"Biff Tannen is a very misunderstood man," says Thomas F. Wilson of the character he plays for the second time in "Back to the Future Part II." "That's a lucky thing for Biff, because if people did understand him, he'd be humanely destroyed."
Although Wilson went through several physical transformations to play four different variations of Biff, the actor claims the underlying persona of the character was a constant. "Biff is still the same jerky guy we first saw in the '50s. At the end of the first movie he seemingly changes his ways, and is no longer a threat to the McFly family, but at the beginning of part two, when he accidently sees the time machine take off, he slips right back into being a sinister character, trying to turn this new discovery to his advantage.
"In the future, the 77-year-old Biff is bitter about the way his life has turned out, and he blames everyone else for it. After following Marty and Doc and stealing the DeLorean, he's finally able to unleash the true aspects of his personality, which are seriously nasty. When Marty and Doc get back to the changed 1985, or 'Biffhorrific' as we referred to it, Biff's newfound money and power have enabled him to turn Hill Valley into 'Hell' Valley. The town under Biff's control is basically a celebration of filth, pornography and evil. I think the key to Biff's true personality is displayed in the decor of the penthouse of his Pleasure Paradise Casino. Anything of artistic expression at all is on black velvet..."
In addition to the four Biffs, Wilson also found himself playing his own grandson in the future, Griff. Much like his grandfather, Griff has his own problems relating to the rest of society. "Griff is the result of steroids, electroshock therapy and failed lobotomy. He's just not firing all pistons."
The eldest of five children, Wilson was heavily involved in the dramatic arts in high school, as well as serving as president of the debate team. He studied international politics at Arizona State University before turning his attentions towards the performing arts, with a stint in summer stock at Villanova University.
Wilson returned home to Philadelphia, and on a whim, began performing stand-up comedy at "open-mike" nights in the area. Polishing his act, Wilson worked his way up to comedy clubs in Baltimore, Washington D.C. and New York. While working the clubs, he also found the time to study acting with a number of private teachers, as well as attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Wilson relocated to Los Angeles in 1981, where he found work at comedy clubs such as The Comedy Store and Improvisation, often doubling as the clubs' bouncer. He landed a number of commercials and made appearances in episodic television shows such as "Knight Rider" and "The Facts of Life," before being cast as Biff in "Back to the Future."
In the four years between "Back to the Future" and its sequel, Wilson has starred in the feature "April Fool's Day," also appearing in "Let's Get Harry" and "Action Jackson." When time permits, he continues to perform stand-up comedy.
Following "Back to the Future Part II," Wilson continues the role of Biff Tannen in "Back to the Future Part III," as well as introducing one of Biff's ancestors, Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen, to film audiences. Gaining national attention by playing a character who, in the actor's own words is "genetic waste," Wilson takes it all in stride. "It has always been a dream of mine," notes the actor, "to be universally despised by the American moviegoing public."
Steven Spielberg Presents A Robert Zemeckis Film. "Back to the Future Part II." Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson. 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 October 24, 1989