Christopher Lloyd says he's glad there's never been a 'Back to the Future 4,' teases 'Wednesday' Season 2 cameo
The beloved "Back to the Future" star looks back on his career highlights from "Cuckoo's Nest" to "Roger Rabbit."
Christopher Lloyd has played some memorable childhood villains during his storied career — think James T. Kirk's Klingon nemesis Kruge, Roger Rabbit's hunter, Judge Doom, and Dennis the Menace's menacing home invader, Switchblade Sam. But his favorite bad guy role is the one that he's still playing. The 84-year-old actor recently returned for Season 14 of the PBS Kids animated series Cyberchase, as the voice of the Hacker, a digital world troublemaker who causes headaches for the team of young heroes tasked with keeping Cyberspace safe.
"He's greedy, self-important and had no feeling about anything that stand is his way," Lloyd says, rattling off the list of characteristics that make the Hacker so devilishly fun to voice. "In order for the kids to stop him from doing what he does, they have to find a mathematical solution. I love that — they're learning and using their minds and imaginations helps them overcome this jackass!"
Watch our full Role Recall with Christopher Lloyd on YouTube
In real life, Lloyd confesses to not being anywhere near as tech savvy as his animated alter ego. "I know how he feels about high tech interfering with his lofty dreams," he says, laughing. But he's glad that Cyberchase is helping younger viewers master computer science, especially on a channel that they don't have to pay to watch. "[PBS] is essential: I've watched their programs and they make a great contribution through disseminating all kinds of good things to know about."
He may not be a computer expert, but Lloyd is a master of animated voices — his list of cartoon credits goes well beyond Cyberchase into shows like Robot Chicken, King of the Hill and The Simpsons. Asked what the secret is to creating a memorable animated character, the actor says that energy is everything. "When I'm doing it, I'm gesticulating and moving around — sometimes I smack the mic and we have to do it over! But I feel like I need to get that energy out in the voice. Sometimes they'll film my recording and use those movements and gestures in the animation, so I'm immortalized."
Not for nothing, but Lloyd is already immortalized thanks to a lifetime devoted to making much-loved movies and TV shows. For our latest Role Recall, the actor revisited some of his signature characters with stories straight from the set.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
Like many actors of his generation, Lloyd got his start on the New York stage before Hollywood came calling. And his first feature film was an adaptation of a Broadway hit — Miloš Forman's screen translation of the 1963 play based on Ken Kesey's blockbuster novel. Lloyd appears alongside Danny DeVito and Brad Dourif as one of the residents of an Oregon asylum whose lives are upended by the arrival of rebel firebrand Randle McMurphy, played by Jack Nicholson in what may be his defining screen performance.
While McMurphy loves being the center of attention, Lloyd says that Nicholson always looked out for his co-stars between takes. "He was working with a really young cast of inexperienced film actors, and he did everything he could to help," he recalls, thinking back to an incident when cast member William Redfield missed three weeks of shooting due to a medical emergency. "The producers had to figure out whether or not to pull the plug, but we kept going. We were in the middle of shooting a scene when he was gone, and when he came back again three weeks later, we started off with that scene and I just could not find the groove."
"Between takes, Jack sallied over to me," Lloyd continues. "He saw my struggle and said a few words that put me right back into it. That's the way he was with us in addition to doing his own stuff."
In the years since Cuckoo's Nest release, there's notably been a reevaluation of its portrayal of Nurse Ratched, who runs the ward with an iron fist. Louise Fletcher won an Oscar for her performance, but some contemporary critics have argued that the movie is unduly harsh to the character, suggesting that she — and not McMurphy — is the real hero of the story. (Producer Ryan Murphy took that idea and ran with it for the recent Netflix series Ratched, featuring Sarah Paulson as a more "empowering" version of the character.)
For his part, Lloyd feels that Fletcher's performance captures the character's complexity. "I think she was wonderful," he says of the actress, who died last year. "She stands out as strong and no-nonsense, but I don't think it exceeded [credulity]. She had a job to do with trying to prevent friction and I thought she did it very well."
