Claudia Wells Interview: 'Back to the Future' Celebrates 25th Anniversary
Actress Claudia Wells is probably best known for originating the role of Jennifer Parker (Marty McFly’s girlfriend) in the 1985 top box-office smash Back to the Future. Unable to appear in the two sequels, Wells was replaced by Elisabeth Shue.
The science fiction comedy film was directed by Robert Zemeckis, written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale, produced by Steven Spielberg, and starred Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, and Crispin Glover.
“There was a lot of stuff going on at home, my mom was diagnosed with fourth stage cancer and that was right before Back to the Future II and Back to the Future III were to be filmed so I backed out of those films to deal with the turmoil at home.”
In addition to Back to the Future, Wells starred in six ABC and CBS television series, numerous movies of the week, and schoolbreak specials. The forty-four year old Malaysian native has also owned a high-end men’s resale shop in Studio City, California, called Armani Wells since 1991.
Back to the Future celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with the October 26 release of the DVD film trilogy (Back to the Future, Back to the Future II, and Back to the Future III) on Blu-ray. To further commemorate the occasion there will be a “We’re Going Back” reunion to be held in Los Angeles November 5-12, 2010 where fans will be able to meet the cast and crew, visit original filming locations, ride a hoverboard, and enjoy an “enchantment under the sea” dance.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Claudia, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with me.
Claudia Wells: Yes, I’ve been attending Back to the Future and Kids in The Spotlight events.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What is Kids in The Spotlight?
Claudia Wells: It’s a wonderful charity and I’m on the Board of Directors. We bring a ten-week program to foster kids and at risk inner city youths so they can learn to write, cast, and star in their own 10-minute short film. The Writer’s Guild gives them certificates for the film.
The event culminates in an award ceremony film festival fund raiser which was held this year on October 30 at Raleigh Studios. They had a red carpet, the kids got awards, and all of their films were shown. It was our first fundraiser with celebrity presenters and was hosted by Sherri Shepherd and Harry J. Lennix. All the proceeds from the event went toward helping more inner city and foster kids.
This gives them such hope and joy and a sense of accomplishment. It’s time for the kids to build their self-esteem and have the knowledge that they can channel their energy and their lives into something positive and creative.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That sounds like a great alternative to drugs and violence.
Claudia Wells: It really is. They get to take all of their angst, hopes, and dreams and focus them into a short film that they write. We produce and direct them, we have posters for the films, and they are available on DVD.
If the kids didn’t have this outlet, their natural inclination considering their circumstances, would be violence or drugs as opposed to making changes and stopping those generational things that have been going on in their lives.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The huge Back to the Future convention is November 5-12 in Los Angeles.
Claudia Wells: That’s definitely a big deal, yeah. I will be there and several cast members will be there also. They will have a gala on November 12 and it’s an “enchantment under the sea” dance. They’re doing things at the different locations where the movie was filmed. Dean Cundey, the Director of Photography, James Tolkan (Principal Strickland), writer producer Bob Gale, and many more will be there.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you know if Michael J. Fox will be there?
Claudia Wells: I hear rumors. He hasn’t confirmed or declined and that’s always a good sign.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m sure you’ve been asked a million times to tell a memorable Back to the Future story. Is there one you haven’t shared lately?
Claudia Wells: That’s an awesome question. I’ve been interviewed so much recently that I’ve probably told all the stories. I just loved working with Michael, Christopher Lloyd, Bob Gale, and Bob Zemeckis. Everyone was really wonderful. I worked with Eric Stoltz who was originally cast as Marty McFly before Michael J. Fox joined the film.
One story many people don’t know, is that when I originally got the part I had just done a pilot for ABC with Ed Asner and Eileen Brennan called Off the Rack. Spielberg’s people talked with the network to see if it was going to be picked up or not. If it got picked up it would be shooting at the same time as Back to the Future. ABC said they loved the pilot but didn’t think it was going to be picked up so I was able to accept the role of Jennifer Parker.
