If you had told eight-year-old Fred in 1985 that one day he would meet Claudia Wells, the original Jennifer Parker in Back to the Future, that alone would have made my dreams come true. Maybe 1985 Fred wouldn’t believe the whole truth, that we’d become friends and she would dress me for the past five years at her Studio City store Armani Wells.
We met five years ago for stories on the 25th anniversary of Back to the Future and here we are again for the 30th. This week, October 21 is the actual day Doc brought Marty and Jennifer into the future and there are many Back to the Future events going on around the world. In Los Angeles, We’re Going Back is hosting a week of events beginning on October 21 with a tour of Universal Studios. Wells hopes to attend that and a locations tour on October 23 where she will recreate her scenes in the halls of the high school. She is trying to attend the Enchantment Under the Sea dance on October 24, but has to catch a redeye to Washington, D.C. for another event where she’s being honored along with screenwriter Bob Gale and star Christopher Lloyd.
If you’re not able to attend We’re Going Back or visit Armani Wells in person, Wells is still accessible. Her official site, ClaudiaWells.com is the only place to get personalized Back to the Future pictures and her exclusive clock tower shirts. She’s also got upcoming events for her charity, Kids in the Spotlight, which allows foster children to make and star in their own movies. The Back to the Future 30th Anniversary Blu-ray and DVD sets are also out Wednesday with retrospective books and the new documentary Outatime: Saving the DeLorean Time Machine also available.
Nerd Report: What has it meant to you to be living in the real year 2015?
Claudia Wells: I am profoundly honored and blessed and privileged. To have the experiences, to be able to travel the world like this and everybody is so nice to me and kind and giving and loyal, it’s so exciting. I’m literally traveling every single day and doing events and appearances from a few weeks ago to the end of November.
Nerd Report: It’s meant so much to me. I’ve been waiting 30 years for this.
Claudia Wells: Isn’t that incredible? I keep thinking people have been waiting a few years but 30 years, how cool is that?
Nerd Report: We saw the pictures of you and Michael J. Fox at London Comic-Con. Was that the first time you’d seen him in 30 years?
Claudia Wells: Actually, it was the first time I’d seen him in about nine years, but we spent more time together in London because we were backstage and waiting to go on stage and doing different press things. So we actually had a chance to really talk and hug. The feeling and connection we had 30 years ago hasn’t changed an iota. I feel just as close to him and bonded. What a great guy. What a wonderful man.
Nerd Report: Does he remember shooting all the scenes with you in Back to the Future?
Claudia Wells: Oh, I’m sure he did. We didn’t discuss it but I’m sure he did. I remember every single one like it was this morning.
Nerd Report: Did you shoot all your scenes in a week or less?
Claudia Wells: Oh no, they were done I think over a three or four week period.
Nerd Report: In the band auditions, when Marty gets cut, the look you give seems genuinely concerned for him. Did you try a lot of different reactions to that?
Claudia Wells: No, it’s funny, that is one of my favorite scenes in the whole film in terms of my work. I felt it so strongly and when Michael looked at me, I just felt it in my soul and I looked back with my heart. That was that reaction.
Nerd Report: Did you meet Huey Lewis that day?
Claudia Wells: I did. He was sitting next to me in the makeup chair and I said to the makeup artist, who’s that guy? Because I hadn’t seen him before. It was Ken Chase and he said, “It’s Huey Lewis.” I was so naive about pop and rock n’ roll at that time, I had no idea who he was. So the excitement of having a rock star in the midst wasn’t there for me because he was just a guy who seemed very nice and handsome. Michael came with an album where they’re all holding a surfboard and Michael was hugely excited to meet him, but I grew up with opera, symphony and Simon and Garfunkel, and French music. I’m still catching up to other music.
Nerd Report: When you got to sit in the De Lorean at the end of the movie, what did it feel like to be in that car?
Claudia Wells: You know what? I wasn’t as concerned about what it felt like to be in that car. I was so cozy with Michael sitting there that I was just enjoying that. I loved the relationship of us sharing a seat together, arms around each other, so that was pretty much what I was enjoying during that scene.
Nerd Report: That was your only scene with Christopher Lloyd too, right?
Claudia Wells: Yes. The whole last scene was the only scene with Chris, who I’ve become great friends with as well over the travel that we’ve all done all the events that we’re all at. We really have gotten to get to know each other really, really well so it’s really like a bonded family, the core cast members. James Tolkan is one of my best friends, Donald Fullilove who played Goldie Wilson is one of my great friends who’s been shopping at my store for the last five years. Lea lives around the corner from my store. Chris I love seeing and Bob Gale is one of my greatest friends on the face of this planet. I adore that man. So it’s really become an important part of my life.
Nerd Report: What took Donald so long to shop with you? He’s only been a customer for five years?
Claudia Wells: I’ll tell you exactly why. I met him at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance on the 25th anniversary. That’s the first time we met. Turns out, he lives five minutes from my store. I introduced him to the autograph show world and events and things. He wasn’t really a part of it yet. We’re just great, great buddies and his whole style has completely changed since we’ve been styling him.
Nerd Report: And you didn’t have scenes with him in the movie.
