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Impulse Gamer Interviews James Tolkan (BACK TO THE FUTURE 25th ANNIVERSARY) - -

James Tolkan

Interviewer: So tell me about your time in Chicago. 

James Tolkan: Every time Iím back in Chicago itís like going back to the future, because Iíve been there so many times and Iíve got so many great experiences from Chicago, except for one in the original. I was 15 years old and we were living in North Michigan, my parents had just got divorced, and it was the worst year of my life. I was living alone in a basement, and I lied about my age and got a job on the Chicago North Western Railway. But then we moved to Arizona and my whole life changed and Iíve been on scholarship ever since then.  But now when I come to Chicago, itís just like going back to the future because [in] Chicago the last play I did was Wait Until Dark and then in the 60s I did a National tour of The Best Man with Melvin Douglas, Craig Lovejoy and these were all great experiences. 

Interviewer: How did you get into acting? 

James Tolkan: How did I get into acting? When I got out of the Navy I went back to school in Iowa and there I got interested in acting. I transferred to Iowa as it had a great theatre department and I met all these great people and they said you must go to New York, so I went to New York and I got off the bus and was scared to death. In those days when you went to New York it was full of promise and hope and I got a scholarship and then I started working and studying with Lee Strasberg and it was just painful. But it was a great experience and most of my work was in theatre. 

Interviewer: Were you always playing character roles since you were young? 

James Tolkan: Yes, since I was young I was playing old. 

Interviewer: And you donít look any different [now] than the first Back To The Future 25 years ago. So if you think back to Back To The Future, is it one of the movies that people still recognise you from? 

James Tolkan: Very much so, itís amazing because this one was kind of a surprise success and as the producer used to say, ďthe planets were all alignedĒ. 

Interviewer: In what way did you think it was the right time? 

James Tolkan: I donít know if it was the right time, but everything was perfect, everything worked beautifully. All the choices they made were the right choices. 

Interviewer: I suppose every time someone comes up to you and recognises you from the film, they say one specific line to you... 

James Tolkan: They say ďSlacker!Ē or something like that you know. 

Interviewer: Itís so funny because it comes right back to you. 

James Tolkan: Well Iím a New York actor as I said and I always said I would never go to Hollywood. I got the call from Robert Zemeckis and I didnít know who Robert Zemeckis was then, but I thought, OK this is my chance to go to Hollywood.  But youíve got to be careful what you wish for. I did a series with Mary Tyler Moore and that didnít really work out, then I did The Hat Squad and Cobra and then I got more interested in playing snooker than working. 

Interviewer: Can you tell me about some of your favourite moments from being on the set or maybe some of your favourite scenes that you were in? 

James Tolkan: Well, one of the things I always remember is in the first movie we had cabins which were made out of little cubicles, very modest, and then when we did the 2nd and 3rd movie we had huge trailers and it was unbelievable and thatís what I remember, the fun of it. Itís the most fun Iíve ever had doing a movie. 

Interviewer: Now were you surprised to be in the 3rd movie, as it goes back to the wild west?  Did you wonder how they were going to fit you in? 

James Tolkan: Not at all, they said ďdo you want to do it?Ē and I said yes and they just worked out how they would work me into it. 

Interviewer: I read that you were the first choice, and as you didnít know who Robert Zemeckis was how did he find you or pick you out, or why did he want you? 

James Tolkan: Well I thought that he had seen the play that I had been doing in New York, but thatís not the case. They had seen a movie I had done called Prince of the City, a movie about Police corruption in which I played a DA modelled on Puccio, and I was Puccio, and from that they called me. 

Interviewer: Now, I hadnít watched them in a long time and I rented all three this past weekend and did a little marathon and I noticed, was it just me, that the first one seemed a little more family oriented and as they went on they [got] a little bit racier... 

James Tolkan: I agree, I was surprised but I think they made that choice and it happened with the times, the current times and what was going on with the internet and all that stuff. I think they were pushing a bit in that direction, Iím guessing. 

Interviewer: Did everything change for you after the success of the first one, as it was the biggest money maker of the year? 

James Tolkan: Nothing has ever changed for me. You know, it is what it is. 

Interviewer: But as far as being recognised on the street? 

James Tolkan: Well yes, there were other things that I have been recognised for but Iím very proud to be recognised for this movie with all the people involved. 

Interviewer: So what are the other roles that people come up to you with? 

James Tolkan: Mostly Top Gun, but some people for Masters of the Universe. I get requests for pictures for Masters of the Universe. Sometimes they come and request pictures from the TV stuff that Iíve never really done 

Interviewer: Can you tell me of any memories of working with Michael J. Fox?

James Tolkan: It was very impressive, his demeanour on the set and the ease in which he went into his characters, I always suffered through acting. He made it look so easy and so simple you know and now of course when you see him how he is, itís quite sad. 

Interviewer: Do you keep in touch with him?

James Tolkan: No, but we did see him last fall. He turned up when we did the Hollywood show and it was great to see him. He would like to be directing I think, but I think some people might choose not to go along with that. 

Interviewer: So if they ever came back and said weíre going to do another one, weíre going to do Back To The Future IV, would you do it? 

James Tolkan: Of course, but itís not going to happen. How could it possibly happen, I, II and III were so special you just couldnít go back.



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