20 Things You Never Knew About Christopher Lloyd
From Uncle Fester to Doc Brown, Christopher Lloyd has played an impressive assortment of eccentric characters in his time. Whether he’s starring as a mad scientist or an alien army commander, Lloyd always makes for an engaging watch and has indisputably had a varied and interesting career.
Although he’s starred in some of the most popular movies of all time, there’s still plenty to be learned about Lloyd. Here are some facts you might not have known about him.
20. He spent weeks living in an asylum to prep for his role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Lloyd had a serious career breakthrough with his work on Taxi in 1978, but his first big feature film was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975. Lloyd plays Taber, a belligerent inpatient who spends most of his time riling up fellow patient Harding. The role marked Lloyd’s debut on the silver screen. His co-star, Danny DeVito, remembers being impressed with Lloyd at the audition: “Chris knew how to listen, to pause. He was committed and didn’t try too hard.” A dedicated actor, Lloyd lived in a psychiatric hospital for several weeks to prepare for the role.
He modelled his character after one of the patients he encountered and reportedly stayed in character even when he wasn’t on camera. Speaking to The Independent in 2017, Lloyd recalled the experience. “We rehearsed by doing real group therapy sessions with some real patients. I remember somebody on the staff commenting that it was hard to tell the fact from the fiction.”
19. He was considered to play Jack Torrance in The Shining
It’s rumoured that Lloyd was in the running for the role of Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror, The Shining. While, at first, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Jack Nicholson as the film’s lead, Lloyd’s knack for playing complex characters might have actually worked well with Jack Torrance’s tortured persona. It seems that Stephen King, author of the original book, might have preferred Lloyd too. However, King felt Nicholson’s association with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meant it was too obvious that Jack would ultimately descend into madness.
King also wasn’t entirely happy with another casting choice – Shelley Duvall as Jack’s wife Wendy. In a 2013 interview with the BBC, King branded Duvall’s Wendy as “one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film. She’s basically just there to scream and be stupid. And that’s not the woman I wrote about.”
18. He almost didn’t play Doc Brown
Lloyd recently revealed that he almost turned down the chance to play Doc Brown in Back to the Future. “I had just accepted a role in a play – a great role – in a play in New York, and that’s where I was gonna go. So I kind of dismissed this ‘Back to the Future’ script,” he said on Your Morning in 2018. “I allowed [the script] to slip into the trash basket and a friend that was with me at the time reminded me that I never did that. No matter what came up, however remote the possibility of being an actor in it, I went, I showed up.”
“So I thought, well, okay.” Thank goodness for this unnamed ‘friend’ of his! It’s basically impossible to imagine anyone else as Doc Brown now. That impossibility is highlighted when you consider the other actors in the running for the role: John Lithgow, John Candy, Danny DeVito, Gene Hackman, Gene Wilder, Robin Williams, and James Woods.
17. His ancestors came over to the US on the Mayflower
Lloyd is a descendant of passengers of the Mayflower, the English ship that transported Puritan settlers from Plymouth to the New World in 1620. Specifically, Lloyd can trace his ancestry back to passenger John Howland. According to the Associated Press, Howland worked as the servant of John Carver, the first governor of the New Plymouth Colony. Howland actually fell overboard while the ship was crossing the Atlantic but was luckily saved as his shipmates hauled him back on board. Howland went on to father 10 children with his wife Elizabeth Tilley. They had over 80 grandchildren.
It’s not overly remarkable that Lloyd can count Howland as a relative – Time estimates that around two million Americans are related to him. Other public figures related to Howland include Humphrey Bogart, Alec Baldwin and Franklin D Roosevelt.
16. His California home was destroyed in a fire in 2008
Tragedy struck in 2008 when Lloyd’s California home was destroyed in the Montecito Tea Fire. Lloyd was filming in Vancouver at the time of the disaster, but rushed back home once he heard his house had been affected. The ‘Tea Fire’ started at the Tea Garden Estate and ripped through an area full of celebrity homes.
