Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Back to the Interview with Jeffrey Weissman

The date is 1885, I'm writing this by candlelight in a small wooden shack, deep in the heart of the American Wild West. 

If you are reading this then it should be October in the year 2015... The month and year that I left your time - seven months ago today. 

It also means that you have discovered the box that I left underneath, what will be the the town’s swimming pool. Which, if my calculations are correct, should have started it's building works 3 days before I left... As long as my disappearance hasn't disturbed the space time continuum that is....

Let me explain...

I had run an advert in the local paper asking for a time traveller to help me with a little project I was working on. 

I wanted someone with experience - however minimal - to assist me. I would be time travelling alone at first, but I needed an assistant to document every action, every problem... Every success! And it had to be someone I could trust.

So the interview day finally came, I had received quite a varied collection of applicants for the post, which I had managed to whittle down to 10 candidates.

The first person to enter was a man who called himself 'The Doctor'.... "Who?" I had asked... "Exactly" he replied. He seemed personable enough, but warned me that he could change at any minute and I needed stability. So...

... Next!

The next was a middle aged, nervous looking gentleman, in what appeared to be a dressing gown, eating peanuts and carrying a towel... "Well if he couldn't even be bothered to get dressed for an interview" I thought, "What was he going to be like while at work?!"

Next!


And after a hodgepodge of geeks and weirdo's, crazies and people thinking this was some elaborate TV windup show, I had almost given up... But then he walked in... A man who in a way had been time travelling for years... A man who had been in the past, in the future and back again, yes this was the man I was looking for... This man was Jeffrey Weissman... And he was just perfect!


Jeffrey Weissman (born October 2, 1958) is an American actor. He has appeared in dozens of motion pictures and TV shows, most notably as George McFly in Back to the Future Part II and III with Michael J. Fox, and as Teddy Conway in Pale Rider with Clint Eastwood.

He sat down on the chair adjacent to me and smiled... It was only then I realised that I had been grinning from ear to ear and staring at him for an uncomfortably long time... How embarrassing, I apologised and explained how I thought he would be perfect for this, and then began my well rehearsed sales patter... 

"This is a fabulous opportunity for the right person to experience first-hand the mysteries of time travel... First as an observer and safety officer as I, alone will take the first leap, and then as my companion through time! You must be physically fit and have an open mind... If this is for you then stay, if not then please leave now" I closed my eyes and crossed my fingers tightly, praying that when I reopened then he would still be there... And, thank the lord, when I finally did, there he was, looking a little more perplexed than before, but still there...

"So let's hear a little bit about you..." 

So how did you get started in the world of showbiz?


“I was always the little ham as a child!

I was playing stories and entertaining at the family dinner table, so when I was old enough [about 7] I played in a little local parks & recreation production pageant for Easter. And really early on, I had a babysitter I was quite fond of.  She took me to a private card game and backgammon club that my father ran where we met Omar Sharif,  who was playing there...  I saw my babysitter go google eyed over him. Then right after, we went and saw him in a movie at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood,  I saw her flip out and go google eyed again – it was as if this [being an actor] was how to get her attention.  As I said, I was quite fond of her, so, I think that influenced me.

I started taking it seriously, and took to the stage in about 7th grade - aged 12 or 13. At school I played Shakespearean roles, and was in a variety of stage productions. So I got the bug and I knew I wanted to be an actor.

Growing up in LA, I would stumble upon sets for TV shows shooting on location. I remember meeting actors and getting advice, one character actor went through my report card grades with me, and he said “You got an A in speech and English, and a B in history, but you got a D in math. You can't get a D in math. How are you going to know if your agent’s screwing you!?!!”

The comedian/actor Don Adams played at my dad’s club too, and father asked him for advice for me  - “Wally, tell him to forget about it…it’s 10% talent and 90% good luck, being in the right place at the right time.”

