Back to the Future Almost Cast an ’80s Music Star in Christopher Lloyd’s Role


  • Mark Mothersbaugh, frontman of Devo, was approached by Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg to play the role of Doc Brown in Back to the Future after they saw one of his concerts.
  • Mothersbaugh initially thought they wanted him to write music for the film, but was surprised when they asked him to play the eccentric inventor.
  • Despite being a performer, Mothersbaugh turned down the acting role and was disappointed that they didn’t ask him to score the film instead.

Back to the Future’s original casting of Eric Stoltz over Michael J. Fox is now a well-known fact about the Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg time travel movie, but it seems that the role of Doc Brown was also almost destined for another star before Christopher Lloyd made the role his own. While speaking to The Wrap at the Sundance Film Festival, Mark Mothersbaugh, best known as the frontman of ‘80s band Devo, revealed that he was approached by Zemeckis and Spielberg to take on the role after they attended one of the band’s concerts.

Although it is hard to imagine anyone other than Lloyd playing the eccentric inventor, Mothersbaugh explained how he agreed to meet up with the director and producer in the belief that they would be asking him to write music for the fantasy film. However, he was surprised when they revealed they wanted him for the role of Doc Brown. Explaining how he turned down the role, Mothersbaugh said:

“We did a sit down show, and it got filmed. Zemeckis and Spielberg were in the audience. And they walk up to me and say ‘Hey, we want to talk to you about something. We have a film we’re working on and want to talk to you about working on.’ And I’m like ‘oh, that sounds great.’ And I just remember for like two weeks, I kept thinking ‘they’re going to hire me to score their film.’

So I went into this meeting and they said ‘well, we loved you on stage. We loved the way your band looks, and we loved the way you guys look. We want you to be a, sort of a crazy mad scientist in this film we’re doing.’ And I go ‘what do you mean?’ And they go, ‘well, there’s a part in the film of a guy who runs around in a lab coat, and he has a car that goes through time. We want you to play that part.’ And I go ‘I don’t want to act in a movie.’ And they go ‘well, you act on a stage, you do great.’ And I go ‘well, we make that stuff up ourselves.’

I mean, I don’t do what other people ask, I’ve never had people ask me to do this, I don’t want to do that.’ And I just remember leaving, and I’m going ‘they didn’t ask me to score the film, I can’t believe it. I thought that’s what was going to happen.’ Well there you go.”


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Back to the Future Had the Right Cast, at the Right Time

Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown holds a remote control device as he stands next to Michael J. Fox's Marty McFly in Back to the Future
Universal Pictures

Most Hollywood movies have a “what if” scenario in their history, when casting decisions can rest on an actor’s schedule, the vision of a director or simply who wants to accept a role. Back to the Future is no exception, and it could have been a very different film if the original casting choices had come to fruition.

Recently, Christopher Lloyd’s thoughts about the recasting of Marty McFly revealed that even those involved in the production don’t always see the merit in certain casting choices. While many fans have agreed that, based on footage revealed of Eric Stoltz in the role of Marty, the film would have been completely different and certainly not have had the chemistry that Fox and Lloyd developed on screen.

There is no way of knowing what Back to the Future would have looked like if Motherbaugh had agreed to take the part of Doc Brown, but it is hard to imagine how any other cast could have delivered the same success to the franchise. All in all, the right cast clearly ended up in the right place at the right time.

back to the future

Back to the Future

Release Date
July 3, 1985


He’s the only kid ever to get into trouble before he was born.

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