The Story Behind When Back To The Future’s Doc Brown Role Was Offered To A Rock Star Before Christopher Lloyd

Film News

Movie history “what if” scenarios can get pretty wild. Back To The Future’s legacy as one of the best sci-fi movies has proven that fact several times over, especially with the 1985 classic originally casting Eric Stolz to play Marty McFly. But now, another tangent timeline has been revealed, as there’s a story behind executive producer Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis offering the role of Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown to a pretty popular rock star. A star that then promptly turned them down, once he realized they were asking him to act.

Mark Mothersbaugh wearing his traditional Devo get up in the music video for Whip It.

(Image credit: Warner Records)

Steven Spielberg And Robert Zemeckis Offered Doc Brown To Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh

Devo frontman and film composer Mark Mothersbaugh admitted in an interview with The Wrap that he was approached to play the landmark time traveler in the 1980s. However, he didn’t anticipate that request when he was approached by the Hollywood power duo after a show. In fact, the first part of Mothersbaugh’s story led to him forming the following opinion: 

Zemeckis and Spielberg were in the audience. So we’re putting all of our stuff away at the end of the night, and I’m leaving. 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 we want to talk to you about working on it.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s great.’ I just remember, for two weeks, thinking, ‘They’re gonna hire me to score their film.’

It’s honestly not an unreasonable request, as Mark was primarily known for his New Wave musical work with Devo. While the group’s stage presence was as much of a hit as songs like “Whip It,” they weren’t exactly being sought after to help carry a major motion picture. Back to the Future could have changed that, except it didn’t.

Mark Mothersbaugh took his meeting with Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, and eventually, he was clued into their desire to cast him as Doctor Emmett L. Brown. And, for his own personal reasons that he also shared within this interview, The Mitchells vs. The Machines composer politely declined; with a very different disappointment stirring in his heart.

Michael J. Fox stands in front of a massive amp in Back To The Future.

(Image credit: Universal/Amblin)

Why Mark Mothersbaugh Turned Down Acting In Back To The Future

Audiences in the ‘80s were already used to both famous actors trying their hand at music, as well as some of the best musicians turned actors like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby leaving pretty huge shadows. Even with that in mind, Mark Mothersbaugh wasn’t interested in trying to become a movie star. 

Further on in this same interview, he explained why Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis even asked in the first place. But as he laid out his part of Back to the Future history, Mothersbaugh actually revealed the part of the negotiations that did disappoint him:

I go, ‘I don’t wanna act in a movie.’ And they go, ‘Well, you act on stage. You’d do great.’ And I go, ‘Well, we make that stuff up ourselves.’ … I just remember leaving Amblin and going, ‘They didn’t ask me to score the film. I cannot believe it!’

It wouldn’t be too long before Mark Mothersbaugh got to flex his film composing muscles, as he and Devo bandmate Gerard Casale went on to score 1987’s Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise. In his ensuing solo career, Mark would rack up credits like the Rugrats franchise, Happy Gilmore, and early Wes Anderson films like Rushmore and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

So one could say everything turned out the way it was supposed to, at least on our timeline. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd would anchor the Back to the Future cast that is still considered an all-timer lineup, and Mark Mothersbaugh’s composing career nailed in some of the most memorable themes of our time. While it’s tempting to think of how things could have shaken out if he’d said yes, and if any of Back to the Future’s most memorable quotes would have hit differently, it’s hard to argue with how history currently stands.

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