Back to the Future Breakdown: How Michael J. Fox Made Johnny B. Goode Iconic


Back to The Future is as close to a perfect summer movie as Hollywood has ever given us. Naturally, a lot of hard work went into creating the iconic film. In a recent interview with Empire, Michael J. Fox spoke about the scene where a huge amount of prep work was involved in the seemingly simple act of pretending to play the guitar on screen to the tune of Johnny B. Goode.

“When I did the ‘Johnny B. Goode’ scene, I had a great guitar teacher who taught me how to play. I said to Bob [Zemeckis], ‘When I do this scene, I play guitar, so you can finger sync me. Feel free to cut to my hands any time you want.’ Having said that, it put pressure on me to get it fucking right. So I had this guy named Paul Hanson, who was my guitar teacher.”

So the film was able to disguise the fact that Michael J. Fox was not the most gifted guitar player. However, the instrument was only a small part of the performance. The actor also had to spend a month working on his footwork to look completely at home while dancing on stage.

“For about four weeks we worked this piece and at the same time I was working with this choreographer for Madonna. I said, ‘I dance like a duck. I can’t dance. But what I’d like to do is incorporate all the characteristics and mannerisms and quirks of my favourite guitarists, so a Pete Townshend windmill, and Jimi Hendrix behind the back, and a Chuck Berry duck walk.’ And we worked all that in, and he made it flow. It was moments like that when you don’t think, I’m tired or I feel pressure to do this. You just do it and have a blast.”

All that hard work paid off, and the scene in question became one of the most iconic parts of the movie, and a staple of pop culture with innumerable movies and shows riffing on the scene’s premise. For Fox, playing the role of Marty McFly in the Back to the Future franchise was a game changer, establishing him as a blockbuster leading man.

Most recently, Marty was honored by Empire magazine after fans voted the character one of the top 50 heroes of all time in cinema. He joins the distinguished list alongside other icons of the film industry such as Atticus Finch, Ellen Ripley, and Indiana Jones.

While the Back to the Future franchise is several decades old, fan enthusiasm for the series has not dampened. Josh Gad recently held a digital reunion for the film’s cast and crew on his YouTube show Together Apart. Viewers got to see Fox, Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Emmett Brown), Lea Thompson (Lorraine Baines-McFly), Mary Steenburgen (Clara Clayton) and Elisabeth Shue (Jennifer Parker in the latter two movies). Also present was director/co-writer Robert Zemeckis, producer/co-writer Bob Gale, and singer Huey Lewi and composer Alan Silvestri. This story comes from Empire Online.

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