It's been 40 years since Christopher Lloyd began his film career, in the role of Max Taber in the classic Miloš Forman-directed 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and, since then, the New York theater–trained actor has appeared in dozens of different film and TV projects — including his two-time Emmy-winning role as Reverend Jim on Taxi. But his memorable roles in films such as Back to the Future and The Addams Family are what endeared him to kids growing up in the '80s and '90s.
Lloyd, now 76, is currently introducing himself to a new generation as the voice of the Hacker on the PBS animated series Cyberchase — which is premiering its 10th season this fall. BuzzFeed recently visited the Santa Barbara recording studio where Lloyd records his voiceover work for the series and got a chance to speak with him about the five iconic film roles that made him beloved to an entire generation of kids.
Dennis the Menace (1993)
Lloyd was barely recognizable as the villainous burglar Switchblade Sam in the first feature-film adaption of the popular long-running comic strip.
"Every now and then I get recognized for that role, which surprises me considering how different I looked under all that makeup and the wig. But I relished the role; he was such a sleaze and so nasty. There is a scene in the movie where I am up against the fence and have to take an apple from this little kid, and he was so frightened of me anytime I was in makeup that when we weren't filming, the poor kid would be clinging to his mom, terrified. And there was nothing I could do to quell his fear, he was just traumatized.
"But I really enjoy playing villains, whether they're realistic like Switchblade Sam or whether they're a bit more over-the-top like Kruge in Star Trek III or Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It's sort of a license just to be as bad as the script allows you to be — you can just go for it and have fun."
Clue, which was released in December 1985, was a box office bomb that was widely panned by critics. Lloyd — who played Professor Plum in the movie — at the time was riding high career-wise on the huge blockbuster success of Back to the Future, which was released earlier that year (it would also go on to become the biggest film of the year). In the decades since, Clue has became a beloved cult classic, thanks in large part to its repeat showings on cable.
"I'm a bit surprised the film has gotten a [cult] following over the years. I don't recall it doing very well here in the States. I know that in Britain it was much more popular — possibly because they're more into the game over there. Over the years I have attended comic book conventions and met people that are die-hard fans; they'll come up and say, 'Clue is my favorite movie of all time.' It has definitely resonated in some way with people and just continued to build up over the years considerably.
"I also feel [the film] served the game well, very honest to the game; the characters were pretty clear as they are in the game. And of course it was a wonderful cast, everybody in the cast was really special and really talented. That kind of casting and talent made me feel very honored to be a part of it."
The Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993)
Despite having none of the physical traits of the character, Lloyd took on the role of Uncle Fester in the rather dark but faithful adaption of Charles Addams' comic The Addams Family. The movie was a huge hit with both critics and audiences, and it also spawned a well-received sequel, Addams Family Values.
"I grew up with Charles Addams' cartoons; as a child we would get The New Yorker magazine, and every issue featured one of his comics. The Addams family were often the subject of his comics, especially Uncle Fester — and even as a kid I really liked Uncle Fester, largely because he was always so mischievous. I really loved that character, and then decades later, to be asked to play the character in the film, I was taken aback. At first I hesitated taking the role because I didn't look like Uncle Fester — I was thinner and taller. But they worked it out with costumes and makeup. I loved making those films. I thought they were very true to the original Charles Addams comic characters.
"I am also not surprised that the films, although dark, were embraced by children; it was written with a lot of wit and tongue-in-cheek humor. And the characters were interesting, each of them with their own personality, and I think children appreciated that."
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
As the cold-hearted Judge Doom, Lloyd traumatized an entire generation of kids with two of the scariest moments ever realized in an '80s kids film: the dipped toon shoe scene and the scene where Doom reveals his true identity.
"Doom was such a dark character. I've had so many people come up to me over the years to tell me that when they were kids that movie scared the hell out of them — really kind of terrified them. But I remember as a kid watching those original Walt Disney animated films that terrified me, and I think that is part of what makes those films so appealing. So it's fun and a bit of sweet revenge to be the villain — the fun, dark part of the movie. Also, Judge Doom turns out to be a toon, so I don't think you can get too upset with a toon — since they're entertaining and fun.
"There has also been so much talk over the years about making a sequel to the Roger Rabbit; I would love to, love to revisit Judge Doom if they ever make a sequel."
Back to the Future (1985), Back to the Future Part II (1989), and Back to the Future Part III (1990)
Without a doubt, Doc Brown is Lloyd's most iconic character; in the 30 years since the release of Back to the Future, his portrayal of the character has seeped itself deeply into pop culture. The movie, now considered a classic, continues to grow new fans to this day. Since the release of the first film, Lloyd has revisited the character of Doc Brown not only for the two sequels, but also for the animated series, the 2010 video game, and various other projects. Ironically, Lloyd was ready to give up making films when he was asked to take the role.
"After reading the script I just loved the whole concept of this mad scientist that is constantly coming up with ideas and then hits on the time machine, which, time travel is something I think everyone is fascinated with the idea of — like, Which year would I travel to if I could? The film really played up that idea.
"I was then so worried about just making the movie that I never thought to think of whether it would be a success or not. But there was a confidence on the set, that this was a [Steven] Spielberg film and that Bob Zemeckis was involved, and Universal was very much behind it. Sometimes when you're making a film you can sense that there is trouble and that film won't do well — we never had the feeling there. Even while we were making it, there were rumors there was going to be a sequel, and I was just worried how it was going to do opening weekend.
"Looking it at it now, I think the film has become a classic because time travel is a universal theme both young and old find not only very entertaining and but also something they think about. And of course it's a family film, where you have this young kid Marty hanging out with a scientist with all these crazy ideas; it had all the ingredients for general audience appeal in a big way and the story was really strong. It's very entertaining; every now and then I catch the movie playing on TV, and it has great momentum, a great sense of adventure, unpredictable moments, and it's just a winner.
"Sometimes I get asked if I would be interested in starring in a fourth film, if they ever did it, and damn right I would be — I love the character. I don't have a problem with that."