Wow, it’s been a very busy week in the Vollmer household since Denver Pop Culture Con, but now I’m finally in a position to start writing up some of my favorite parts of the con: the celebrity panels! I was pleased to get to see 3 1/2 panels (only half of George Takei’s, sorry!) during the two days I was there, featuring some of my favorite screen actors.
Denver Pop Culture Con — formerly Denver Comic Con — has been known to assemble some pretty kick-ass reunion panels that particularly target folks my age. In 2015 my family attended a super-fun Animaniacs reunion event, featuring a sing-a-long with the voice actors: Rob Paulson, Jess Harnell, and Tress MacNeille. Also in 2015, Denver was able to assemble a Weird Science reunion panel with Anthony Michael Hall, Ilan Mitchell-Smith, and Kelly LeBrock. This year, the big panel event was with the Critical Role cast, which I had mentioned in my Day 2 Diary last week.
The “reunion” type of panel that caught my attention this year was the Back to the Future panel featuring Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown) and Tom Wilson (Biff Tannen). As a child of the 80s, and a child of a science fiction fan (my father), you’d better believe he and I were at the theater to see all three of films in the trilogy when I was in middle and high school. This was near the top of my list of panels to add to my Denver Pop Culture Con schedule.
The panel occurred twice during the weekend. I attended on the first day, Friday the 31st.
For most of the celebrity panels, there’s a moderator sitting on the stage with the guest stars. He may ask a couple of questions of the guests, especially if there’s a particular announcement, but for the most part, the majority of the time is spent fielding audience questions. Below were some of the highlights from the audience questions.
What Other Things Besides BTFF?
The moderator, named Ken, opened the panel by asking about the actors’ other roles. Right away, I could get a sense of how the panel was going to flow. Wilson is very energetic and answered questions with passion, exposition, and humor. Lloyd’s demeanor was much more subdued. I’m thinking he’s somewhat hard of hearing now, since he needed folks to repeat many of the questions and statements directed towards him.
Wilson described the numerous other roles he’s had other than as Biff Tannen, starting with television roles:
- The Facts of Life
- Knight Rider
- Freaks and Geeks, where his role as a physical education teacher was highly regarded
He also had other film roles:
- Andersonville, which Wilson described as particularly moving because great-great-grandfather actually was a prison in Georgia’s Andersonville prison, regarded by many as America’s original concentration camp.
Finally, he discussed the dozens of commercial and voice roles he’s had over the years, from Spongebob Squarepants to his most recent parts with DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.
Mr. Lloyd was considerably more guarded with his answer; actually, he never did answer that question. There was a brief allusion to the writing work he currently does for ABC’s Modern Family.
Who Did You Idolize?
Christopher Lloyd went WAY back — all the way back to his very first film role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in the mid-1970s. He was in awe of getting to work with the legendary Jack Nicholson. In his subdued way, Lloyd told the audience, even today “he’s not a schmuck.”
Tom Wilson cited two examples, one of which was with one of his first television roles on The Facts of Life, where he guest starred as a classmate named “Moose”. Also guest-starring was John Randolph, who Wilson knew of from his role as the police chief in the film Serpico. In addition, Wilson told the story of getting to perform at Jimmy Stewart’s birthday party…and what an honor it was to meet him, even though Stewart didn’t have any idea who Wilson was.
If There Was a Back to the Future IV, What Would You Want the Plot to Be?
Christopher Lloyd’s answer was simple: “Unscrambling all the messes I made in the first three Back to the Future films.”
Tom Wilson tapped into more of a Rick and Morty-type of plot, pondering out loud whether there would be a way to bring together all the Martys, Doc Browns, and Biffs into one place. What would that be like??
If You Could Travel to Another Time?
Lloyd’s answer was pretty awesome: ten years into the future to get past of the “shit” of today.
Wilson gave us two other times he’d want to visit. One was to be a little drummer boy on December 25, 0000. The other was to be with The Beatles at the Cavern Club in Liverpool in 1962. This answer caused an audience member right in front of me to shout out “Live Aid!”
I say this with all the love in the world, but Wilson kinda lost it from there. “LIVE AID? LIVE AID?” He proceeded to list all the reasons why Live Aid would have been the last place he wanted to visit if he had his own time machine. The Live Aid theme continued through the remainder of the panel.
Author’s Note: IMHO, I think Live Aid would have been a great place to visit! After all, when else can you see an audience sound wave?
A Couple Other Questions
The remaining questions during the panel were specifically geared towards Lloyd himself. Somebody asked Lloyd to tell a story from his days filming Taxi, so he talked about how his Taxi character, Reverend Jim, was based on his older brother. Lloyd channeled his method acting skills to do his best to remain in character, even during filming breaks.
The last question to Lloyd was someone wondering what it was like to film the terrorist scene* at the beginning of the first Back to the Future. By this point, it was getting kind of difficult to follow Mr. Lloyd because a lot of what he was asking had to be repeated. I didn’t take good notes about this last question, except a statement about the terrorist scene being among the first scenes filmed for the movie.
*There were several questions where fans will ask actors about particular scenes in particular movies they’ve made. This will also come up in the Cary Elwes panel, but in the BTTF panel Tom Wilson hinted that for many actors, they aren’t completely embedded in every scene they’ve ever shot. He reminded us that many of the roles he’s played were simply “jobs.” I know that sounds cold; Wilson explained it more compassion than my words suggest. Regarding the last question, it seemed to take a few moments, and a few additional explanations by both Tom Wilson and the moderator, Ken, exactly which scene in BTTF was the “terrorist scene.”
A left the panel feeling a little down. Putting Christopher Lloyd with Tom Wilson might not have been the best idea. Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Wilson was great! Lots of fun, lots of energy, lots of great stories. But he overwhelmed things a bit. Christopher Lloyd isn’t getting any younger, and I think about other actors who are still on the con circuit at similar ages, particularly Star Trek actors George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, and William Shatner…all in their 80s. Are they on the circuit for the money, or for the love of the fans? I hope it’s the latter, but I do think that the travel must be tough on them.
Mr. Lloyd was funny and poignant during the panel, but he was definitely showing his age. He may have had a much better experience if he had done the panel himself, similar to what George Takei did.