I'm a big fan of useless movie trivia. I'll admit, this is a bit of a redundant phrase, similar to "irritating Oasis song." But I can't get enough of tidbits about how a movie was made, especially things about the parts they cut out. For example, did you know that Kevin Smith originally ended Clerks by having Dante killed by a robber? Or that Chris Farley would have been the voice of Shrek if not for his untimely death?
Well, one of the recent "What could have been" movie reveals is that Back to the Future's Marty McFly wasn't originally Michael J. Fox. He was the studio's first choice, but he was too busy with Family Ties, so they went with option B: Eric Stoltz. Take a gander at the clip below, and behold the surreal image of shot for shot scenes with Stoltz replacing Fox.
That's pretty much a bummer for Eric Stoltz, isn't it? Five weeks of shooting and then he gets shit canned? I like Eric Stoltz, too, and I wonder if he was really as wrong for the role as they say he was. I decided to put this question to the test in the most half-assed way possible: take two movies, one with Michael J. Fox and one with Eric Stoltz, and compare their performances to see who would be a better fit. I did away with pesky scientific concepts like "controls" or "legitimate effort," and just picked two movies from the eighties that I liked.
For my Michael J. Fox sample, I went with the terrifying tale of pubescent lycanthropy, Teen Wolf. Fox plays Scott, an small-town high school basketball player who finds out he's a werewolf. And when the rest of his school finds out, instead of fleeing in terror/forming a mob to destroy the evil beast, they make him the most popular kid in school. But forget about the plot, my aim here was to analyze Fox's performance. And I must say, with the material given, this guy should have won an Academy Award (or at least a Golden Globe). He somehow manages to take a character in an insanely idiotic premise and make him seem natural.
In the case of Eric Stoltz, I at least wanted to choose an example from around the same time as Teen Wolf. I could have chosen Mask, but it didn't really have a comparable tone to Teen Wolf and it would have been too difficult to resist my natural urge to make fun of people who have unfortunate physical ailments. So, I went with the John Hughes produced Some Kind of Wonderful, where Stoltz plays a middle-class outcast named Keith who finds himself going out on a date with popular girl Amanda (Lea Thompson). Stoltz gives a fine performance as quiet and brooding artist who gets by in the movie with a subtle, likable cool.
And here I think is where I agree with the choice of Fox over Stoltz. It's pretty obvious that nothing in Back to the Future calls for quiet or subtle. Even in the few short shots of Stoltz from the dumped footage from Future, you can tell he's trying to play it straight, which really would not have worked given the ridiculous premise (if you don't already know the premise you can kindly leave now).
In all fairness, it seems that even Stoltz wasn't comfortable with his performance. In a phone call with director Peter Bogdanovich, Stoltz confessed to feeling "wrong for the role." In a 2007 interview with Moviehole, Stoltz had the tone of a man looking on the bright side of losing the part.
You know, it was twenty-something years ago and I rarely look back, if at all; but in retrospect, I think just getting through that difficult period helped me realize how freeing it really was. I went back to acting school, I moved to Europe, I did some plays in New York and I actually invested in [pause] myself in a way that was much healthier for me. If I had become a massive star, I don't know if I wouldn't have gone into therapy. On the other hand, I would've been exceedingly rich which would've been wonderful!
So, even though I agree with the fact that Michael J. Fox was much more suited for the role, it still seems like Eric Stoltz kinda got screwed out of some big fame and money. Although, if the movie sucked with him in it, then maybe his career would have been even worse. Either way, we likely would not have been blessed with his awesome bit part as heroin dealer Lance from Pulp Fiction (he's the dude in the clip who's not John Travolta).