Although many people are familiar with the concept of a forward step and two backward steps, not many are as familiar with the concept of being partially blacklisted. The best example in the West is Eric Stoltz. As for the East, the best example is Jackie Chan. Eric wasn’t allowed to do comedy, whereas Jackie wasn’t allowed to have control. Both actors benefited from being impeded. Despite Eric being swindled of straight man roles, his films have stood the test of time because most dramas prove to last longer than most comedies due to comedy being a subjective medium whose jokes tend to rely on being topical. Still, the below photo shows untapped potential. In 2003, he also proved to have comic facial ability in Out of Order. Similarly, Jackie extended his comedic and dramatic range.
Eric’s blacklisting is quite strange because, from the eyes of the U.S. moviegoing audience, most of his pre-Zemeckis movies were comedies – Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Surf II and The Wild Life (which Eddie Van Halen had composed music for that would end up being used on Back to the Future). It was only on TV that Eric was primarily dramatic. His firing from Back to the Future resulted in him not being seen in a comic light until five years later when he was seen in Say Anything (where he worked as a production assistant), which he was only cast in because the director was a close friend who had already worked with him twice. Eric’s fortunes really changed when Quentin Tarantino had cast him in Pulp Fiction. As pointed out here, he had the same manic energy that Michael Fox had as Marty McFly.
Eric failed an audition for a lead role which Fox rejected – Top Gun. Eric also failed to win the role of Cameron (Alan Ruck’s part) in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I understand that it’s difficult to imagine him in the latter because of his square (whitebread) image in Some Kind of Wonderful. To get a good sense of the mischief that he was capable of, look at the below pic. Due to his resemblance to Matt Murdock, Eric should’ve been in Daredevil (2003). Had he been in that movie, Crispin Glover and himself would share the distinction of being BTTF stars who went on to be choreographed by Yuen Cheung-Yan (who choreographed Crispin’s fights in Charlie’s Angels). If Eric wasn’t ejected from BTTF, he might have played Peter Parker in Cannon’s `80s Spider-Man movie (which never got made). This casting choice is quite probable since Tom Cruise (who was actually considered for the role) was too busy to do it.
Be that as it may, if Eric succeeded in becoming an A-lister then Scott Leva would not have been cast in 1987. Worth pointing out is the possibility that Universal may have wished to retain Eric’s services in the same way that Paramount retained Cruise’s. Whatever came of the success from not being ditched, we could very well have seen him be cast in Bright Lights, Big City and Casualties of War. If the latter happened, he would’ve been reunited with Sean Penn (the star of Fast Times at Ridgemont High). It would be interesting to see how the method acting of both actors would cause tension. After all, it was because of Sean being too demanding that Eric lost the role (or should that be cost him the role?) of Jeff Spicoli. Like how Fox’s character was meant to look up to Penn’s prior to the rape incident, this reflects how Eric feels towards Sean in real life.
It’s because of Sean that Eric picked up the habit of wanting to be known by his character’s name. Eric is highly underrated as a method actor because he could easily have decided to not dye his hair for BTTF by simply saying that Marty is the result of a recessive gene. This isn’t a flight of fancy, because Eric’s real parents had dark hair. Given how much leeway that Crispin had, Eric could easily have followed suit. Ironically, it never occurred to any of the film-makers that they could teach Crispin a lesson by recasting Eric as George so that people can observe how much Eric looks like Fox. Crispin’s services being dismissed from the BTTF sequels coloured how people saw him as being too weird to really fit in with the reserved establishment. Then again, his career didn’t regress that much seeing as how he never aspired to be a mainstream movie actor. In fact, he has a reputation for espousing opinions on propaganda.