Here's how much people still adore Taxi: Lloyd very nearly broke the internet when he posted a photo with himself and three of his co-stars — Tony Danza, Judd Hirsch and Carol Kane — on the 40th anniversary of the beloved show's series finale. (Danny DeVito and Marilu Henner must have been held up at the garage.)
What the hell is going on here? #taxi pic.twitter.com/47G9jofAtR
— Christopher Lloyd (@DocBrownLloyd) May 8, 2023
But there's one cast member who sadly can't participate in any impromptu reunions. Comedian Andy Kaufman rocketed to mainstream fame thanks to his typically immersive performance as Latka Gravas, an eccentric mechanic hailing from parts unknown. Kaufman died in 1984, but he still looms large in the pop culture consciousness due to the way he blurred the boundaries between his life and his art.
And Lloyd had a front-row seat to his co-star's flights of fancy. "We were at rehearsal one day, and during a a break the conversation went into levitation," he recalls. "People were talking about levitation, and Andy just sort of casually says, 'I could do that.' He sat down in front of the crew, crossed his legs and just sat there. We're all standing around and he's sitting there quietly. Finally, the [director] says, 'We gotta get back to work.' Andy stood up and that if he had 40 more seconds, he would have done it! It was mesmerizing and so gutsy."
Lloyd says the also blurred real life and performance in his audition to play his Taxi driver, spacey hippie "Reverend Jim" Ignatowski. "I had a friend of mine who lived in Laurel Canyon in a real kind of bohemian mecca. He was cleaning out the brush, and he found that jacket I wear in the show. I put that on and I had a pair of old jeans and old sneakers from an ex-father in law. I put it all together and went into [audition], and they said, 'Bring that all back on Monday!'"
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
Sure, Ricardo Montalban killed James T. Kirk's best friend, but Lloyd can boast to killing the Starfleet officer's only son. That's the tragic turn of events that happens midway through the third Star Trek film, where Kirk's kid, David, is murdered on the orders of Lloyd's Klingon commander Kruge. That leads to a knock-down, drag-out brawl between Kruge and Kirk — another moment that Khan Noonien Singh notably avoided.
"I remember people saying, 'Hey, you're gonna be working with William Shatner — good luck with that,'" Lloyd remembers, laughing. "[I thought] was gonna get nasty, but it didn't. And I've spent a lot of time with Bill since at comic conventions, and we did another movie together very recently that was great. I loved that character [of Kruge] even if I had to come in at 4:30 in the morning to get the makeup on!"
Lloyd recently changed galaxies from Star Trek to Star Wars when he appeared in a Season 3 episode of the Disney+ hit, The Mandalorian. But he diplomatically says that he can't pick favorites between those two Star franchises. "If my Mandalorian character comes up again, I can't wait. But I don't know which I'd choose — I'd go either way."
The Back to the Future Trilogy (1985-1990)
Back to the Future fans have always wondered what Robert Zemeckis's time-tripping trilogy might look like had original Marty McFly, Eric Stoltz, stuck around for the duration. But the actor was famously let go during production and replaced by Michael J. Fox, a switch that necessitated extensive reshoots. Today, Stoltz's performance only survives in the rare pieces of footage that have escaped from the Universal Studios vault.
Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment in 2018, Stoltz said that he "rarely" thinks about his abbreviated time on the Back to the Future set. But Lloyd definitely recalls how the star switch impacted production. "I had no idea he was going to be changed, because he's a very good actor," he says, thinking back on the night when the entire crew learned that Fox would be replacing Stoltz. "We were six weeks in and working at the Twin Pines Mall. We broke for dinner around midnight, and there was an announcement made afterwards that Eric was going to be relived by Michael."
"In my own selfish way, I was most worried about how I was going to be able to repeat my performance," Lloyd continues. "But Michael came on and the electricity was there from the get-go and it never went away. It's still there when we get together today: He's wonderful and his courage at dealing with what he's dealing with and his determination to keep going is [remarkable]." (Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1991 and has talked openly about how his condition has impacted his life and career.)
