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The untold truth of Christopher Lloyd

Christopher Lloyd is a brilliant character actor who's been a part of some of popular culture's biggest franchises. He played the hairless Uncle Fester in the Addams Family films, locked horns with the heroes of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek, made war on the world of cartoons in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and of course he played the eccentric scientist who teams up with Marty McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy. 

Beginning in the '70s, Lloyd's TV and film career is still going strong in the 21st century. In multiple interviews, Lloyd talks about how early in his career he was less open to certain kinds of acting work. Thankfully, he was able to let go a lot of his preconceived notions. If he had stuck to his guns, he would've lost the opportunity to play some of his most beloved roles and the rest of us would be poorer for it. 

To learn more about how this former off-Broadway actor became the man who turned a DeLorean into a time machine, keep reading for the untold truth of Christopher Lloyd.

His film career began in the Cuckoo's Nest

A lot of actors pay their dues with small roles in forgettable movies before getting their break, but in that sense Christopher Lloyd was lucky. Lloyd's first big-screen role came in 1975's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, based on Ken Kesey's novel. Still one of the most acclaimed films about mental illness, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest stars Jack Nicholson as RP McMurphy — a convicted felon who hopes to serve an easier sentence by faking insanity. The film helped to launch some other promising careers. It includes early appearances by Brad Dourif (Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) and Lloyd's future Taxi co-star Danny DeVito. 

Speaking to The Independent in 2017, Lloyd said that before Cuckoo's Nest, his film auditions didn't go well. "It didn't click," Lloyd said. "I could feel it in the audition room. Not happening." The audition process for Cuckoo's Nest was unique. Rather than reading off a script, Lloyd had to create a character on the spot — improvising group therapy sessions with other actors while director Milos Forman handled the part of Nurse Ratched (played in the film by Louise Fletcher). 

That wasn't the end of group therapy for Lloyd. Cuckoo's Nest was filmed at an actual psychiatric hospital in Oregon where the cast rehearsed by joining real therapy sessions with real patients. DeVito told The Independent that Forman apparently wanted the cast to live and sleep in the hospital, but it wasn't allowed because the patient population included "guys who were murderers."

He refused to Shoot the Sun Down

Some aspiring actors are willing to endure anything to get on the big screen. Apparently, even when he was still starting out, Lloyd would only deal with so much nonsense. In an 2015 interview with Pop Goes the Culture TV, Lloyd said he walked off the set of the first film role he got after moving to Los Angeles. He doesn't name the film in the interview, but based on the details he gives (Christopher Walken played the lead, it was filmed in Santa Fe) it seems most likely he's talking about the 1978 Western Shoot the Sun Down

"I was a conquistador," Lloyd said of his role. "I rode a horse, I had scars on my face, I had to wear a wig." Lloyd was so excited about the work that he went to Santa Fe a week early, wanting to prepare for things like the horseback riding and his costume. Apparently the crew wasn't impressed with his enthusiasm. "I got nowhere," he said. "I couldn't sit down with anyone to look at make-up, the wig, I got constant resistance about the horse."

The last straw was a flung hairpiece. The morning of his first take, Lloyd wanted to see his wig. He asked the crew member with the wigs if he could see his and "she reached into a drawer and threw it at me. And that was that." Lloyd told the producer he was leaving. In spite of calls from Walken and his new agent, Lloyd refused to go back.

Taxi steered Lloyd's career in a new direction

Before working on Taxi, Christopher Lloyd wanted nothing to do with with sitcoms. He told Pop Goes the Culture TV after moving to Los Angeles he told his agents not to bother submitting his names to any sitcoms. "I had a bit of an attitude, you know, being a New York actor at that time," Lloyd said. But finally after a period without steady work, Lloyd caved to his agents' pressure and auditioned for the guest role of Reverend Jim Ignatowski — a character initially meant to appear only in the "Paper Marriage" episode of Taxi's first season, when he performs Latka's (Andy Kaufman) green card wedding. Many have speculated it was Cuckoo's Nest co-star Danny DeVito who got him the gig, but DeVito says while he "may have been positive" upon hearing of the casting, he had nothing to do with the original idea.

