MICHAEL J. FOX began acting professionally at age 15 in the regional Canadian Broadcasting Company series Leo and Me. After moving to Los Angeles at age 18, he appeared in a number of television episodes of the acclaimed CBS series Palmerstown U.S.A. by Alex Haley. After a small role in the television film Letters From Frank with Art Carney and Maureen Stapleton, he moved to Los Angeles on his own and was soon at work on the Walt Disney feature, Midnight Madness. He guest-starred on series such as Trapper John, M.D., Lou Grant, Family and Night Court, before being cast in the role for which he would ultimately win three Emmy® Awards, bringing him worldwide popularity and millions of devoted fans during the course of its seven season run -- that of Alex P. Keaton on NBC's Family Ties (September 22, 1982 - May 17, 1989). |
When the part of Alex came along, he was not the producer's first choice, but a loyal casting director managed to wear him down and Fox soon became a network favorite and the recipient of approximately 500 fan letters per week. Ironically, it was the flexibility and solid support of Family Ties producer Gary Goldberg that made it possible for Fox to schedule his series and a motion picture at the same time. From mid-January through mid-March 1985, a typical day in the life of Michael J. Fox meant reporting to Paramount Studios for his TV show Family Tiesfrom 10 AM to 6 PM, and then on to Universal for Back to the Future from approximately 6:30 PM to 2:30 AM. But it was his Friday schedule that left both crews shaking their heads in wonder. Since Family Ties taped in front of a live audience on Friday evenings, Michael would rehearse with his TV family from noon until 5 PM, perform two tapings, and then report to the set of his film at 10 PM. The motion picture crew would then film until 6 or 7 AM., leaving the exhausted actor a weekend in which to rest and recuperate, only to start the routine all over again on Monday morning.
"When I first started on the movie, we filmed several special effects sequences, and I remember being a bit intimidated by it all," says Fox. "On the very first day of work, I climbed out of a DeLorean wearing a yellow space suit, into a barn full of smoke and hypnotized chickens. After a while I learned to relax and enjoy all the commotion around me." Upon thinking of all the hanging and flying that Marty does, and the number of devices necessary to implement their successful filming, he is reminded of a saying that he and director Zemeckis would quote in situations of that nature. "Pain is temporary, film is forever."
Michael once jokingly described Back to the Future as a "comedy-action-fantasy-adventure-coming-of-age film," adding, "It's got a lot of everything, comedy, gadgetry and a story that doesn't quit. I call it a $20 investment, because you may have to see it four times before you absorb all the terrific things that are going on in those two hours. I think what made it such an immense hit is that it was cross-generational. Just by the nature of the story, its appeal reached people who remembered the '50s, and interested a whole new generation in the period. It was also a very life-affirming story about relationships, as well as a 'what if?' movie, which is another thing audiences love. It's hard to analyze, and maybe it's best left that way. It's like Mark Twain's analogy between comedy and a frog. If you dissect it, you might find out what makes it work, but it'll die in the process."
Filming the two Back to the Future sequels in 1989-90 back-to-back brings thoughts of happiness and grief for Michael J. Fox. If filming a motion picture and a television show at the same time wasn't enough, Fox also had the added, but welcome distraction of the imminent arrival of his first child, another challenging role which the actor acknowledges as the best yet -- that of father. During the production of Back to the Future Part II, his wife, actress Tracy Pollan (who played his first girlfriend on Family Ties), gave birth to Sam Michael Fox. Happily, the baby's sense of timing was as good as his father's, and Sam was born after his father had completed filming chores on Family Ties. But while Back to the Future Part II brings the actor thoughts of joy of being a father, Back to the Future Part III often reminds him of the tragic passing of his father during the filming of that sequel.
Way before there was ever any hint of the two sequels yet to come, Michael J. Fox was asked in a behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the original Back to the Future where he would choose to go if he could actually travel through time. His answer? "The Old West." Five years later, in Back to the Future Part III, the actor got his wish, as Marty McFly traveled to Hill Valley in the year 1885 to rescue Doc Brown. "It was that proverbial dream come true," says Fox of filming the western adventure.
Having completed his work on Back to the Future Part III, the actor reflected upon the unique experience. "It's been a lot of hard work, to say the least. I've lost out on a lot of sleep and picked up a few bruises along the way, but I treasure every moment that I've spent on these films, with these people. I'm also very proud to be a part of a trilogy of films that, if they do nothing else, allow people to check their problems at the door, sit down and have a good time."
Among his work in television and film, Fox has also directed an episode of HBO's Tales from the Crypt ("The Trap") and Gary David Goldberg's Brooklyn Bridge. He directed and starred in a short film called "The Iceman Hummeth" on Late Night with David Letterman, hosted Saturday Night Live in 1991, and appeared in the play "The Shadow Box". His commercial credits include McDonald's, Tilex, Diet Pepsi, Pepsi and Integra. He is also a talented singer, as he sang several songs in the film Light of Day with Joan Jett.
In March 1996, he agreed to return to television to star in ABC's new comedy series Spin City. He still plans to make his motion picture directorial debut with Thirty Wishes, a romantic comedy produced by his production company, Lottery Hill Entertainment, in which he also stars. The show is a constant entry in the week's Top 20 most watched programs.
On February 15, 1995, Michael and Tracy welcomed two more additions to their family, their twin daughters Aquinnah Kathleen and Schuyler Frances Fox. These days, Michael's "family ties" are in New York, where he, Tracy, and their three children call home. He spends his scarce free time enjoying old movies and watching sporting events.
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