Founder and president Donelle Dadigan presented a $5,000 check to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Fox, who famously starred as Marty McFly, launched the foundation in 2000 after publicly disclosing his 1991 diagnosis at age 29. A personal video from the 60-year-old was presented for the occasion.
Claudia Wells became a dream girl for many when she starred as McFly’s girlfriend Jennifer Parker in the original 1985 film. For the sequels, Wells reluctantly turned down the role to care for her ailing mom. Elisabeth Shue went on to replace Wells in “Back to the Future II” (1989) and “Back to the Future III” (1990).
Wells, 55, who is supporting The Hollywood Museum and its new exhibition, spoke to Fox News about what it was like auditioning for Steven Spielberg, her initial impression of Fox, her favorite film theory and what her relationship is like with the cast today.
Fox News: How does it feel to know that The Hollywood Museum is honoring “Back to the Future” with a special exhibition?
Claudia Wells: It’s so exciting and such an honor. I love the fact that it’s supporting Michael J. Fox and Parkinson’s research with the $5,000 gift that they’re receiving. And I’m honor to be a part of it. I’m a big proponent and cheerleader for anything that has to do with the “Back to the Future” trilogy. So I think it’s thrilling.
Fox News: Does it surprise you that this film has become such a huge part of pop culture history?
Wells: It continues to surprise me, but not as much as it used to. I’m starting to actually get that this film is going to be around forever. And I’m so blessed because I get to experience every day with people still watching it, from children to their grandparents. It’s mind-boggling. But everyone says it’s a perfect movie and it’s a part of everyone’s life.
Fox News: Have you stayed in touch with any of your castmates?
Wells: Oh, very much so. I just spoke to “Goldie” or Don Fullilove yesterday. I’m in touch with Lea Thompson. James Tolkan is one of my best buddies. We check in on each other all the time.
I see Christopher Lloyd at events with his phenomenal, gorgeous wife. Bob Gale is one of my heroes and I’m in touch with him as much as possible. I just think he’s one of the greatest guys on the planet. J.J. Cohen, I see him occasionally. Tom Wilson and I did a private signing. Honestly, we’re a team, a family. We see each other at events and conventions all the time and it’s always so wonderful.
Fox News: And what about Michael J. Fox?
Wells: Way back when we used to send messages through people. I saw him a couple of times at events. I brought my son to San Francisco – I’m a San Franciscan – to an event so we could support him. And it was great for my son to meet someone so special in my life. I think my son was about 14 at the time, so it was a while ago. He’s 26 now. And then we did the reunion in London in 2015.
But you know what’s amazing? Every time I see Michael, it’s like no time has passed. It’s like having a friend that you haven’t spoken to in five years, and then you suddenly see each other again and can still finish each other’s sentences. Every time I see him, it truly feels like no time has gone by. He’s the same great caring, positive, wonderful man that he was when he was 24.
Fox News: How did you get the role of Jennifer Parker?
Wells: It’s interesting, I actually had one audition only. Everyone was there. I remember Steven Spielberg kicked out the cameraman probably five minutes into it. He said, “I can’t have a camera out here without being behind it and in charge of it. So you need to leave.” The guy was so surprised.
What I remember was Steven kept asking me all these questions. I did the car scene that Michael and Lea had to do in the parking lot. Steven sent us outside. And then he kept asking me all kinds of questions about who I was. He wanted it to be more like a radio show. I kept saying to him, “If I answer this, you have to promise me you’re not going to tell my mom.” And at the very end he was like, “Oh my goodness, the camera’s been rolling this whole time.” And I went, “You made a promise!” *laughs*. “Nobody can tell my mom.”
It was questions like, “Have you ever had a boyfriend?” and “Do you have a boyfriend?” He wanted to get a feel of our personalities and how we would react. It really did come across as like a radio show. And he was very welcoming. I was very shy and reserved, but I had a great time. And he kept his promise! *laughs*. My audition tape has to be in some office on a shelf somewhere. I would love to see it again. I must have made a great impression because I got the role!
Fox News: What was your initial impression of Michael J. Fox?
Wells: Oh, I just thought he was adorable, cute, funny and witty *laughs*. I thought he was so cool. He knew about cool music. I only knew about opera, symphony music and Simon & Garfunkel. I looked up to him. I thought he was a genius, comedic actor. And he was really down to earth. He was a normal, nice guy. But yes, I thought he was cute *laughs*.
Fox News: What’s a fun fact about the making of “Back to the Future” that would surprise fans today?
Wells: I’ll give you one. I had a business lunch with someone who’s helping me with a documentary about my dear friend, a dancer… We were talking about “Back to the Future” and how Elisabeth Shue later became Jennifer. He said, “You want to know why I really think you were Jennifer in the first movie and Elisabeth in the sequels?”
I thought he was going to say because my mom was so sick at the time. He said, “Forgive me, maybe I’m too into this film, but when Marty went to the past, Doc Brown kept warning him, ‘Be very careful about what you do because you’re going to change the future. If you do anything by mistake, it will affect someone’s life.'”
He said, “I think Marty must have done something that changed Jennifer Parker’s parents. One of the parents changed. So instead of your parents meeting, it was Elisabeth Shue’s parents who met, where one parent was different. And therefore, they gave birth to Elisabeth Shue’s version of Jennifer, not yours. And when he went into the present, everyone thought it was just normal because no one realized all the changes Marty made.”
I thought that theory was so cool. Remember, Doc Brown kept warning Marty, “Don’t do any weird moves because you’re going to alter the future.” And I think that’s why you see me in the first film, but not in the sequels *laughs*. It’s wild.
Fox News: When did you realize that “Back to the Future” had become larger than life?
Wells: At first, I didn’t realize it at all. When I auditioned for the role, the film was a huge secret. Then I got to read the script and make the movie.
Once I was done, I went straight into a TV series. I first realized something was happening when it was playing… for nine and a half months. But not long after that, my mother became very, very ill. So my world consisted of radiation appointments, chemo, surgery, being at the house and trying to figure out what to do to make things better.
But I do remember my mom kept pointing out that the film was making more money than any other movie. And it wouldn’t be until 2015 when I started getting invited to do appearances all over the world and I started to see the fan base. I saw that incredible community of love and kindness. Everyone is so supportive and loyal. I am fully aware of it now.
Fox News: Did you and your mom get a chance to see the sequels?
Wells: I saw the sequel when I was in another state. I don’t know if my mom saw it or not. She was pretty sick. She didn’t get a chance to see my store and I owned it for three years before she died. I still have it. It will be 30 years in December. It’s Armani Wells in Studio City. She died on October 1994. But I saw the sequels, both of them.
I don’t know if she did. I know she wanted me to continue doing the part and didn’t agree with my decision. But I was just not in a place emotionally where I could handle any more than what I was already handling. I wanted my mother to be supported and cared for. I left acting altogether, but I knew I would come back. I never felt it was over. I’m still waiting to come back. I still don’t feel like it’s over.
Fox News: You became a dream girl for many in “Back to the Future.” How did you feel about your newfound fame and the attention you were receiving?
Wells: I didn’t know. Nobody told me until, gosh, 10 years later. I ran into someone from high school who said, “I had the biggest crush on you.” And I said, “But you never said hello to me in the hallway.” *Laughs*. But for the last 15 years, grown men have told me I was their first crush. One time, I was even told “I broke up with my girlfriend after seeing you in the movie because you were the perfect girlfriend.”
I’ve had guys tell me. “I married someone named Jennifer” or “I named my daughter Jennifer because of you.” But I didn’t know it at the time. Now I can smile and think to myself, “That’s cool.” And at least now I know.