Oprah Winfrey, Michael Douglas, Rob Lowe and many other celebrities – including Lloyd – were affected by the fire. Speaking on ABC-7 back in 2008, Lloyd said: “You watch TV and see these kind of incidents happening here and there, but all the time you have this detachment because it is elsewhere.” At the time Lloyd joked that the fire meant he no longer had to worry about getting round to organising his film memorabilia which was sadly destroyed by the blaze.
15. His grandfather co-founded the Texaco oil company
Lloyd’s maternal grandfather co-founded the Texaco oil company. Today, Texaco is one of the largest oil businesses in the world. Texaco was founded in Beaumont, Texas in 1901 by Joseph S Cullinan, Thomas J Donoghue, Walter Benona Sharp, Arnold Schlaet – and Lewis Lapham, Lloyd’s grandfather. The venture was hugely successful. In 1928 Texaco became the first US oil company to sell its gasoline in all 48 states. In 1931, Texaco expanded and purchased the Indian Oil Company in Illinois. This helped develop Texaco’s base in the Midwest.
And Lloyd isn’t the only well-to-do descendant of the oil tycoon: Lapham’s son, Roger Lapham, became San Francisco mayor in 1944. Another of Lapham’s grandchildren is successful banking executive Lewis A Lapham, while two of his great-grandchildren are Lewis H Lapham, editor of Harper’s Magazine, and the late actor Sam Lloyd.
14. Lloyd is so tall, he had to hunch over to appear in the same frame as Back to the Future co-star Michael J Fox
Eagle-eyed viewers may have noticed that Doc Brown often walks with a slightly hunched back or appears to be perpetually leaning slightly forwards. While having Lloyd hunch his back definitely befits Doc’s eccentric character, there was a practical as well as creative reason for it. Lloyd is uncommonly tall, standing at six foot one, while his co-star Michael J Fox is unusually short at only five foot five.
To compensate for the extreme height difference, director Robert Zemeckis used specific filming techniques where the two often stood far apart at different camera depths. In order to capture them both in the same shot, Lloyd was often told to hunch down to get closer to Fox’s level. In reference to this, Fox once famously quipped: “When you’re a short actor you stand on apple boxes, you walk on a ramp. When you’re a short star everybody else walks in a ditch.”
13. Bruno Kirby gave Lloyd his Godfather Part II fat suit to play Uncle Fester
Lloyd may have been much leaner than the original Uncle Fester, but that wasn’t going to stop him from playing Gomez Addams’ rotund brother. Underneath Fester’s iconic black coat, Lloyd concealed a fat suit gifted to him by Bruno Kirby, who had used the very same padding in The Godfather Part II. Kirby had used the suit to appear bulkier in his role as young ‘Fat’ Pete Clemenza.
Lloyd has always maintained a pretty trim physique – so it’s no surprise that he needed a fully-fledged fat suit to bulk up for the role. The crew also initially used prosthetics on Lloyd’s face to achieve the look of Fester’s perfectly round head. But these ended up limiting Lloyd’s facial expressions and the prosthetics were scrapped early on in the production process.
12. He once went ahead with a play despite almost breaking a leg the day before
In 1977, Lloyd starred alongside Meryl Streep in a Broadway production of the musical Happy End. Disaster struck when Lloyd almost broke his leg the day before the play was supposed to open. The budding actor had ripped two ligaments in his right leg and was reduced to hobbling around on crutches. While, ordinarily, his understudy would have stepped in to save the day, Lloyd’s back-up actor had come down with a case of measles.
Lloyd, not one to let others down, insisted that he was happy to perform and do the whole thing on crutches. Despite his injury, Lloyd received glowing reviews for his performance. The Pittsburg Post Gazette said that “he partners Miss Streep fittingly.”
11. He got Doc Brown’s unusual pronunciation of gigawatts as “jigowatts” from a real scientist
One of the most memorable things about Doc Brown has to be his way of pronouncing gigawatts. Unlike most people, Doc famously calls gigawatts “jigowatts.” But did you know that this unorthodox pronunciation actually came straight from the mouth of a real scientist? While shooting Back to the Future, director Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale consulted an expert to help with the more scientific elements of the plot.