In season 2, Lloyd was invited back as a regular. The burnt-out Reverend Jim — prone to spontaneous amnesia as well as occasionally confusing his own life with those of characters in Bonanza or Gone With the Wind — quickly became one of the funniest fan-favorite Taxi characters. Among his most well-remembered moments on the show is the classic "What does a yellow light mean" gag. During the written portion of a driver's license test, Jim asks Bobby (Jeff Conaway) "What does a yellow light mean?" Bobby answers "Slow down," prompting Jim to keep repeating the question, just slower.

He loved playing a Klingon

While you might not find him signing autographs at many Star Trek conventions, that doesn't mean Christopher Lloyd didn't have a ball ordering the death of Captain Kirk's son in 1984's Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Lloyd played Commander Kruge — a Klingon obsessed with getting his hands on an experimental device meant for creating planets which he nevertheless intends to use as a doomsday weapon. 

While Lloyd's never considered himself a big Trek fan, once director Leonard Nimoy offered him the role, there was no way the actor could turn it down. "The Klingon... he was just so deliciously evil," Lloyd said of Kruge. "He had no conscience. He was just a... destructive person without any apology. It made it a lot of fun." Lloyd went on to gleefully talk about Kruge's makeup, the costume, and of course having to learn enough Klingonese to say his lines. 

Asked about the murder of Captain Kirk's son and his hand in the destruction of the original Enterprise, Lloyd smiled and said, "I make no apology."

He didn't want to go Back to the Future

According to Back to Future writer Bob Gale, it was producer Neil Canton who brought up Christopher Lloyd's name as the man to play Doc Emmett Brown in the sci-fi action comedy. Canton had worked with Lloyd on 1984's The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension and thought he would be perfect as Doc Brown.

But Lloyd had other plans. Speaking in 2013 at the University of California, Lloyd said when he received the Back to the Future script he was completely uninterested. Lloyd was making a movie in Mexico at the time, and was desperate to get back to New York City for some stage work. "There was always this kind of thing that the theater was my home," Lloyd said, "my roots so to speak and my conscience was bothering me a little bit that I was coming out to Hollywood to 'sell my soul.'" Without giving the script much of a look, he threw it in a wastepaper basket, determined that he was heading back to the stage.

An unnamed friend changed his mind, reminding Lloyd that one of his mottos was "Never leave a stone unturned." Lloyd decided to meet with Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis. The actor hasn't specified why that meeting made him sign on to the film, simply saying that once he was face-to-face with Zemeckis, "that was that."   

For Doc Brown, the third time was the charm

While promoting the 2012 comedy Last Call, Christopher Lloyd hosted a Reddit Q&A that attracted lots of questions, particularly about his time on Back to the Future. Asked which Back to the Future film was his favorite, Lloyd answered it had to be Back to the Future Part III

"There was horseback riding, which was a lot of fun," Lloyd wrote. "There was the steam engine, to be on, work on, which is quite an experience. And Doc had a romance!"

Lloyd went on to clarify that he loved all three films, but part of the reason the third had a special place for him was that "Back to the Future Part II became kind of dark, and Back to the Future Part III opened up, and had a kind of excitement to it that I really enjoyed."

Toontown wasn't the only time he found himself surrounded by animation

If you're at least passingly familiar with Christopher Lloyd's career, then you probably know he played the villainous Judge Doom in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Just a tad more obscure is his role as animator Drew Blanc in the 1996 video game Toonstruck

Ordered to design more characters for the Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun Show, Blanc works late into the night when he's inexplicably transported to the cartoon world he created. Lloyd exists as a live-action figure in a world of cell animation in this point-and-click DOS adventure, where he must restore peace before returning to the real world. Lloyd wasn't the only big Hollywood name in the game. His boss is played by Ben Stein, while the voice acting cast includes Dom DeLuise, Tim Curry, and Simpsons veteran Dan Castellaneta.

The bizarre game was a hit with critics but sadly was a commercial flop; a result many attribute to poor marketing.  

Addams Family gave Lloyd the chance to play one of his childhood favorites

In 1991, Christopher Lloyd joined the cast of The Addams Family as the creepy clan's bald Uncle Fester. Based on the '60s sitcom, the comedy featured a horror-themed family in a more traditional suburban American setting. Lloyd reprised the role in the 1993 sequel Addams Family Values when the rest of the family tries to protect him from the seductive and manipulative Debbie (Joan Cusack) who's only after his money.

