Best known for his role as scientist Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown in the “Back to the Future” trilogy, actor Christopher Lloyd, 76, has been keeping busy with a number of TV, film and voice roles over the last 30 years. In his newest film “The One I Wrote For You,” Lloyd plays Pop, the supportive father of Ben Cantor (Cheyenne Jackson), a coffee shop barista who decides to enter a reality show competition for songwriters and follow his dream to become a musician.
During an interview with me, Lloyd talked about whether or not he identifies with the main character and if there ever was a time in his career where he felt uncomfortable playing a role. We also chatted about hoverboards, “Back to the Future” and what he thinks about cosmologist Steven Hawking saying time travel was probably impossible.
How did you enjoy shooting in San Antonio? Had you been here before?
I had actually been two San Antonio a couple of times before. The first time I was able six years old. My other brother was a fighter pilot in WWII and he was based outside of San Antonio somewhere. My father, mother and I took a train ride from New York City to San Antonio to see him for his graduation.
Is it nice to get out of Los Angeles when making a movie? These days, as I’m sure you know, you can make a movie anywhere. So, is it nice to shoot something in a city you maybe haven’t been to in a while?
Yeah, location shooting definitely takes you places you didn’t necessarily see yourself visiting.
Have you ever made a movie that was so dependent on its music? I know you played a musician before on a show like “Fringe” and there are great musical scenes in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “The Addams Family,” but here the music is a major part of the narrative.
Yeah, it’s the plot really. It’s the story of a relatively young man who is married and has a 10-year-old daughter and had a really strong desire to be a musician and a songwriter. His heart is really into it.
The main character’s personality in this film changes when he gets on a reality TV show. In your almost 40-year career, has there ever been a time someone wanted you to be something you weren’t as an actor?
I always wanted to be an actor by the time I was 13 or 14. I sensed that’s what I wanted to do. I never wanted to look for another career. Sometimes I have been encouraged to be in a project that I don’t really feel comfortable about. But it’s usually turned out OK. When you do something you’re not comfortable with, you have to come out for that role very convincing. You have to reach down and find what it’s going to take to make it happen. So, I don’t have the same experience as the young man in the film because I never gave up on it. I’ve never had to be talked back into it.
Are there any examples you can share where you didn’t feel comfortable in a role?
I was once cast in a play in a role I didn’t feel comfortable about at all. I almost wanted to give notice and quit the show. I was embarrassed and didn’t feel like I measured up to the demands of the role. But like I said, when it comes to being on the stage, you can’t just shy away from the audience. I mean, every role I do, like any actor, is a new one – a new character and a different situation. There is always the fear of failure. You’re trying something new. It’s just part of the game.
I saw pictures of you at the premiere of “The Theory of Everything.” What do you think about Stephen Hawking saying he is not convinced time travel is possible?
(Laughs) Ah, well time travel in the “Back to the Future” series is pure speculation and fantasy. Stephen Hawking has such a profound knowledge based on science. He’s probably right. What Stephen Hawking has done with that mind of his is staggering. I felt the film was really well done. I thought it was great.
You had a great cameo earlier this year in Seth MacFarlane’s “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” Would you consider that one of your favorite cameos you’ve made over the years?
That was really a lot of fun. It was like a pocket-sized cameo. I haven’t done many of those, but it was a real thrill being on a set of the Old West.
Something I recently saw you in is a fake hoverboard infomercial with HuvrTech and Tony Hawk you released earlier this year and also the fake apology you made after people thought the product was real. Did it surprise you that a lot of people missed the joke?
I think a lot of people were genuinely disappointed that it wasn’t real. They thought the hoverboard had been created and that they’d be able to go out and buy one pretty soon. I felt a little bad about that. But I heard there are some advances in the development of a hoverboard, so it may happen yet.
Well, I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but last month engineers at a company called Hendo, after its 18th prototype, were able to get a hoverboard one inch off the ground but the board can only be used on a special magnetic surface. Are you finally going to be able to get a good night’s sleep knowing the hoverboard finally exists?
Yeah, I feel if they’ve gotten that far – however limiting the circumstances – they can get the hoverboard to hover one inch above anything. (Laughs) It’s a step in the right direction. Those kinds of inventions take a while to evolve.
This past October, producer Bob Gale told Yahoo Movies that he would never make another “Back to the Future” film. Are you glad Bob has not entertained that idea despite studios asking him to do it?
For me, the writing and concepts in “Back to the Future” were so strong and the movies were so thrilling. I don’t know if they would have a problem making another sequel to “Back to the Future,” but I feel like “Back to the Future III” really completed the story.
Have you kept up with Michael Keaton over the years after starring with him in “Mr. Mom” and “The Dream Team” in the 80s? He’s getting some major Oscar buzz this year for his role in “Birdman.” Have you seen the film? What did you think?
I hadn’t seen [Michael] for a while, but I went and saw “Birdman” and he was there, so it was really great to catch up with him. I think his performance in “Birdman” is extraordinary. I think the role is so original and passionate. I think he is wonderful in it. I think the movie was revolutionary because of the way it was shot in all those long takes that somehow included all these close ups. Michael brought this energy to a role that I think was probably difficult to pull off. I thought he was absolutely brilliant.