Original Casting For Doc Brown in ‘Back To The Future’


Mark MothersbaughMark Mothersbaugh

Back to the Future might not have turned out to be successful if the directors had stuck with their initial casting choice for Doc Brown because he had no movie acting experience. Fortunately, after recasting several persons for the role, they later went with Christopher Lloyd, whose enigmatic skill brought life to the movie.

The quest for the perfect cast started when the film’s directors, Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, attended a concert where Mark Mothersbaugh and his band, Devo, played and were impressed with his performance, then approached him with a big ask. “He [Steven] had called me up and wanted me to come in and talk about a movie he was making with a friend of his that was going to direct it,” Mark recalled. “It was called Back To The Future.”

‘Back to the Future’s original Doc Brown could have meant disaster for the hit film

Mark MothersbaughMark Mothersbaugh
DECONSTRUCTING DAD: THE MUSIC, MACHINES AND MYSTERY OF RAYMOND SCOTT, Mark Mothersbaugh, with the Electronium, 2010. ©Cavu Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Despite not having any acting experience at that time, Mark assumed they needed his music skills, and that was why he was offered the gig. “And I got all excited because I’d been scoring things, and I thought, ‘He’s going to hire me to score the film!’ So I read the script. I thought, ‘Oh, that’s great. I love this story. I want to score this movie.’ And I was so excited.’’

“So I went in to meet him and Robert Zemeckis, who directed it, and they go, ‘We chose you because we came and saw your band play at the Palace,’” Mark continued. “‘You’re so good in the Devo music videos. We love you on stage. So… there’s this scientist, this crazy inventor in the movie, and we want you to play that part.’”

Mark MothersbaughMark Mothersbaugh
URGH! A MUSIC WAR, Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo, 1981, © Lorimar Film / Courtesy: Everett Collection

Mark Mothersbaugh thought he was going to score the role

Director Spielberg tried his best to persuade Mark, but he didn’t consider himself a great actor, so he rejected the role. “Yeah. I go, ‘You want me to act?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah!’ And I go, ‘Oh, no. I don’t want to do that.’ [Spielberg and Zemeckis say,] ‘Well, you’ve done a great job in all your films,’” he explained. “I go, ‘Yeah. But I made that up. I’m not acting. Those are things I wrote. No offense. But I’m not interested in being in a film.’”

“I wasn’t interested in being an actor in somebody else’s film because I really don’t know how to act. I remember leaving there and being so bummed out—I thought I was going to score Back to the Future,” he added. “That would have been great! At least Christopher Lloyd got a career out of it.”

Mark MothersbaughMark Mothersbaugh
BACK TO THE FUTURE, Christopher Lloyd, 1985, © Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

Apart from Mark Mothersbaugh, Steven and Robert approached Jeff Goldblum and John Lithgow for the role but had to go with Christopher Lloyd because Jeff was younger and Doc Brown had to be an older man.


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