When understanding how Peter Bogdanovich affected Eric’s chance of becoming an Oscar-nominated actor, one has to wonder what would’ve happened had Rob Lowe been the one to play Rocky Dennis in Mask (as was almost the case). Maybe he wouldn’t have starred in Illegally Yours (a May, 1988 flop by Peter). Maybe he wouldn’t have engaged in sexual relations with a minor in July 17, 1988 (thereby regressing his career). Had he starred in Mask, he would’ve experienced the same regression with BTTF; especially seeing as how Eric’s constant latex-wearing blemished his skin to the extent that the sores and scabs only subsided when Mask was released. Lea Thompson claimed that he needed make-up to disguise his freckles. It would be amusing to know whether she knew about his condition or not. By the way, one of the most unconvincing things that she has said is that he was very funny in real life but he was incapable of being funny for BTTF.
Thespians who are very funny tend to see things in a humorous perspective unless they are being told not to. Movie studios coerce casts in being damage controllers. Picture this scenario – Rob stars in Mask, and Zemeckis isn’t fired from Cocoon. This means that Rob would still have been acting in St. Elmo’s Fire while Zemeckis was directing Cocoon. Given how long it takes for a film to go from planning to filming, Rob would’ve been cast in BTTF because St. Elmo’s Fire would have made him perceived as being a cooler choice to work with than Fox. Because Operation Condor had a ground-breaking budget and due to the death of a stuntman, Jackie Chan was disallowed to completely direct again for Golden Harvest. Forced to work with other directors but allowed to choose which ones, there were a few instances where he took over but he still wasn’t credited because it was a way to please the distributors who finance his movies. He also had to relinquish duties to other stunt coordinators.
The few times that he did choreograph were overseen by others who presided as nothing more than supervisors (or safety inspectors in other words). Twin Dragons is the best example. Having six other coordinators would have been a slight overreaction if not for the aforementioned fatality. Being fired because of an orchestrated plan by Spielberg (the below photo depicts him as directing director Zemeckis) could easily have curtailed the career of any actor – look at what happened to Megan Fox no longer being the successor to Angelina Jolie because of what she wrongly said prior to the making of Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Stoltz still managed to have a film career because Bogdanovich had Jewish lineage. As such, he had connections who could stop Eric from floating adrift. Receiving a Golden Globe nomination in 1986 helped him to move forward despite the fact that it wasn’t the stepping stone to Oscar glory that some insiders had predicted.
Being fired from an Oscar-worthy film stopped others from casting him in Oscar baiters, let alone blatant blockbusters. Unfortunately, the concept of being partially blacklisted doesn’t always work like the way that it should. Victor Salva should not have been allowed to work with minors after being arrested for an obvious crime. John Landis (the white guy in the featured image) should have been blacklisted from making action films after the helicopter manslaughter in Twilight Zone: The Movie, yet he made Spies Like Us (which inspired the director-only cameos in the aforementioned Twin Dragons), Beverly Hills Cop III and Blues Brothers 2000. Like Jackie, he needed someone to reel in his desire for real danger in reels. Hollywood’s problem is that it is not strict enough. We’re talking about a place where things are swept under carpets in order to make as much money as possible. It’s become second nature to bribe people by settling things outside of court. Such bribery results in NDA.
Mike Fenton (a casting director seldom listed as Michael) claimed that thespians are chosen based on who has the most clout. In today’s metaphysical climate, social media followings play a big part in who’s accepted. It’s become too easy to cast someone based on who has the most Twitter followers, Facebook fans, Instagram flock, YouTube fleet or MySpace friends (as was the case in the past). An average-looking star is more bankable than a photogenic no-name. Conversely, a popular model is more lucrative than a TV actor of middling stature. You can read more about it in this article. As for Mr. Fenton, this 1986 article is a good indicator as to how he and other casting directors think. He attempted to redeem himself in regards to a particular actor, which is even more eerie given the name of the character that the actor was being pitched to play (for a film titled Lionheart).
