Back to the Future’s Christopher Lloyd: ‘Retire? No, no, no, no, no’

The star is 82 now, and on wife number five. But he has no plans to stop working anytime soon

Christopher Lloyd in Senior Moment

Christopher Lloyd in Senior Moment

 

It seems appropriate for a man whose most famous role had him struggling with the nature of time that Christopher Lloyd arrives for our interview half an hour late and somewhat flustered.

He had been under the impression it was happening the next day. Back to the Future indeed. But Lloyd soon gathers himself, flashing Doc Brown’s trademark wicked grin.

Sadly, the problems don’t stop there – Zoom is playing havoc with his hearing aid, so we have to rely on the skill and patience of his wife, Lisa, to pass on all questions.

Whether it’s a lead or cameos, or supporting roles, I love to be doing it. I don’t wait around for the ideal role to come my way – I’ll take what’s given

Which brings us neatly to the reason for our chat: his new film, Senior Moment, in which he stars with Jean Smart and William Shatner, who play a pair of older star-crossed lovers in this decidedly old-school romcom. “I enjoy playing characters of the age that I have now,” says Lloyd, who is now 82. “I mean, they’re just as interesting as younger characters.”

Indeed, Lloyd has been playing them for some time – it’s hard to believe he was only 47 when he starred in Back to the Future. “I haven’t been cast as an elderly lover yet, though,” he says with a laugh. Instead he’s playing Shatner’s best friend.

Lloyd has always excelled in supporting roles. Right from his first movie appearance, in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in 1975, he has been a foil for some of the most charismatic leading men of the era, from Jack Nicholson to Michael J Fox and Raul Julia. He and Shatner first appeared together in 1984, in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, in which Lloyd played a Klingon commander. They have since met regularly at Star Trek conventions, although friendship wasn’t why Lloyd took this latest role.

In fact, Lloyd has said he has no time for friendships. So why this small part in this decidedly small film? “I don’t really mind as long as I’m working,” he says. “Whether it’s a lead or cameos, or supporting roles, I love to be doing it. I don’t wait around for the ideal role to come my way – I’ll take what’s given.”

Christopher Lloyd and William Shatner in Senior Moment.
Christopher Lloyd and William Shatner in Senior Moment

That perhaps explains his busy yet fairly low-profile career since the huge roles of the late 1980s and early 1990s. A string of hits, taking in the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and two Addams Family films surely would have given him his pick of parts. But it’s not fame that drives him to work.

“I need to express myself,” Lloyd explains. “And I gradually discovered that, through acting in a role, I could relate to people. So I stuck with it.” That passion also explains the lack of friends in his life, something he has joked about often in the past. That was true from an early age – he left high school before graduating, and kept in touch with no one as he went to New York and trained under the renowned Sandy Meisner at the Playhouse School. He may be known for his comedic chops, but Lloyd takes his craft deadly seriously.

“I’m essentially a method actor,” he says. “There was a phrase Meisner used: ‘Acting is acting truthfully, under imaginary circumstances.’” So does that mean he sometimes takes his character home with him? And could it perhaps explain why he is now on his fifth wife?

“Yeah, I’m so into it that I want to keep it going. But then I’m always quite into myself,” he says, chuckling. “So it doesn’t change too much. Let me ask Lisa: Does it ever bother you when I come home from work and I’m still in character?”

“No, you’re amazing,” comes the answer from off camera.

“She’s my best fan,” says Lloyd.

It seems like number five is the charm. “Five is the last,” Lloyd happily agrees.

“Number five is sitting right here!” says Lisa.

All the same, this past year has seen couples everywhere put under unusual strain. It must be even harder when Lloyd is used to filming away from their California home for half the year. “It’s been good,” says Lloyd. “We have dinners at home; Lisa prepares wonderful food. I think we got to know each other more, and better.”

“And I hike with your ex-wife every morning.”

“Funny how life turns out,” says Lloyd.

Isn’t he worried what they might be talking about?

“I can deal with it,” Lloyd says. “And I’m glad they’re having fun.”

Christopher Lloyd and Michael J Fox in Back to the Future.
Christopher Lloyd and Michael J Fox in Back to the Future

Lloyd isn’t so close to his other exes: the screenwriter Jane Walker Wood – number four – is the only one he is still in touch with. He met his current wife, Lisa Loiacono, then a real-estate agent, when selling the house he had shared with Wood. She and her new husband are now in a bubble with Lloyd and Loiacono, and the couples eat together regularly.

Despite achieving fame through kid-friendly films, Lloyd has never had children of his own. As a boy he was one of seven siblings, although he says that the age gap between them – he was the youngest by seven years – means that his childhood memories are mostly of just him and his parents. His father was a lawyer, his mother, Ruth, a singer, from whom must have inherited his penchant for showmanship. He was raised in Westport, Connecticut, but his brothers and sisters were mostly absent.

“We didn’t really grow up all together,” Lloyd says. “My siblings were already off in the world, doing whatever they wanted to do. My two brothers were in the second World War; one was a pilot, one was a marine. Thank heavens, they both came back alive and well. But I grew up pretty much by myself with my parents.”

