Sometimes you find yourself in a room laboriously explaining 1990’s “The Earth Day Special” to someone who was in it. That person is Christopher Lloyd. The star-studded program — one of the first earnest attempts to get American couch potatoes to really care about the environment — included a who’s who of film and TV. Christopher Lloyd was one of them. He and Michael J. Fox reprised their “Back to the Future” roles, doing a little sketch that had something or other to do with saving Mother Earth.
Lloyd doesn’t even remember it. Then again, who does?
We ask the legendary character actor — and staple of ’80s and ’90s blockbuster cinema, as well as “Taxi’s” resident Reverend Jim Ignatowski — about the forgotten, cheesily noble 27-year-old “Earth Day Special” only because another cast member was Morgan Freeman. It’s the only time the two have technically worked together — though they never shared a scene or even met — until they both appeared in “Going in Style,” Zach Braff’s new codger bank robber comedy, also starring Michael Caine and Alan Arkin. (Lloyd isn’t one of the thieves. He’s a fellow retiree in their Brooklyn neighborhood who mostly makes funny faces.)
That Christopher Lloyd might not remember a gig makes sense. According to the Internet Movie Database, he has over 215 film and TV credits to his name. Some of them are huge (“Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” the “Addams Family” movies, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which was his screen debut). Some of them aren’t. There’s a lot of voice work. If he hasn’t been ubiquitous like he was three decades ago, he is consistently working. The projects can all blend together.
“I’ve done a lot of films I haven’t heard about since wrap night,” Lloyd tells us. “But I don’t care. I have to work.”
Lloyd recalls Billy Crystal making fun of Caine during one of the Academy Award telecasts, saying he “never saw a script he didn’t like.”
“That’s kind of my philosophy,” Lloyd tells us. “Unless it’s total garbage, I’ll work, whatever comes along. The money might not be fabulous. But I don’t mind that.”
He thinks of himself as the opposite of the actor who’s terribly picky. By contrast, think of Warren Beatty, who before last year’s Howard Hughes film “Rules Don’t Apply” didn’t make a movie for 15 years.
“Some actors want to work, but they have a set of criteria that perhaps limits them,” Lloyd says. “It gets worse as you get older. Although there’s always grandpas to play.”
Amazingly, five decades in the industry haven’t made Christopher Lloyd any less prone to turn starstruck. Even Lloyd couldn’t believe he was on a set with Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin.
“They’re like icons to me, the three of them,” he confesses. “Going in Style” also finds room for another legend: Ann-Margret, who plays a feisty local fixated on Arkin’s grumpy, anti-social character. “We were never working on the same day. I just met her yesterday. She’s a personality.”
One of the strangest aspects of Lloyd’s career is that he’s been playing white-haired old men for over 30 years. He was only 47 when he played Doc Brown in “Back to the Future.” Today he’s 78 — a little older than even Doc Brown ever was — but back then it could be a shock to see him with play his own age, standing there with brunette hair, in films like “Clue,” “Dennis the Menace” and John Sayles’ baseball biopic “Eight Men Out.”
“I once did a Q&A for ‘Back to the Future,’ and some little kid asks for the microphone and says, ‘Mr. Lloyd, now that you’re older do you miss putting on old age makeup?” he says. He chuckles heartily. “Great observation for a little tyke.”