Well before there was ever any thought of a sequel, in a behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the original "Back to the Future," Michael J. Fox was asked where he would choose to go if he could actually travel through time. His answer? "The Old West."
Five years later, in "Back to the Future Part III," the actor got his wish, as Marty McFly travels to Hill Valley in the year 1885 to rescue Doc Brown. "It was that proverbial dream come true," says Fox of filming the western adventure, carving his own niche among the ranks of such legendary western stars as John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper and Alan Ladd.
"When Bob Zemeckis called 'Action,' I literally got chills as I walked into the middle of the dusty street, a six-shooter strapped to my leg, squaring off against a vicious desperado, as the townsfolk scramble and huddle inside the saloon doors to await the outcome of the confrontation.
"Those are the kind of elements that make the Old West the perfect setting for the conclusion of the trilogy. The action is fast, the values are pure and the roles are clearly defined. The classic western and the 'Back to the Future' films have the same common denominator at the heart of them--the audience always gets a hero to root for and a villain to loathe."
In addition to his role of Marty, Fox also portrays Marty's great-great grandfather, Seamus, an Irish farmer who is the first McFly to emigrate to America.
"In playing Seamus, I tried to stay away from the stereotype, but there's no denying that he's a bit of a leprechaun," says the actor. "But behind the twinkle in his eye, there is also great wisdom. Seamus provides a valuable lesson to Marty concerning his tendency to overreact when someone calls him a 'chicken.' Seamus has learned through experience that you can have pride without a fall and that, in fact, pride can steer you away from a fall."
To prepare for his scenes as Seamus, Fox, as he had in "Back to the Future Part II," once again found himself in prosthetic make-up. The look of the character had to be different enough from that of Marty, so Seamus' wife wouldn't notice the resemblance between her husband and their unexpected guest from the future.
Much of the transformation was accomplished with the addition of a red wig and appropriate facial hair. The application was a relatively simple process, as opposed to the hours Fox had spent in the make-up chair for "Part II." The biggest problem posed by the make-up was Seamus' thick moustache. In a dinner scene where Seamus sits down to enjoy a rabbit dinner, Michael more often ended up eating the hair, instead of the hare.
"The make-up for Seamus wasn't nearly as extensive as old Marty or Marlene in 'Part II,'" he says, "nor was the physical change that dramatic, yet the effect was still very freeing. As I was sitting there, watching each new piece being applied, the character started to emerge. By the time it was finished, even though I wasn't consciously making the attempt, I suddenly found myself speaking with an Irish brogue."
In actuality, both Fox and Lea Thompson, who plays Seamus' wife Maggie, spent many hours with a dialogue coach in order to bring more authenticity to their roles.
Rather than relying on a generic Irish accent, the actor, along with Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, developed a history of the character and pinpointed an actual county in Ireland where Seamus and Maggie might have come from. Once that was done, both Fox and Thompson learned the specific nuances and speech patterns of that area. "The dialect was tough," admits Fox. "One tends to play around with different voices when you're with friends or at a party, and you think you have an idea of the accent. Then you sit down with a dialogue coach, who tells you you've got it all wrong."
Having completed his work on "Back to the Future Part III," the actor reflects upon the unique experience. "It's been a lot of hard work, to say the least. I've lost out on a lot of sleep and picked up a few bruises along the way, but I treasure every moment that I've spent on these films, with these people. I'm also very proud to be a part of a trilogy of films that, if they do nothing else, allow people to check their problems at the door, sit down and have a good time."
Fox also acknowledges that "Part III" marks his final performance as Marty. "I think it's safe to say that I've uttered 'Whoa, this is heavy!' for the last time. Marty McFly is probably the last coming-of-age role that I'll ever get to play. I'm glad I've been able to stretch it out over the course of five years."
Steven Spielberg Presents A Robert Zemeckis Film. "Back to the Future Part III." Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Thomas F. Wilson and Lea Thompson. Music by Alan Silvestri. Edited by Arthur Schmidt, Harry Keramidas. Production Design by Rick Carter. Director of Photography, Dean Cundey, A.S.C. Executive Producers, Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy. Story by Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale. Screenplay by Bob Gale. Produced by Bob Gale and Neil Canton. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. A Universal Picture.
as of April 24, 1990