The sadness in his voice isn’t something I remember hearing in any of his films. “They scattered. By the time I was in my teens they were in Seattle, California, Texas, Michigan. They were all over the place.”

Michael J Fox is so great. He’s courageous, has a great sense of humour and a wonderful perspective on life. I have such admiration for him. And we just have a natural chemistry

You get the feeling this isn’t quite the whole story. And, indeed, he does talk briefly about his brother Samuel. “He’s passed away at this point,” Lloyd says. “But he was an actor, primarily in theatre. He was influential in getting me there and made me get started.” But when I ask if the two were close, all I get is a short, sharp: “Yes, we were.” Perhaps the memory of Samuel, and his nephew Sam Lloyd jnr – who starred in Scrubs and died last year – is still too raw to talk about.

Lloyd is on much happier ground reminiscing about his favourite costars – none more so than Michael J Fox, with whom he clearly still feels a close bond. “He’s so great,” says Lloyd. “He’s courageous, has a great sense of humour and a wonderful perspective on life. I have such admiration for him. From the first time we met, and we shot together, the relationship has always been there. And I know that if we were set to do something else again together, it would still be there. We just have a natural chemistry.”

But he’s most enthusiastic when we come to his role as Fester Addams in The Addams Family and Addams Family Values – a part he wouldn’t be averse to revisiting in Tim Burton’s upcoming Wednesday Addams series for Netflix.

“When I was a kid I used to get this magazine full of cartoons, and there was always an Addams Family strip,” Lloyd says. “And I got really involved, when I was eight or nine, with Uncle Fester. I just thought he was the best. He’s slightly evil. He’s funny to look at. He was a character. So when, decades later, out of the blue, Paul” – Paul Rudnick, a script doctor on the first film and writer of its sequel – “asked me if I’d like to be Uncle Fester in the movie, I just jumped on it.

“And it was great – we really felt like a family. I remember one time, we were all sitting there in our costumes, and we all felt like we were the Addams Family, the real people.”

The Thing rubbing Christopher Lloyd’s head in the bathtub in a scene from the film ‘Addams Family Values’, 1993. Photograph: Paramount/Getty
The Thing rubbing Christopher Lloyd’s head in Addams Family Values. Photograph: Paramount/Getty

So after fulfilling a childhood dream, and after appearing in more than 100 movies, as well as 84 episodes of the TV sitcom Taxi, is Lloyd considering following his Senior Moment’s character into retirement? “No, no, no, no, no,” he says. “I love to work... I’m just gonna keep going, as long as I keep going.”

But maybe in a slightly different direction. “I want to take on a role where the character wants to make some change, some civil cause that I could get behind as an actor,” Lloyd says. “I want the excitement of making a point.”

He may not be politically active, but he has strong views and is delighted to have seen the back of Donald Trump. “Trump has done so much damage in so many areas of life in the United States. He just trampled on everything and everyone. I’m feeling positive about the future now, and a big part of that is we have Biden, who is a good-hearted man.”

Lloyd also has his first foray into action cinema on the horizon, starring alongside Bob Odenkirk in Nobody (“It was a lot of fun – all the guns and the fighting. I’ve never been in something like that”) and the day after we speak he’s getting on a plane for the first time in a year to travel to Boston to make a film directed by George Clooney and starring Ben Affleck, an actor he’s particularly effusive about.

Ben Affleck has a Marlon Brando feeling about him. He’s playing so many roles, so powerfully. He’s very gifted. I’m a little bit tense that I’m going to be working with him in the same room because he’s such a presence

“I’ve been watching a lot of his movies lately,” Lloyd says, “because he plays my son in the movie. Now I’m a huge fan of Marlon Brando; I kind of grew up on him. And I feel Ben Affleck has a Brando feeling about him. He’s playing so many roles, so powerfully. He’s very gifted. I’m a little bit tense that I’m going to be working with him in the same room because he’s such a presence.”

Lloyd still gets nervous about work, even at 82?

“Oh, yeah. In a play you rehearse for four weeks, prepare your role. But here you get up in the morning, go to the location, and you meet them for the first time. And then you’ve got to sit down and act with them! You take a leap and hope that what you’ve prepared works with what they’ve prepared, and what the director wants – I don’t sleep much the night before the first day.”

And after that’s done, Lloyd will head straight into rehearsals for his biggest challenge yet – as King Lear in this summer’s Shakespeare & Company season in the Berkshires, in Massachusetts. Despite appearing in the play three times before, he had never thought about taking on the main role until recently. “I had a brainstorm about five years ago, and I thought, Why not give it a try?” he says.

It would have happened last year were it not for the pandemic. But at least that gave him a bit more time to learn the text. “I want to know every line, every syllable, by the time we start rehearsals. I don’t want to have to worry about my lines. So every day I spend considerable time trying to learn them...”

“He’s been working on it for five years,” Lisa interjects.

“And I’m almost there.” – Guardian

Senior Moment is available from today on video on demand services

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