Michael J Fox on Back to the Future fans: ‘The most genuine people I’ve met’

Michel J Fox

Actor and fellow cast members celebrate movie’s 30th anniversary with thousands of fans and draw parallels between its baddie and Donald Trump

The cast of time-travelling adventure Back to the Future have paid tribute to the thousands of fans who turned up – many of them in costume as skateboarding teen Marty McFly and his inventor friend Dr Emmett Brown – at a convention in London to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film’s release.

Speaking on Sunday to a crowded hall at Olympia, Michael J Fox, 54, who starred as McFly in the 1985 original and its sequels, said attending the three-day event had filled him with “warm feelings”.

“You’re the most genuine people I’ve met,” he said to cheers from the crowd. “If that’s what a nerd is, then that’s what Marty is too.” Claudia Wells, who played Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer, in the first film, echoed the sentiment, telling ecstatic fans they were the “kindest, nicest, most warm and giving people I’ve ever known”.

She said the first time she had been struck by the impact of the movie was after she received a long handwritten letter from someone who had coped with a tricky childhood through repeated viewings of the movie. “He watched the film every night. We were his family. We were the reason he chose not to commit suicide.”

Fox and Wells were joined on stage by Christopher Lloyd, 76, who played Brown, Lea Thompson, who was Marty’s mother, Lorraine, and half a dozen other actors who took supporting roles, including Harry Waters Jr, who led a mass singalong of Earth Angel, a key ballad he performs in the film.

Absent were the movie’s backstage team, as well as Crispin Glover, who starred in the first film as Marty’s father, George, but ducked out of the followups over pay disputes, Elizabeth Shue, who took over the role of Jennifer, and Thomas F Wilson, who played the trilogy’s chief baddie, Biff, plus many generations in the nefarious Tannen family.

Earlier in the weekend, both Fox and Lloyd had concurred with suggestions from audience members that Biff – in particular an incarnation in the second film in which he’s a flamboyant property and gambling tycoon – might have provided a role model for Donald Trump. Even the hairstyle of the prospective Republican party candidate appears to be foreshadowed by Biff in the 1989 movie – the first of two followups to the original, which were shot back-to-back and released over consecutive years.

The reunion panel was the main draw at this year’s London Comic Con, a UK version of the Las Vegas gathering for comic book and fantasy film fans. Thousands of aficionados of the genre, many of them battling the heat in full-body latex, secured selfies and autographs with the likes of Sigourney Weaver and Michael Gambon, whose roles in Alien and Harry Potter have further expanded their fan-base.

Back to the Future was released over the Independence Day holiday in 1985 and took $383m (£245m) worldwide, making it the most successful film of the year. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Robert Zemeckis, early versions of the script had the time machine as not a DeLorean but a Mustang, and even as a fridge – a concept rejected over fears children might get trapped inside them in an effort to recreate the film. The bolt of lightning required to generate the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity required to power the time machine was also, in one version, to have been generated by harnessing an atomic bomb. “Probably not a great idea,” said Lloyd.

Attention is now directed towards 21 October – the date to which Doc Brown and Marty McFly journey in the film’s second instalment. Back to the Future II showed a 2015 of flying cars, self-tying trainers and widespread hoverboard use (but no internet and a continued reliance on the fax machine). Holding up a prop hoverboard – one of the big sellers at the convention – cast member Ricky Dean Logan said: “I wanna know why we can get to Pluto and we still can’t do this.”

As well as its healthy trade in replicas and tie-in T-shirts, the convention this year also raised funds for Up to 88, a campaign which aims to generate $88,000 by the end of the year for Fox’s charity backing research into Parkinson’s. The actor, who was diagnosed with the disease the year after the third film was released, said that when he was shooting the first film, he was not far off still being “a boy in Canada, thinking I was going to work in the fish docks. You didn’t want to wake up.”

Thompson said the film gave her the best roles she had ever had, and the 1955 version of Lorraine – when she unwittingly falls for her son rather than his father – was the most challenging: “I had to get that weird, horny energy going all the time.”

The actor also lamented that despite now being 54, a couple of years older than Lorraine would have been in 1985, casting directors were reluctant to stretch her with roles as meaty as her alcoholic, cosmetically enhanced semi-sex-slave version in the second movie. “No one will give me that kind of part now. They think I’m nice.”

Fox credited the films’ enduring appeal to its central relationship – between the unassuming teenager and his eccentric mentor. “When you’re 17, a lot of things don’t seem possible. Doc shows Marty what is possible and he accepts him as he is, and invites him to share the adventure.” The actor also paid tribute to Lloyd, saying he had never seen another actor as accomplished at making reams of exposition interesting: “He’s a genius.”

The pair fist-bumped, but Lloyd expressed more scepticism about the uniqueness of their characters’ bond. “[The Doc] would have found someone. Marty was just very receptive and awed.”

The movie’s legacy, said Fox, gazing out on the sea of orange puffer jackets and Nike sneakers such as he wore 30 years ago, was also a product of its subject matter. “Ironically, for a time-travelling movie, there was a timelessness about it. Kids now like it. Though my kids haven’t watched it. Or, if they have, they haven’t told me.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Catherine Shoard, for The Guardian on Sunday 19th July 2015 19.00 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010