That unique electricity is one of the reasons why Back to the Future is one of the few '80s franchises that hasn't been rebooted or revived. And that's just fine with Doc Brown. "I know at one point they were seriously contemplating a fourth film, but I feel that the made an entire arc with the three movies and that's the story. Maybe if somebody came up with an incredibly unique story for number four, but we've moved on a little bit. So I don't think that's gonna happen, but you never know."
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Judge Doom looms large in the nightmares of '80s kids, but Lloyd says he based the 'toon slayer on his own cinema-inspired childhood nightmares. "I thought back to Disney films like Bambi, Snow White and Pinocchio which I watched eagerly when they first came out just as young kids do today. And there was more than one time when I would have horribly nightmarish kind of thoughts! So it was satisfying to deliver that kind of payback: 'He scared me, so I'm gonna scare you.'"
Lloyd says that he was also scared for the movie's star, the late Bob Hoskins, who revealed that he "went a bit mad" by the demands of acting opposite characters who didn't exist in reality. "It was driving him crazy," Lloyd recalls. "He'd have nights where he had dreams that he couldn't get out of his system. But he's wonderful in the part."
The actor says that the production did have a dummy version of Roger that they could bring out to help the actors rehearse for the more complicated scenes. And Charles Fleischer — who voiced Roger Rabbit — was also frequently on set to deliver Roger's lines so that Hoskins's private eye, Eddie Valiant, had someone to react to. "He was dressed up in a wacky costume and had kind of a rabbit voice," Lloyd says. "So he would be Roger Rabbit off-camera and that was great."
Suburban Commando (1991)
Thanks to this (alien) fish-out-of-water comedy, Lloyd can boast to being hoisted up by Hulk Hogan — who plays an intergalactic soldier that crash lands on Earth and moves in with a suburban clan — without having to climb into the wrestling ring. "There's a scene in the movie where I'm frozen, and he carries me on his shoulders," the actor recalls, chuckling. "He was a very humble guy, but also a very big guy. His buddies would be around the set and they all had [big] physiques. But he was very sweet."
While Hogan didn't teach Lloyd any wrestling moves off-camera, he did invite his co-star to see him in his element at a WWE match. "I don't remember if he we wrestled that night, but all his buddies were wrestling, so I got to spend time with him in ringside seats and see all the carnage. Then I went back to the dressing rooms and saw that scene. It was pretty interesting."
The Addams Family (1991)
Just for the record, Lloyd was into The Addams Family before they were cool. "When I grew up, my family subscribed to The New Yorker, and every week I would look at the cartoons," he says of his first encounter with the spooky, ooky family created by cartoonist Charles Addams. "Charles Addams's cartoons were often among the pages, and many times I'd see Uncle Fester and I really dug the guy. He has the kind of mischief kids love: he's not a bad guy, but he does little bad things."
Flash-forward to adulthood, and Lloyd got the chance to portray Fester in Barry Sonnenfeld's two Addams Family movies, and he would have loved to have kept going. "I loved it, and I would have played it as long as they could take it," he admits. The bald cap has since passed to Fred Armisen, who inherited the part in Netflix's hit series, Wednesday, starring Jenna Ortega as Fester's niece. The show unsurprisingly scored a second season and Lloyd teases that he may be involved in some way. "I've heard rumors trickling down that I might be coming on," he says. "I'm not sure how, but I think [Ortega] is wonderful."
The Tender Bar (2021)
Some longtime actors develop an itch to direct. But Lloyd says he wouldn't be caught dead behind the camera, even after working with an actor-turned-filmmaker like George Clooney on this small-scale coming of age drama. "It's just too much work," he admits. "I've watched directors and you're asked a hundred questions a day. One day, Bob Zemeckis said, 'I feel like I'm gonna be eaten up by ducks — [the questions] just peck at you all day."
But Clooney handled all the pecking like a pro. "He was very relaxed," Lloyd recalls. "He knows what he's doing, and there's not a lot of fuss. He's got the gentle touch. There would be a lot of family scenes where I might be in the kitchen and somebody else is over here and they're talking to each other even though they're not in the same room. He orchestrated it with such ease. He's just a musician."