When you are in front of the computer screen to Michael J Fox Those cult films that have marked the history of cinema go through our minds, among them Back to the Future. The 61-year-old actor and director Davis Guggenheim chatted about all that new “wild” adventure that the documentary involved. Still: A Michael J. Fox movie.
Incorporating documentary, archival and scripted elements, the film tells the Fox story in his own words: the unlikely story of a little boy from a Canadian Army base who rose to the heights of stardom in 1980s Hollywood.
Filled with nostalgic thrills and cinematic sheen, Fox’s account of public life unfolds alongside his never-before-seen private journey, including the years following his diagnosis, at age 29, of Alzheimer’s disease. Parkinson’s.
Why until now tell your story on the screen?
— Michael J. Fox (MJF): There is never a good time to tell a story. The story tells itself when it tells itself. But Dave called me and I had just spent a lot of time writing the fourth book, so a lot of things were new to me. And Dave said let’s do it, expressing appreciation for my writing and he had this idea of how to tell the stories using my existing storytelling. And he seemed great to me. He’s a very good filmmaker and it was fun getting to know him. The idea of working with him was really exciting.
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Davis, what was it that got you involved in Michael’s story?
— I was looking for my next film. It was during the pandemic and I was actually looking for something different. I was frankly in kind of a dark place. I read an interview with Michael in The New York Times and it made me smile. He was describing this terrible fall that he had, which I thought was going to be a movie, but it wasn’t. And it was really horrible. He was stuck on the ground, his arm was broken, he couldn’t reach the phone and he was alone. But the way Michael shared it was harsh, but also weirdly funny. And he made me laugh, and I said I wanted to tell that story.
Whose idea was it to narrate Michael’s career through images?
— Davis (D): Editor Michael Hart, who is just a genius and kind of a third leg on the stool in terms of storytelling.
— MJF: I mean, for me, watching it, I was blown away. I was confused as to what it was (…), if I was in this film talking about this or about my life, if it was correct or not. Reliving moments was raw, but the images are fun. I was looking at it the other day (laughs).
What was the one request that Michael J. Fox made?
— D: Michael was a total open book. And in our conversations, we went a long way. We talk about everything. The only thing he asked me was that no violins. What I understood as merciless. We didn’t want to make a movie about someone who has Parkinson’s and make them feel sorry for them.
— MJF: I let everything flow, both laughing and crying. Let yourself go and have no preconceived idea of where you are. And that’s what happened with this movie. In the end, I don’t know everything and I don’t know everything about myself and the only way to learn more about myself is to be open. And I got so lost in it that I sat in front of the camera, a live camera drooling, looking into space, getting lost in the actor and my Parkinson’s. That was good.
“I love waking up and being with my family. The only problem in my routine is the lack of physical stability, I stumble, fall and break things, but I never stop being optimistic”
— Michael J Fox
The film takes an upbeat angle of celebrating life. Was that the intention of both?
D: It was interesting. We use it. I didn’t set out to make an upbeat movie, you know, it’s like he was setting out to do an after-school special, it wasn’t like that at all. We didn’t beat around the bush and in the film he also shows some very tough stuff. I think it captures who Michael is, that he’s someone very optimistic, that’s what I wanted to capture. We wanted to capture the joy and the ups and downs to take people on that wild ride.
— MJF: You just said it very well. My agenda is not to show people the joys or the optimism. This is my story and here is what I think. Learning that my life improves with life experiences, and that I can share them with other people, that is my mission. I don’t put myself in a position to say, ‘Okay, Mike, now be optimistic.’ I don’t do that, as at the end of the film comes a look and a smile, which can say more than words.
Michael, were you afraid to be honest about how Parkinson’s affects you?
“Well, once you’re in, you’re in. I mean, once you get in you have two options: fight or get depressed. Do I worry? Yes, but I never stop looking for options and dealing every day with this freedom that Parkinson’s has taken away from me, but my creativity and good humor are intact.