There’s a clip from the upcoming “Back to the Future” trilogy anniversary Blu-Ray that’s been circulating that I think is revealing. It deals with the semi-legendary firing of Eric Stoltz after a shocking five weeks of principal photography (some films are finished in three or four weeks) and his replacement by Michael J. Fox back in 1985. It’s fairly self-explanatory.
I personally don’t think “Back to the Future” is remotely a “classic,” but it is 2/3 of a great screwball comedy. (I didn’t care for the science fiction portions of the film.) However, it really looks here like it wouldn’t have worked at all with Eric Stoltz. Obviously, we’re not seeing nearly enough, but these very brief clips were obviously selected because something is just clearly off and perhaps not only Stoltz’s unfortunate hairstyle — which might not have been his selection.
The irony is here that, as much as I like and admire Michael J. Fox as an accomplished comic actor and a public figure, in terms of sheer thespian ability, I’d say Stoltz is very likely the better actor — though being an actor and being a star are not the same gig. He’s certainly shown plenty in the way of versatility over the years and you can’t say he can’t be funny, especially given his brilliant turn as the world’s most relatable heroin pusher in “Pulp Fiction.” On the other hand, Fox clearly has something that Stoltz lacks in terms of being Marty McFly. It’s not just maybe knowing his way around a straight-up gag a bit better than Stoltz might have at the time, it’s an “everyman” quality, I guess. As the deformed Rocky in Peter Bogdanovich’s “Mask,” that very same year, Stoltz had that everyman quality, but I guess with his own face, it just evaporates and that slightly sarcastic demeanor of his can’t be entirely hidden without facial prosthetics.
Anyhow, just another reminder that “best actor” and the “right actor” are not the same thing.
h/t Michael Speier.