But I continued pursuing the industry.  I got my foot in the door at major studios by doing extra work  [‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’, 'The Rose', 'Fastbreak', 'FM' and  ‘Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band’] . I mostly did background bits, but it was very exciting to get on those sets and major studio lots, but ultimately it’s not very fulfilling if you want to sink your teeth into a part.   

I had a very well respected casting director tell me, “You have talent, but you need to get training,” so I chose to attend the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, in the early 80s”.

Sage advice! And from there your career properly took off?

“While I was doing my intermediate studies for the MFA program, I happened into an opportunity to screen test for a lead in a major film, named “the Genius”  with the director Martin Brest helming. Martin liked me for the lead role, and he gave me a screen test. I ended up not landing the role, but he mentioned me to a very good agent, who signed me and had me move back to Los Angeles. By the way, the film was retitled ‘War Games’.”

Ah… You don’t need a time machine to know what happened next…

“A year later, I was on my way to screen test for a film called “Ladyhawke” which I really wanted badly… but once again Matthew Broderick got that…”

Darn!

“Yes, I played characters for several years at renaissance faires and in several Shakespeare plays and I really wanted to do a period screenplay like that, so that was a bit of a heartbreak, but at least it was getting close to breathing the rarified air of starring in a big studio feature.


My 1st co-starring role was in the fourth segment of the Twilight Zone the Movie, the remake of “Nightmare at 30,000ft”, directed by George Miller, the wonderful Australian director who made “Fury Road” and other Mad Max movies… I’m on the airplane with John Lithgow where the creatures on the wings of the airplane…”

Ah yes, the Shatner remake! Then..?

“I guest starred on several Television shows, Dallas, Max Headroom, Scarecrow & Mrs King and a Diagnosis Murder episode with Dick Van Dyke…I told him I remember thinking as a child, ‘I wanted to grow up to be him!’… That stopped him in his tracks!

 Dick was friendly because I had come to the set with an alpaca sweater that I had found at a second hand store, a golfers sweater that had the 'Dick van Dyke' label on it.  He said “I totally forgot that I’d lent my name to those people back in 61!” I also struck up this rapport because I had played Stan Laurel (Who Dick was very close to, and admired very much).  I played Stan at Universal Studios in Hollywood between 87 and 2001. (I also played Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx)”

So, we have to talk about your appearance in Back to the future two and three, famously replacing Crispin Glover… How did the cast and crew react to you as the new George?

“One of the first people I met on set was Michael J Fox, and he looked at me in the young George McFly make up and said “Crispin ain't going to like this.” So, it was awkward, but within a day or so Michael warmed to me, we spent time hanging out in his trailer and even in public, at a grill in Studio City."

I have to admit I blubbed all the way through Michael J Fox’s autobiography… What was he like?


“He is smart, friendly, opinionated, good natured, and a wonderful soul... He’s a great guy who loves working, telling stories and he has a gusto for life.”

Was there any indication of his Parkinson’s during filming?

“I had suspicions that his rigorous filming schedule was really taking its toll on him, during the day he was doing the final season of Family Ties and during the night we had him on Back to the Future 2 & 3. I said “Michael, when do you sleep?” and he stated, “In the limo on the ride in between studios” - We were at Universal, and Family Ties shot at Paramount which was about 20 minutes away.


I’m sure he napped in his trailer, between shots and in the makeup chair before shoots in the morning. We usually had a three to four hour daily stint in make up to apply the different age make ups.  Michael said, shortly after the shooting of Part 3, he noticed that his pinky started to twitch, which is a sign of PD's onset, but he didn’t get diagnosed for a couple of years after.”  

It’s amazing that he is still working today!

"Like I said, he loves to work!  He’s a workaholic methinks. In fact in Part 3, little Seamus McFly was supposed to be played by Crispin, and when Crispin didn’t come back to do the role, they gave the role to Michael, (as if he didn’t have enough to do). He's kept himself busy, even to this day.”

When was the last time you saw him?

"I saw him in London at the London Film & Comic Con in July, 2015.


