and Einstein was with us. It got rather harder and harder to breathe. So, I mean, it was a fun moment.
Expedition marked Christopher Lloyd’s latest reunion with Michael J. Fox
I think the interesting thing about it is, in movie business there is this presumption that everybody leaves a project lifelong friends, when in truth, you’re generally spending 10 weeks together, then you’re onto the next project, and you may never work with that person again. But obviously, with the Back to the Future films, you reunited with Michael J. Fox, for a pair of sequels, and now there’s this wonderful series on Discovery+. When you were working on the first film, did you think that a lifelong friendship with Michael was even a possibility?
No. You work on a show and you hope that at least it gets put together, and opens, and has a decent opening, and a little bit of a run. But this has gone way beyond that. It just kept rolling along, and I had no anticipation of that.
Well, what’s great about it is, is that when you do have a friendship where you may get together and celebrate anniversaries of a film. But to me, I think what is so great — and obviously, it’s the centerpiece of this series — are the positive things Michael has done with Parkinson’s research. Which of course, again, the root of the show, and to find this DeLorean to benefit this foundation. You must be incredibly proud to be associated with a guy who has done so much for people. It’s just an amazing friendship that you’ve had.
Yeah, it’s a thrill whenever we get together. He has just such a loving, wonderful sense of himself in his situation in time. Really, he just has a perspective, and a sense of humor about it, and a kind of joy. He loves being who is and being able to give it. For me, to be involved in this, made all of us feel good about what we were doing, and why we were doing it.
Expedition allowed Christopher Lloyd the chance to meet with some superfans
What’s wonderful about films is that they bring so much joy to people. On top of the friendship you have with Michael and what he does for fellow Parkinson’s patients, you have relationships with the fans. I think the reason the movie trilogy has endured, and ultimately carved out a path for this TV show, is because of the undying love the fans have for the films. And, as it turns out in the series, it’s actually super fans who possess a few of these cars. Was that something that you expected?
Yeah, they are Back to the Future devotees. They just love it, and they were so thrilled to exhibit what they have. [Josh and I] went through a rural area, farm country in Western Massachusetts, to seek out one of those seven DeLoreans that was supposed to be there. [We drove] up rural roads with farms and solitude and quiet, and walked this little driveway to a farmhouse. [The car’s owners, Bill, and Patrick Shea, had] two or three barns that are packed with anything you could possibly associate with Back to the Future. It’s astounding. There’s no neon sign saying "Go this way," or anything like that, but there it is in the middle of [the country], sitting there, and that was certainly a treat. They were a wonderful family, they ran the farm, but they were hobbyists who love Back to the Future.
I’m old enough to remember when the DeLorean actually came out in 1981, and then of course in ’85 it became an iconic car with the release of Back to the Future. Do you recall, going back to 1981 before it ever became involved in the film, what were your thoughts about the car? I guess I always thought "Wow, that’s so cool how the doors open upward like this." What were your thoughts about the DeLorean when it first came out?
I can’t nail the date exactly, but I remember when it first came out… but I had never seen one or been in one or had anything to do with a DeLorean in my life. [I remember it as one of] those new gadgets to come onto the market. I remember it intrigued me, I thought it looked pretty cool with the [doors]. It’s funny how I ended up spending so much time with it.
Back to the Cuckoo’s Nest
I want you to go back in time before the wealth of film and TV roles that you’ve done; back to the very beginning, when you had a role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which was your very first film role. How often do you reflect on such a brilliant opportunity, to star with somebody as legendary as Jack Nicholson in your first film?
Yeah, [it was] my first film, and I’d been all around New York making rounds for 12 years or so, and in film, nothing was translating. Then they came to me, or [maybe I] auditioned, and it happened. Nicholson was an idol of mine going back to Five Easy Pieces, Easy Rider, and The Last Detail. It just [blew] my mind, suddenly to be on a set with his presence, and him there, it was wonderful.
Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown is now immortalized in plastic
I’m an action figure geek, and I’m loving how 35 years later, there’s a company called NECA producing Back to the Future action figures. It’s like I’m looking at a miniature you. Have you ever been able to wrap your head around the whole idea of being immortalized in plastic? I mean, it must be weird and awesome at the same time.
I’m an animated [action figure], and yeah, I’m a LEGO. I don’t think I’m immortalized… Do you have a little miniature one like that?
Yeah, and the action figures I’ve seen, they’re about 7 inches tall. They’re pretty cool.
Yeah, there are those, too. Well, there you are, a hundred years from now somebody will be rummaging around the attic [and say], "Oh, look what I got! Doc Brown!"
And with that, whether you like it or not, Chris, I think you’re immortalized in plastic!
Christopher Lloyd gets down and dirty in Nobody
You have so many roles in the works, but I’m really looking forward to Nobody, where you play Bob Odenkirk’s father. Since the film isn’t out for a couple of weeks, I know you have to keep details buttoned up. But what can you tell me about your role in the film and working with Bob Odenkirk?
Working with Bob Odenkirk was a pleasure, totally, I would love to work with him again sometime. I love my character, he’s a guy who’s retired from doing all the things that you see happening in the film. [He was a] gunslinger, probably had a mob gang, all that, and he’s just so coy, and so experienced, and so skilled. That is why he survived, and he’s retired, and then his son gets himself into a kind of a nasty situation. So he comes out of retirement to help his son with his crisis. I just thought, "How great is it to come back?" He knows all the tricks, and how to do this and how to do that, and make this work.
So you had the same sort of job as Bob’s character does? Essentially, you were a mob guy?
Yeah, if not by choice, by circumstance. Who knows?
Expedition: Back to the Future is streaming now on Discovery+.