I found out later that ABC did pick up the series for six episodes and they wouldn’t let me get out of my contract to do Back to the Future nor would they share me. I actually had to release myself from the role of Jennifer Parker because Off the Rack came first for me. They shot five weeks with Eric Stoltz on Back to the Future and I did my six episodes on Off the Rack so they recast my role. But the girl they cast as Jennifer Parker was too tall (according to some of the women on the set) so I was able to get my part back. That’s a story that not a lot of people know.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Elisabeth Shue played Jennifer Parker in the two sequels of Back to the Future. Did she ever ask you for advice since you originated the role?
Claudia Wells: What’s so funny is that I have yet to meet Elisabeth Shue! I told Bob Gale when we were in Alabama this past March (George Lindsey UNA Film Festival) that I’d love to meet her and he told me that could be arranged, but she never contacted me.
It’s funny, too, because I actually screen tested for her part she got in Adventures in Babysitting so I guess we’re similar types. I’d love to meet her one day.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why do you think these three films have endured the test of time and are so loved even 25 years later?
Claudia Wells: I did a few Q&A sessions for the AMC screenings of Back to the Future a couple of weeks ago and signed posters for throngs of people. One of the guys said, “It’s so amazing. I saw this movie when it first came out and I love seeing it now just as much as ever. My kids love it and my grand kids love it.”
Even though the films were shot in the 1980s there’s nothing about them that doesn’t still completely work today. The storyline still holds strong and the sci-fi effects are still current. It was a groundbreaking movie in terms of effects. The story is so timeless.
Who doesn’t want to see their parents when they were teenagers or be able to have a say in how the future of their lives and their parent’s lives could have gone or to have a machine that would take you anywhere in time? I’m so boggled by and so pleasantly blessed that everyone still thinks it’s a great big deal. They did such a brilliant job of writing and producing it and all the actors were perfectly cast.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You were born in Malaysia, Claudia?
Claudia Wells: Actually I was only there for six weeks so I don’t remember it. I’ve met fans that are Malaysian and they get so excited to meet me. There were two Malaysians I met recently and one of them who got my autograph was dressed like Marty and he called himself Marty “McFry” (laughs). I thought that was great.
This little nine-year-old kid said, “Why were you born in Malaysia?” I said, “Well, my parents lived there and nine months before I was born there was this really nice night and ….” I just say whatever I’m thinking, I really do (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The family moved from Malaysia to San Francisco?
Claudia Wells: Yes. My parents lived in Malaysia for two and a half years because my father was a parasitologist. He researches tropical diseases and is a brilliant guy. They lived there for two and a half years while he was doing a project until I was old enough to travel (six or seven weeks). They moved back to San Francisco where I lived until I convinced my mom to move to LA before I was 14 so I could be an actress.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That was my next question. You always wanted to be an actress?
Claudia Wells: Since I was two years old, the time I could first watch television, I would cry. My mom would ask, “Why are you crying?” I’d say, “Because I’ll never be tiny enough to be on TV.” Yeah, I was literally born knowing what I wanted to do.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You thought you had to be little to fit into that small television?
Claudia Wells: Yes, I thought I had to shrink (laughs). When I watched Mister Rogers Neighborhood I thought he was talking to me and that he could see me through the TV so I would hide my pacifier and my blankie because I didn’t want him seeing me. I was a big girl of three and didn’t want him seeing my pacifier and blanket nearby. When I was growing up the fact that my friends didn’t have their whole lives planned out since they were born astounded me because I always knew exactly what I was going to do.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): If acting was your life’s ambition, why did you leave it?
Claudia Wells: There was a lot of stuff going on at home, my mom was diagnosed with fourth stage cancer and that was right before Back to the Future II and Back to the Future III were to be filmed so I backed out of those films to deal with the turmoil at home. My mom eventually passed away and went to heaven. I traveled and had my kid 15 years ago.
I opened my store called Armani Wells 19 years ago in Studio City. It’s a high-end designer resale clothing store for men only. I sell very high-end expensive clothing at rock bottom prices. It’s like celebrity clothing that have only been worn once or they have been photographed in it and can’t wear it again. Everything is dry-cleaned. It’s current styles from jeans to tuxedos with accessories.