In the December 1988 issue of Box Office, Mike had the following excuse to say about a film where he was one of three casting directors (an uneven number of casting directors means that there is a majority vote): “Eric Stoltz is a sensational actor, but he did not bring to the part the one element that Michael J. Fox did – the ingenuousness. Eric and Zemeckis knew that the film they were making could be a good film, but that it couldn’t be as special as it might be. They were both unhappy. Michael was simply right for the role, and that’s not to say anything negative about Eric. He can do things that Michael will probably never be able to do. They are just two different types of actor, and I don’t think the change did anything negative to Eric’s career.”
According to a comprehensive 2005 book titled Casting Might-Have-Beens (which was written by the uniquely-named Eila Mell), Matthew Modine was asked to replace Stoltz. Like Eric, Matt played a titular character who suffers from some kind of condition. Unlike Mask, Birdy would later win the Grand Prize of the Jury at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival. In December 17 of 1984, Birdy was in the top ten list of films that were going to be nominated for best picture at the National Board of Review Awards. Crispin alluded to Eric’s firing taking place in December. On a U.S. chat show titled The Talk, Matt had this to say about it on June 5 in 2017: “My best friend Eric Stoltz had been cast in the part. They were having some trouble and they said ‘You have 24 hours to decide if you want to replace him.’ I said ‘Why are you replacing him?’ and they said, ‘There’s just some problems.’ I think of actors in terms of cereal, so they were looking for Shredded Wheat and I’m Cheerios and maybe Eric Stoltz was Fruit Loops.”
I actually believe Matt, because there is a 1985 issue (October 24) of Rolling Stone where Spielberg claimed that Stoltz is a marvelous actor who is in the same league as Modine. Also, it has been said by some that Matt resembles Crispin. C. Thomas Howell would’ve been sidelined like Eric if he won the role of Marty, because he wasn’t that popular. From a commercial standpoint, Matt had co-starred in Universal’s Private School (1983). It starred Phoebe Cates (who had appeared in Fast Times at Ridgemont High). As such, Universal’s NBC could timely air Private School on TV. Rejecting Spielberg stopped Modine’s career from substantially progressing. In turn, his career regressed after the box office failure of Cutthroat Island.
It’s easy to be skeptical considering that the party line (a factoid instead of a fact) was that they wanted Fox from the beginning. However, the Modine angle is supported by Jeph Loeb claiming that the BTTF producers weren’t exclusively looking to cast Fox. This confirms a somewhat indecisive advice that Spielberg gave as quoted by Gale: “We can’t go to Sheinberg and tell him we have a problem without having a solution for the problem. So let’s figure out who else can be in the movie, before we tell him that we want to fire Eric. Don’t say we want to fire Eric and shut down. Say we want to fire Eric and hire maybe Michael J. Fox.”
On a similar note, it was mentioned in The Ultimate Visual History that Jennifer Jason Leigh was one of the applicants for the role of Lorraine (this was when Marty’s girlfriend was named Suzy prior to being named Jennifer). The fact that she didn’t win the role is because of herself being partially blacklisted. This is due to her pressing charges against Spielberg for the manslaughtering that occurred to her father (i.e. Vic Morrow) during Twilight Zone: The Movie. Spielberg would’ve been more lenient had she only antagonized Landis. It was the latter’s direction that got Vic manslaughtered. As mentioned by Bob Z in the visual history book (which has tendentious tendencies), Eric took his firing well. This is because Matt Modine informed Eric, so the latter had prepared for the inevitable.
In the 99th issue of Starlog (October, 1985), Bob Z suggested that the film-makers had receded artistically as much as they proceeded commercially by replacing Eric with Fox: “It was psychologically debilitating. The pressure came when we filmed something we were happy with the first time again and did it exactly the same. That depressed us because we didn’t improve anything. Even though there was nothing wrong with it, we put on all this pressure to improve – even when there was nothing that needed improving. Even if we did just as well as we had before, we walked away feeling we could have done better.”