There I told him about the fund raising BTTF cruise I was producing for Team
Fox, and his jaw dropped and he said “far out – so glad you’re doing this”.   Though he mentioned straightaway, “I can’t go on boats, the Parkinson’s won’t allow that.” But he autographed a lot of items which we put in the charity auction on the cruise. Mike was going to Skype onto the cruise, but it turned out he couldn't do it as he was triple booked already that week, (the big Fox Foundation fall fund raising event, the Board of Directors meeting, and a film shoot).  We didn’t get him Skyped in on the cruise as he had hoped he could do, but we got Frances Lee McCain (who played Lea Thompson's character, Lorraine Baines' Mother, 'Stella') skyped in and we had seven of the cast and crew from the films on board. The passengers, and celebrities across the board, had a great time.  Many of our passengers even got to meet Christopher Lloyd the night before we sailed at the Ft Lauderdale Film Festival, where I managed to get the indie film 'The Boat Builder', that he stars in, to premiere."

Wow, he really is incredible!

So is it true that you filmed 2 and 3 together?

"It was more back to back – though while we were shooting 2, 3 was in pre-production and then when they started shooting 3, Zemeckis was furiously editing pt 2 at night!

Ah I thought there must be something like that because it’s the only film I’ve seen with a trailer for the sequel at the end of it!"

So did you have to learn both the scripts at the same time?

“Originally both scripts were one, under the title 'Paradox'. (they titled it thus to avoid people knowing it was the Back to the Future sequels, and knowing it was the highest grossing film of 1985, they might charge extra for rentals, and services.)


I suspect the studio and producers  realised they could also double making their money by fleshing the script out by making two films."

I checked my watch, my god we'd been chatting for ages... I thought from the moment he walked into the room that he was the one, but now I knew it... "You wanna' see my machine?" I asked him.


We entered the garage and I threw back the tarpaulin that kept my 'machine' hidden... It was based on a car, just like in Back to the Future, although unlike the film I didn't have the funds for a Delorean... So my time machine was built into a cherry red 1987 Yugo... Not the best choice of car, I know, but within my tiny budget. 

I had set the speed for time travel for 45miles per hour to compensate for the lack of horse power, so I needed to be careful on the road, but I was sure it was going to work, I had done all the checks and I was positive.

I looked at Jeffrey, he didn’t look totally convinced... So I thought I'd deflect him with another question about his career.


So, how did you get the part in BTTF?

“It’s a bit of a story…”

I have a time machine I thought… I have all the time in the world!

“In brief, the agent that had helped me get a part playing Stan Laurel at Universal Tour, had a look-a-like agency – the production had called the agent for a stand in for Michael J Fox and Crispin Glover.  So he called me and asked if I knew who Crispin was, and I said “Sure” and he said “do you think you’re the same height and weight?” I said “no Crispin is taller than me and probably a little heavier” and asked "Why, is this for BTTF sequels?”, he said “I’m not at liberty to say”.  I told him I need the work to earn my medical coverage since my wife was pregnant with our second child, and said "get me in there..."

I had already done several films; 'Pale Rider' with Clint Eastwood, George Miller's segment of 'Twilight Zone the Movie' with John Lithgow, Amy Heckerling's 'Johnny Dangerously' with Michael Keaton, Louis Malle 's 'Crackers'  the with Sean Penn, and others, so I had experience for production to take me seriously. After meeting with the assistant directors, I was sent to casting.

I read for them the scene where Marty and George are hanging the laundry in the backyard from the 1st script… and I suppose that went well, because the next call I got was to go in for makeup prosthetic fittings.


Then I needed to check the make up in a screen test for director Robert Zemeckis and cinematographer, Dean Cundy."

You know when I first watched sequel, didn’t know it was a different person!

“You’re not alone!”


Read more in Part 2, when we talk more about Back to the future, predictions, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Pale Rider, Clint Eastward and much much more...


When we get back to the Interview...

For more information on Jeffrey go to his IMDB page, his Wikipedia page... Or just Google him! 

And check out the Michael J Fox Foundation

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