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Michael J. Fox Explains Why He No Longer Takes on Roles “With a Lot of Lines”


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Michael J. Fox says that issues with his memory and remembering lines in his later life while living with Parkinson’s disease changed the kind of roles he was willing to take.

The actor, who broke out in the ’80s TV series Family Ties and announced in 2020 that he was retiring, recently guested on Mike Birbiglia’s Working It Out podcast and spoke about how he’s approached his professional acting work differently in recent years due to developments with his Parkinson’s. Fox said that he’d become more selective in choosing roles after having difficulties while filming two different projects.

“When I did the spinoff from [The] Good Wife, which is [The] Good Fight, I couldn’t remember the lines. I just had this blank, I couldn’t remember the lines,” he said.

The actor, author and advocate called the experience “strange” after a career of being able to pick up a script and spit lines back out.

Family Ties, he said, “used to give me the script and I’d go, ‘I’m in. Mallory, get off the phone.’ And I knew it, like in an instant, and it continued to be that way for me. I have 70 pages of dialogue on a [Brian] De Palma movie, and knowing that a hugely expensive Steadicam shot depends on me knowing the lines — not a trickle of sweat on my brow,” he recalled.

But then while filming the CBS spinoff on a soundstage in Culver City, the actor says he couldn’t “get this line together.” It was the “same problem” he would have while filming in Canada for Kiefer Sutherland’s show Designated Survivor. But while another person might have panicked, Fox said he kept his cool.

“It was this legal stuff and I just couldn’t get it,” the Back to the Future star said. “But what [was] really refreshing was I didn’t panic. I didn’t freak out. I just went, ‘Well, that’s that. Moving on. A key element of this process is memorizing lines, and I can’t do it.’”

Fox, who described himself as a “big [Quentin] Tarantino fan, and a big Brad Pitt fan, and a big Leonardo DiCaprio fan,” said a similar moment in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood made him consider how he could have responded to not remembering lines versus how he wanted to respond. The scene involved DiCaprio’s character, Rick Dalton, who forgot a line in the middle of a scene for the fictional pilot episode of Lancer, which also featured Timothy Olyphant’s James Stacy.

“He went back in the dressing room, he was screaming at himself — he was like tearing into himself in the mirror and drinking. Just a mess,” Fox recounted. “And I thought about that, and I thought, ‘I don’t want to feel that. Am I wrong to feel that? Am I right to feel that?’”

The actor and advocate continued, going beyond whether it was right or wrong to what it told him about taking on parts.

“I don’t take on something with a lot of lines, because I can’t do it. And for whatever reason, it just is what it is,” he said. “I can’t remember five pages of dialogue. I can’t do it. It can’t be done. So I go to the beach.”

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