For Lloyd, playing Uncle Fester was more than just another role. In a 2012 Reddit Q&A, Lloyd wrote that the Uncle Fester character was one of his "very favorites" as a child. He went on to write, "I'd always get the [Addams Family] magazines. I'd love the cartoons, because they often featured Uncle Fester. So many years later, when I got a phone call, being offered the role for the movies, I was stunned. It was a real treat to play this character that I grew up on! And it was a wonderful company of actors, playing these weird characters."

Lloyd was dedicated enough to the look of the role that he agreed to a pretty drastic hair change for the movies. That's no skullcap he's wearing — Lloyd shaved his head for both Addams Family movies.

Back to the Future Part IV

In spite of rumors, fans' hopes, and Christopher Lloyd's willingness to reprise the role of Doc Brown, Back to the Future Part IV isn't likely to ever happen. Director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriter Bob Gale have both said that without Michael J. Fox — whose diagnosis of Parkinson's would make it impossible for him to return as Marty McFly — a fourth installment wouldn't make much sense. And that's okay, because we already got a Back to the Future Part IV. Kind of. 

Before his Parkinson's symptoms became too severe for him to continue regular TV acting, Fox's last major TV role was on ABC's Spin City. The popular sitcom featured Fox as Michael Flaherty, the deputy mayor of New York City. In 1999, Spin City's third season included "Back to the Future Part IV: Judgment Day." Lloyd made a one-off appearance as Owen Kingston, Flaherty's political mentor. Fox and Lloyd have lots of fun with the episode, making tons of hilarious references to the movies.

Lloyd seems to have a lot of fondness for his former co-star. Asked about the Spin City episode, Lloyd called the chance to work with Fox again "great." He talked about their chemistry, saying, "When we'd get together to do a scene, we didn't have to think about the chemistry, it just existed when we got together. It was effortless."

Christopher Lloyd is not a serial killer

One of Christopher Lloyd's most acclaimed films fell a bit under the radar when it premiered in 2016, and it features the actor in one of his most unique roles. In the indie horror film I Am Not a Serial Killer, teenager John (Max Records) struggles with the revelations that he has sociopathic tendencies, including early warning signs displayed by most serial killers. At the same time, he becomes intrigued by a series of brutal murders in his small town. John investigates the killings on his own, and is shocked to discover the culprit is Mr. Crowley (Lloyd), his elderly neighbor from across the street. 

I Am Not a Serial Killer is hardly the first time Lloyd has given us a great bad guy. Though his antagonists tend to be intentionally over the top like the warmongering Kruge in Star Trek III or the hateful Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Mr. Crowley, on the other hand, feels much more real and that much more terrifying for his believability. He comes off as a caring, loving husband who's desperate to not succumb to aging so he can stick around for his wife. We eventually learn there's a lot more to the mysterious character, though that would be spoiling things. Speaking to Slashfilm about the role in 2016, Lloyd said Crowley is "a guy who really does not understand his history, his past... he's an enigma to himself."

If you're interested in an interesting and singular horror movie, do yourself a favor and check it out.

His nephew made you laugh on scrubs

Christopher Lloyd wasn't the only person in his family to get bitten by the acting bug. While many fans weren't aware of the family connection, the late Sam Lloyd was Christopher Lloyd's nephew. Fourteen years after his uncle's film debut in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Sam Lloyd made his first TV appearance on a 1988 episode of the courtroom sitcom Night Court. In 2001 he was tapped for the role he's most remembered for, as the hapless lawyer Ted on the medical sitcom Scrubs.

In early 2019, news broke that only months after the birth of Sam's first child Weston, he had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer in his lungs and brain. Sam's friend and Scrubs producer Tim Hobert set up a GoFundMe page for Sam's treatment, regularly updating supporters with the actor's progress. In October 2019 Sam wrote an optimistic update to supporters, saying that a number of his tumors had shrunk and one of them had disappeared completely. In March 2020, things took a bad turn as brain swelling necessitated three brain surgeries in two weeks. In May, news broke that Sam had succumbed to the long illness at the age of 56. Friends and colleagues like Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence shared memories of Sam, and Scrubs lead Zach Braff wrote, "Sam Lloyd made me crack up and break character every single time we did a scene together. He could not have been a kinder man."