The expert pronounced gigawatts as “jigowatts,” which seems to have struck a chord with Gale and Zemeckis. Lloyd’s use of the word “jigowatts” is certainly in keeping with his eccentric and unusual character. The unique pronunciation also produced one of the best-known lines from the entire film, as Marty asks on the audience’s behalf: “what the hell is a jigowatt!?”
10. He hates doing talk shows and considers himself “very shy”
Lloyd’s 1990 interview with Terry Wogan is probably up there with one of the most awkward exchanges on TV. It’s painful to watch Lloyd offer monosyllabic answers to Wogan’s repeated questions as Mary Steenburgen desperately tries to keep the conversation going. Speaking to The Guardian in 2010, Lloyd put down the cringeworthy interview to the simple fact that he is a “very shy” person. “I was never anxious to do talk shows as I didn’t know what to say. And I don’t feel I have any inherent interest,” he said.
But Lloyd has since realised the importance of opening up in interviews and sharing his thoughts and feelings with fans. “But as I’m getting older I feel I want to be able to share whatever I know, if it means something to someone.”
9. Back to the Future III was Lloyd’s favourite of the trilogy because he got to kiss Mary Steenburgen
Filming Back to the Future III marked a personal milestone for Lloyd: his first on-screen kiss. While many fans would probably rank the third Back to the Future film as their least favourite, it’s actually Lloyd’s most favoured of the three. Speaking to The Guardian in 2016, he explained why: “I get to have a romance in that movie. Not only was it my first [on-screen kiss], it was my only,” said Lloyd to CTV News in 2015.
“I can’t think of a film where there’s been a romantic kiss of any sort, so I treasure that.” It wasn’t the first time Lloyd and Steenburgen worked together – the two had previously worked on comedy film Goin’ South in 1978.
8. He based his portrayal of Doc Brown on Albert Einstein and Leopold Stokowski
It makes sense that Lloyd turned to Albert Einstein when it came to figuring out how best to portray the mad but brilliant Doc Brown. As well as drawing on Einstein’s eccentricity, Lloyd’s frizzy white hair in the film was also inspired by the physicist’s iconic wispy locks. Lloyd also drew on the conductor Leopold Stowoski when it came to bringing Doc to life. For those not brushed up on 20th-century classical music, Stokowski was famous for his work with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
He was noted for his energetic conducting style – and, like Einstein (and Doc), had an abundance of fluffy white hair. Speaking to The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2016, Lloyd explained his admiration for Stowoski: “He made innovations in the way he approached classical music. I grew up in a classical milieu, I grew up around a lot of classical musicians.”
7. His dream role would be Don Quixote
Lloyd has played a great variety of roles in his time – from mad scientist Doc Brown to Russian Svengali Rasputin. But the veteran actor recently revealed that his dream would be to play Don Quixote. Speaking to Under the Radar in 2015, Lloyd confessed: “This is kind of a fantasy I think about. If somebody came to me and said, “How would you like to play Don Quixote?” […] I would jump on that. I just think that’s an extraordinary role. I would love to have a crack at that.”
Don Quixote is the title character from Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th-century novel The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha. Many scholars consider Don Quixote to be the “first modern novel,” while some contend that it is the best novel ever written.
6. He wants to make a fourth Back to the Future film
At the 2019 Comic Con, Lloyd revealed that he would be “happy” to reprise his role as Doc Brown in the future. He made the point that if there was to be a fourth film, it would need to deliver a strong moral message. “I think somehow it needs to kind of convey a message about something that’s important to everyone, universally, like climate change,” he said at the annual convention. “Some way of incorporating whatever fever is going on at the moment into the film and keep the feeling of one, two and three. That’s a tricky, tricky deal.”
In 2018, Lloyd said he’d only be interested in coming back for a fourth movie if Zemeckis and Gale were on board with the project. It looks like Back to the Future fans shouldn’t get their hopes up, because in 2016 Zemeckis spoke with an Italian news outlet and essentially confirmed that there will be no more Back to the Future films.
