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SYFY WIRE Back to the Future

Back to the Future's Doc Brown Was Almost Played by a Very Different Kind of Star

Before Christopher Lloyd, Back to the Future almost had a very surprising choice for Doc Brown.

By Matthew Jackson
Split of Mark Mothersbaugh on a red carpet and Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown

Back to the Future is a classic sci-fi adventure now, but back when director Robert Zemeckis was putting the film together, it seemed like one of those movies teetering on the brink of success or failure. Zemeckis famously had to recast the lead role partway through filming, swapping out Eric Stoltz for Michael J. Fox, but it turns out the role of Marty McFly wasn't the only near-miss in the casting department. 

Earlier this month, speaking to The Wrap while promoting his new documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh revealed that Zemeckis and producer Steven Spielberg once approached him after a concert to ask him to be involved with Back to the Future. Naturally, Mothersbaugh assumed he'd be asked to write the film's score, something he wasn't known for at the time but would become very known for in years to come. But it turns out that wasn't the case. As Mothersbaugh recalled:

"I went into this meeting, and they said 'Well, we loved you onstage, we love the way your band looks, and...we want you to be sort of a crazy mad scientist in this film we're doing.'"

He continued, "I go, 'I don't want to act in a movie,' and they go, 'Well, you act onstage, you do great.' And I go, 'Well, we make that stuff up ourselves, I don't do what other people...I don't want to do that.'"

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So yes, before Christopher Lloyd was attached to play the legendary inventor of the Flux Capacitor, Devo's own Mark Mothersbaugh was up for the role, and turned it down because he quite simply couldn't fathom being a professional actor in someone else's story. Based on how he recalls it now, it sounds like Mothersbaugh turned Zemeckis and Spielberg down without a moment's hesitation, but that doesn't mean he wasn't disappoint about the meeting.

"I just remember leaving Amblin and going 'They didn't ask me to score the film, I cannot believe it,'" he said. 

Fortunately, everything worked out. Zemeckis and Spielberg landed Christopher Lloyd for the part, and Mothersbaugh went on to score other hit films ranging from Happy Gilmore to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs to Thor: Ragnarok.

Want more Back to the Future? Pick up the entire movie trilogy from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.