Claudia Wells: No, so we literally met for the first time at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance.
Nerd Report: And you didn’t have scenes with Lea or Crispin Glover either, did you?
Claudia Wells: Nope, none and I adore Lea. She’s such a great girl and great actress. Crispin I adore as well. We were in the drama department together in high school.
Nerd Report: You went to high school with a lot of people who became famous, didn’t you?
Claudia Wells: Oh gosh, yes. Beverly Hills High. Pamela Segal [Adlon], Johnny Silverman, Nicolas Cage who was Nicolas Coppola at the time. Jon Turteltaub who’s a famous director now. John Travis, Max Mutchnick and David Kohan who created Will & Grace and a bunch of big shows. We were all in the drama department together.
Nerd Report: Did you do any plays with Nicolas Cage?
Claudia Wells: Nic was a senior when I was a freshman. I never actually did anything on stage with him but he watched me perform. I did a five minute performance for the Individual Drama Festival that I won first place for. He watched it and talked to me at length afterwards about how it affected him and stuff like that. So that was lovely. We were all working actors. Well, maybe not. I was a working actress but we were all very serious about the drama department. That was our high school life.
Nerd Report: What was the five minute performance you gave?
Claudia Wells: It was an individual mime that I created and it was a whole storyline about a woman who’s really old and she comes in and sits down on a rocking chair and opens up a memory book and then becomes all the memories. A little girl, then an older girl and a wife and a mom. Then she turns around and she’s really, really old. She falls asleep with this memory book on her lap and then she wakes up. That was my five minute individual mime.
Nerd Report: Does someone have a video of that?
Claudia Wells: You know what? Nobody does and I wish they did too. I worked very, very hard on it, months. And then in the spring I did the junior Shakespeare festival and I also won.
Nerd Report: Which Shakespeare did you do?
Claudia Wells: King Henry V, I played Katharine and Alice which is the maid servant and her queen. I did part of it in French and part of it in English and I played both characters. That was my five minute performance.
Nerd Report: Did you do any plays with Crispin Glover in school?
Claudia Wells: No, I didn’t. I did do a play with Johnny Silverman and my agent came to see it and was impressed with him, and ended up representing him and six days later sent him to New York to audition for Brighton Beach Memoirs. Seven days after that he was starring in it. That was his first professional job.
Nerd Report: Did you keep the pink pants from Back to the Future?
Claudia Wells: No! I wish I had. I wonder where they are. I’ve been meaning to ask if I can have them.
Nerd Report: Were you cast in Back to the Future after Michael J. Fox or did you overlap with Eric Stoltz?
Claudia Wells: I was cast when Eric Stoltz was cast. I was originally the first Jennifer Parker cast. Then a pilot I had done the previous spring called Off the Rack with Ed Asner and Eileen Brennan got picked up. It was filming at the same time as I was meant to do my Jennifer role. They tried to have ABC share me and they wouldn’t. I had to stick to my original contract so I had to release myself from being Jennifer. I did my series which was a three camera live audience show. Then they let go of Eric in the middle of the night one night eight or nine weeks into filming and cast Michael. The woman that they had cast in my part was too tall to play Michael’s girlfriend so I got my part back.
Nerd Report: I know that story, it was Melora Hardin.
Claudia Wells: I’ve run into her several times since then and we’ve never one time discussed it.
Nerd Report: Had you rehearsed at all with Eric?
Claudia Wells: No. We had done a boyfriend/girlfriend photo session at Universal which was going to be a picture in his wallet. We spoke on the phone several times. Universal had us get together at a function or a party just to get to know each other. They didn’t realize he and I were in Stella Adler’s acting class together when he first came to L.A. from Santa Barbara to be an actor. There are so many synchronicities and “meant to be”s.
Nerd Report: And you redid that photo with Michael because it’s in the movie when he shows Doc a picture of his girlfriend.
Claudia Wells: No, that must’ve been a picture that they took on set when we were performing.
Nerd Report: I want to give your store one more plug because you’ve done my fashion for the last five years. This may not come up much with your customers, but how do you deal with mothers who feel they can dress their sons better than you?
Claudia Wells: [Laughs] That is a phenomenal question. It doesn’t come up often. I do dress some teenagers for proms and things like that and the moms are thrilled that their sons listen to me because they don’t listen to them. When I say, “Try this on” or “do this” or “do that,” they listen to me. Then I have a lovely chair and that’s the Chick Chair so the mom can sit there. There was one time many, many years ago I had a mom who always shopped with he, I think he was in his 50s, son. But I’ve never had a controlling mom in my store. I’ve had some wives that are pretty particular but not really moms. I’ve learned over the years the wife is right no matter what. So if she likes something, I always bow down to the wife.
Nerd Report: That’s a good policy. How is Kids in the Spotlight going?
Claudia Wells: Oh, it’s wonderful. It’s getting better and better every year. Our event is November 9th this year and we’re seven years old. I was just at a board meeting a week or two ago, so it’s going beautifully well. We just always need donations because it costs $10,000 for every 10 week session we bring to the foster care facilities for the kids. So we live on donations. It’s KidsintheSpotlight.org. It’s a big part of my heart. I’m a founding board member.