5. He walked off the set of his first film job
In a 2015 interview with Pop Goes the Culture TV, Lloyd revealed that he actually walked away from his first-ever film job. Lloyd doesn’t name the film he was working on, but based on the clues he does give – Christopher Walken played the lead, it was filmed in Santa Fe – it’s likely this was the 1978 film Shoot the Sun Down. “I was a conquistador,” Lloyd said, recalling his role. “I rode a horse. I had scars on my face. I had to wear a wig.”
Lloyd was so excited to work on his first big film and even went down to Santa Fe early to get to know the crew and prepare for the job. But he found that his enthusiasm wasn’t matched by those around him, leading him to quit before shooting commenced. The last straw came one morning when Lloyd asked a costume assistant if he could see his wig. “She reached into a drawer and threw it at me. And that was that.” Lloyd walked out immediately after the incident.
4. It was his idea to never blink as Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Judge Doom from Who Framed Roger Rabbit is probably one of the most frightening characters to come out of 20th century cinema. Lloyd certainly put a lot of effort into making Doom as menacing as possible – including coming up with the idea that Doom should never blink. Lloyd recently participated in a Q&A on Twitter where he revealed he was the one to suggest that Judge Doom shouldn’t blink at all. Because (spoiler alert) Judge Doom was actually a toon in disguise, Lloyd didn’t think that he should blink in the film.
“I just felt a toon doesn’t have to blink their eyes to remoisten their eyeballs. They’re not human, so I just felt Judge Doom should never blink,” he explained. “It makes him even more ominous, more scary, if he’s just looking like that. It wasn’t really difficult, I’d just keep my eyes open as long as I could, try to time it out with the next take and all that.”
3. He didn’t think he would do Uncle Fester justice
It’s no surprise that uncanny Uncle Fester was kooky Lloyd’s favourite Addams Family character when he was growing up. So when he got cast as Fester in the 1991 film, he worried that he wouldn’t do the role justice. Speaking to Buzzfeed in 2013, Lloyd recalls being called into a meeting where he was certain he’d be fired. “There was a sound of concern in their voices. And, of course, I was panicked,” he said.
As it turned out, Lloyd’s panic was totally unwarranted. The film’s producers weren’t concerned about Lloyd’s acting ability – just his makeup. “They thought the prosthetics were limiting my facial expressions, so we chucked the prosthetics… and I was very, very relieved.”
2. He got his part in Taxi after turning up to the audition in his own clothes
Lloyd’s first major acting breakthrough came in 1978 when he landed the role of Reverend Jim Ignatowski in sitcom Taxi. Lloyd wowed producers at the audition for the role by turning up in a costume of his own making. The actor wore unwashed denim jeans and borrowed his father-in-law’s shoes to audition for the part. Jim’s scruffy jacket belonged to Lloyd’s neighbour: said neighbour found the jacket discarded in his garden one day and let Lloyd use it.
When Lloyd arrived in Jim’s outfit for his audition, the Paramount receptionist thought he was a homeless person who had somehow managed to get into the building. “I put together a costume [for the audition], and the guys said, wear that to the show. That was my costume,” Lloyd told The Independent in 2017.
1. He wants to play Rick’s father in Rick and Morty
It’s no secret that Adult Swim cartoon Rick and Morty is based on Back to the Future. The connection is pretty clear even from the characters’ names, in that ‘Rick and Morty’ sounds similar to ‘Doc and Marty.’ But what does Lloyd make of the show and its parodying of the classic Back to the Future films? In short: he loves it and would love to be a part of it someday. “I’ve seen a few episodes and I gotta tell you, I think it’s a lot of fun,” Lloyd said to the Phoenix New Times in 2018.
Lloyd went on to say that he’d be up for guest-starring on the show one day. “I’d like to, of course. I think [the show is] really fun.” He said he’d be keen to potentially make an appearance as Rick’s father – and we’d all love to see that happen!