Why Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh Turned Down the Chance to Play Doc Brown in ‘Back to the Future’

While Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh has always given off cool mad scientist vibes, he has never endeavored to be a thespian—despite a personal plea from Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis.
Mark Mothersbaugh performs with Devo at the Whiskey A Go Go in 1979.
Mark Mothersbaugh performs with Devo at the Whiskey A Go Go in 1979. / George Rose/GettyImages

There are few people in this world who are cooler than Mark Mothersbaugh. In addition to being a founding member of the pioneering New Wave band Devo, best known for the 1980 hit “Whip It,” the singer and multi-instrumentalist has composed the scores and music for numerous movies and TV shows, including Rugrats, Pee-wee’s Playhouse, What We Do in the Shadows, and the Wes Anderson films Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums

And if he had wanted to, Mothersbaugh could’ve played one of the most iconic movie characters of the 1980s.

In a recent interview at the Sundance Film Festival, where he was promoting the new documentary Devo, Mothersbaugh spoke about the time Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis tried to cast him as the wild-eyed, time-traveling scientist Doc Brown in 1985’s Back to the Future. Alas, Mothersbaugh declined, and the part ultimately went to Christopher Lloyd, who knocked it out of the park and reprised the role in two sequels.

As the story goes, Mothersbaugh met Spielberg and Zemeckis after a Devo show in the mid-’80s. They told him they were working on a new film, and they wanted him to be a part of it. Mothersbaugh assumed they were interested in his musical skills.

“I just remember for, like, two weeks, I kept thinking, ‘They’re going to hire me to score their film,’” Mothersbaugh said at Sundance, according to The Wrap

But that’s not what they wanted. As Mothersbaugh recalled in a 2021 interview with Riot Fest, the filmmakers told him: “We chose you because we came and saw your band play at the Palace. You’re so good in the Devo music videos. We love you on stage. So … there’s this scientist, this crazy inventor in the movie, and we want you to play that part.”

Indeed, Mothersbaugh has always given off mad-scientist vibes, but he has never aspired to be a thespian.

“I wasn’t interested in being an actor in somebody else’s film because I really don’t know how to act,” Mothersbaugh told Riot Fest. “I remember leaving there and being so bummed out—I thought I was going to score Back to the Future. That would have been great! At least Christopher Lloyd got a career out of it.”

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