What costs $3,000 for an Armani or Versace suit new, you spend $300 or $400 on that same suit in my store. I ship clothes to people all over the world. I receive all of the emails and customers can make a personal appointment with me so I can style them. I’m absolutely brilliant at making guys look gorgeous and the price is right.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Since you’re so involved with Armani Wells, are you still interested in acting?
Claudia Wells: I’m totally interested in getting back into acting. I actually miss it and that dream is still inside of me. I’m so busy with my store and raising my son I haven’t had a chance to go out there and pursue it again. But I’m praying that God brings it to me wrapped up in a pretty package with a bow on top.
I still love acting. Had I not known how much I love acting I would’ve thought that my store would be the all time most wonderful life experience I could ever have. I’ll always have my store no matter what happens, but acting is my first dream.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Would you like to make more feature films?
Claudia Wells: Either movies or television, it doesn’t matter. I starred in six television series, several schoolbreak specials, movies of the week, and commercials. Back to the Future is sort of what I’m always known for because it was such a big hit, but I love the fast pace of television and doing ten pages a day.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You starred in the short-lived 1981 television series Fast Times with Patrick Dempsey which was inspired by the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Claudia Wells: Yes, Dr. McDreamy!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you ever think during that time Patrick would be so successful on television (Grey’s Anatomy)?
Claudia Wells: You know, I didn’t think about it. It was interesting because everyone in that cast either had already made it big or most everyone would eventually make it big. That was Courtney Thorne-Smith’s first TV series. I was an old pro because that was my sixth one. She ended up doing Melrose Place, Ally McBeal, and According to Jim.
Ray Walston from My Favorite Martian was in the show and he was also in the original film, as was Vincent Schiavelli. Amy Heckerling wrote and directed most of the episodes. James Hardini who played Brad recently got in touch with me and he has a rock band now. Dean Cameron also has a rock band so everyone made it from that series.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It appears that you like interacting with people on Facebook.
Claudia Wells: Oh, I love it!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You post many religious sayings. Were you raised in a Christian household?
Claudia Wells: No, I wasn’t raised as a Christian. I didn’t even find out I was … I was raised to go to church Christmas and Easter, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. When I was 15 and I starred in Herbie, the Love Bug (TV series) with Dean Jones, he chose me to sit down with as opposed to the other two kids on the series.
All he did was talk to me about God and about filling that hole in your heart with God, otherwise it’s going to be filled with men, drugs, and alcohol. Dean used to talk to me about discernment. Every Sunday he and his wife Lory would take my mom and me to The Church On The Way in Van Nuys, then we’d go to brunch. Through him I became born again and that has been my spiritual path ever since no matter what has been going on, good or bad in my life.
I’ve known that God always had His hand on me. He’s always sent people to help me and walk with me. I started going to Pastor Frank Wilson’s Christian Entertainer’s Fellowship when I was 18 and for the last 6 years I have attended his church called New Dawn Christian Village. I was in the choir for two and a half years and went to Bishop Blake’s West Angeles Church so God and Jesus are in my life.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is your son, Sebastian, interested in the entertainment industry?
Claudia Wells: No, but he was for a minute when he was growing up. He was the cutest baby you ever did see and actually looked like the Gerber baby so everyone wanted me to put him in the business, but I absolutely refused. He’s now into debate and is going to Vegas with his school, Notre Dame, to do a debate competition.
A couple of weeks ago he went to Fullerton University with his school to do a debate tournament. He got to the octo level and won a trip. He also plays tenor sax in the school band and is, like my dad, an intellectual guy who’s actually not interested in the creative bent of life.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Claudia, do you have time for a social life of your own?
Claudia Wells: My social life is kind of everything I do. When you walk into my store it’s like walking into my home for a dinner party. I know everyone by name. Once they come in they all become regulars. Even if they live out of state or out of the country they make a point of always coming back when they’re in town.
I don’t have a specific social life, but I’m a really busy girl and a single mommy so I don’t really differentiate between my work life and my night life. Everything is my life. People have told me it’s an event to come to my store. It’s a destination point and always this fabulous experience so I get fulfilled in every area of my life. It’s lovely.
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