The other day when I was watching Back to the Future Part II to prepare for our look at what the main cast and the filmmakers have been up to, I was kind of surprised that I had forgotten about all of the cameos and notable debuts on display in the film.
Personally, I love to see an actor taking their first steps out of the primordial ooze and onto the big screen just as much as I love a good cameo, so in honor of those small but vital performances, here’s a look at six notable actors that you may have forgotten were in Back to the Future Part II.
Whitey (Jason Scott Lee)
In Back to the Future, Thomas F. Wilson delivered a nice performance as the kind of unrelenting, over-confident, and hollow bully that lives within all of our nightmares as Biff Tannen. In Back to the Future Part II, though, Wilson played Biff’s grandson, Griff, like a cartoon character.
Because of this amped up performance, once could easily forget about the members of Griff’s crew that hung out in Wilson’s shadow, but that’s not to say that they didn’t at least try to keep pace. The best example of that occurs during Jason Scott Lee’s big moment when he advises Marty McFly on the one thing that he needs to run a hoverboard: power.
Following his moment in the sun as Whitey in Back to the Future Part II, Lee continued to work his way up the ladder before nabbing the role of Bruce Lee in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. A starring role as Mowgli in Disney’s live-action Jungle Book adaptation followed, but soon the good material started to dry up. Things have started to look up for Scott lately, though. He’s got, what seems like, a pretty major role in the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon Netflix original film and he’s appearing opposite Jeff Bridges and Kit Harrington from Game of Thrones in Seventh Son.
Match (Billy Zane)
As one of Biff’s boys, Billy Zane had the somewhat unique opportunity to be in both the first and second Back to the Future film, aging up beside Wilson to portray Match in his middle years when he was rocking a cowboy hat in part II.
A 19-year-old actor with no screen credits when he first booked the role in Back to the Future, Zane graduated to a starring role in Dead Calm with Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman shortly after the second film, setting him off on a path that would lead to starring roles in The Phantom (a box office failure), Titanic (not a box office failure), and his most crucial role: Billy Zane in Zoolander (a success that cannot be calculated in mere dollars and cents).
Things have been a little less high profile for Zane over the last decade, but he’s worked steadily and he he has a promising pilot called Mad Dogs that will be up for consideration on Amazon next year. He’s also the swiss army knife of handsomeness, possessing a unique ability to pull off seemingly any look. Seriously, do a Google image search of Billy Zane. He is many men and one man all at the same time. He was also engaged to Kelly Brook for a time, so clearly he is made out of stardust.
Video Game Kid #1 (Elijah Wood)
Elijah Wood has been acting forever, it seems. A hugely popular child star who seamlessly moved to more challenging material as a teenager and later as an adult. He’s Frodo to us now, but it all started with a super-small part in Back to the Future Part II as a little sh*thead who doesn’t understand the brilliance of a retro arcade game. Sadly, the rise of that breed of unimpressed little sh*ts seems to be the truest prognostication in the whole movie.
Also, poor Video Game Kid #2. What’s his story?
We’re moving toward celebrity cameo country with Flea, who played Needles, future-Marty’s duplicitous co-worker in Back to the Future Part II and the final “chicken” utterer in Back to the Future Part III as young Needles.
Apparently, both of Flea’s scenes were shot in one day in-between Red Hot Chilli Peppers tour stops, but the renowned bass player wasn’t just a rock star who had decided to act on a lark. Flea had appeared in a handful of films before Back to the Future and he has continued to act sparingly ever since, most notably as one of the nihilists in The Big Lebowski and as a voice actor on The Wild Thornberrys.
Terry (Charles Fleischer) and The Western Union Man (Joe Flaherty)
As a succesful stand-up comic and an SCTV alum, Charles Fleischer and Joe Flaherty both brought strong comedy bonafides and previous experience working with Back to the Future Part II writer Bob Gale and director Robert Zemeckis to their cameos.
Prior to playing a character that went from being a mechanic in 1955 to an activist in the future who is trying to save the clock tower in the film, Fleischer had seemingly guest starred in every sitcom that was on the air in the 80s. He had also done the voicework for Zemeckis’ Who Framed Roger Rabit. Since Back to the Future Part II bowed, Fleischer has done a lot of voice work and taken on a lot of small roles, most notably opposite Dolly Pardon in Straight Talk and opposite fellow list inhabitant Billy Zane in Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight.
Flaherty appeared in both Used Cars and 1941 for Zemeckis prior to his minor but pivotal role as the Western Union delivery man at the end of Back to the Future Part II (a role which he reprised on Family Guy). In the years since Back to the Future‘s release Flaherty has stayed busy, but his most iconic post-SCTV role is that of Lindsay and Sam’s dad on Freaks and Geeks, which also occasionally featured fellow Back to the Future alum Thomas F. Wilson, who played Coach Fredricks.
Though the roles mentioned in this article are minor by comparison to Biff, Doc, and Marty McFly, the high-caliber of talent selected by Zemeckis to fill them speaks to the level of detail that he put into Back to the Future Part II and it speaks to why people still enjoy this film.