The Fox version isn’t better than the Stoltz version (I’ve read the screenplay). While the Fox version has its own merits, the Stoltz version is superior. There is a detention scene which plays out like a high school version of MacGyver. It’s more creative than the amplifier scene. The skateboard thievery is established in the `80s, which makes the `50s theft more amusing. There is a running gag about Marty admitting that it’s not his day. The first time that he meets Doc results in two witty lines when he leaves – the first one is from Doc to an old pedestrian which leads to the second one being said by Marty to Suzy.
Marty has two witty one-liners when he has dinner with his family in the `80s. This contrasts nicely with Marty having to behave himself when he laters dines with his other family members in the `50s. Unlike the Fox version, he isn’t interrupted when asking Doc if he’s wearing a suit like a pop group called Devo. Doc refuses to tell Marty how he injured his head. Marty finds out in 1955 when he sees him talking to a woman at a house party. She hits him on the head with a beer bottle. Marty thinks that 1955 isn’t a good year when he listens to the radio after escaping from the farm. When being a peeping Tom, George looks at a nude Lorraine instead of a semi-nude one. When awaking in Lorraine’s bedroom, Marty goes into detail about why his nightmare was bad.
He describes hair gel as crap. He doesn’t know what teens do for fun in the `50s. He asks Doc, who asks him what they do in the `80s. Marty says sex, drugs and rock music. Doc says no comment. When Marty tries to tell Doc about his fate, Doc says that he hates fortune tellers. When asked if George asked out Lorraine, Marty says that he’s tried everything but scaring him. He inadvertently inspires himself to do so. When acting as an alien, he tells George that he is receiving a transmission from Battlestar Galactica (which would later have a prequel TV series starring Stoltz). During the chase, 3-D (instead of the little boy) talks about inventing roller boards.
When George tries to hit the body bag, he accidentally punches a tree. Marty pretends that he’s hungry so that he can write a letter in Lou’s Cafe. After Lorraine tells him that she will let her kids do whatever they want, he demands to have her statement in writing. She asks him what his parents are like, he says that he’s reached the conclusion that he doesn’t know anything about them. There’s more suspense when George is trapped in a phone booth. Later, he tells Lorraine that he will write a science fiction story based on how they first met. When Marty is guitaring on prom night, he dances like Michael Jackson.
When he returns to 1985, there is comic timing in how he reacts to his modern circumstances. He says “All right!” when seeing his surroundings before saying it again when he turns on the radio to hear a modern rock tune, but he cursively exclaims when his engine fails to start. Biff is more intimidating as a villain. In the cafe, he hits George in the chin instead of slapping him. Before he tries to rape her in Doc’s car, Biff tells Lorraine that Marty’s debt will be collected out of her ass. In terms of the soundtrack, the downside to the Eric edit is that Marty hears Papa Loves Mambo on the `50s radio instead of Mr. Sandman. The upside is that Marty doesn’t wake up to the contrived sound of Back in Time on the `80s radio.
The Fox version doesn’t have a whole lot going for it other than the near-miss road-crossing, the sight gag of Marty resting his head on his hand like George, the life preserver quips, the Jerry Lewis put-down, the heavy double entendre, the joke about Strickland’s baldness, the Florence Nightingale observation, the make like a tree zinger, the daddy-o pun and the gay innuendo*. Nevertheless, I rate the Fox version as 8/10, and the Stoltz version as 9. To be a 10, it needed to be more tragic. Gale did say that the film-makers toyed with the idea of having Marty be a suicidal teenager.
If his girlfriend dies in the first part of the film then Doc Brown could save her by the time that Marty returns to the `80s. To explain how Doc would know this, Marty would give a photo of himself and his girlfriend so that Doc can see if he disappears or not. At the back of the photo is an epitaph. When Doc reveals that he wore a bulletproof vest, he decides not to tell Marty about his girlfriend being saved. Doc’s reasoning is that the best surprise should be saved for last. Marty goes to his bedroom to commit suicide but finds his girlfriend in his bed. She tells him how Doc saved her.
* If you look carefully, you can see that Fox is holding the Stoltz version of the McFly siblings photo.