A true character actor is one who is so believable in the roles they take on, that you may not know the actor by name, but certainly by sight. “Hey! Wasn’t that guy in…”
Jeffrey Weissman is that sort of actor. You may not know him by name, but you’ve seen him in some huge movies. The Back to the Future sequels, Pale Rider, Twilight Zone the Movie, Max Headroom are all part of the large roster of films Jeffrey’s been in. In addition, Jeffrey’s a stage actor, as well as producer and playwright. When he’s not filming, he can often be found portraying golden age characters such as Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx and Mark Twain at various events and shows.
I met Jeffrey years ago through a mutual friend’s Facebook page. The first thing you learn about Jeffrey is how approachable he is. He always gives a moment of his time to his fans. He’s extremely down to Earth and is one of those rare actors who is both humble and inviting. The second thing you learn is how much behind the scenes trivia Jeffrey has about the various productions he’s been in. He’s a treasure trove of Hollywood gossip. Luckily, I was fortunate to get him to sit down and answer 10 Questions. And he’s dishing out the dirt, folks!
1. Do people stop you on the street and ask for Crispin Glover’s autograph?
No, although Ryan Scott Weber in New Jersey has both Crispin’s and my autograph on the George McFly action figure, and a cosplayer named Brad Fyfe made me this “old” George McFly action figure. It’s pretty awesome.
2. How did it come about that you replaced Glover in the Back to the Future sequels?
I was approached to be his ‘photo double’ and I was all for it, since I knew Crispin from a film we worked on at AFI, before he got the first Back to the Future (BttF) film. I thought he was a compelling actor, and I loved his work in BttF, and four years later, I got the call. I started the auditioning process, with interviews, readings, then make up sessions for molds for prosthetics and body cast. In my mind, I thought they needed to have George in multiple places at the same time. When they offered me the actual role in the eleventh hour, I was stunned. I couldn’t imagine them making the sequels without Crispin. By then, Crispin saw himself as a star, but the producers obviously did not. And Crispin was originally slated to play Seamus McFly (eventually played by Micheal J. Fox). They needed Crispin as George, but they wouldn’t budge for his demands, so they make it look like they had him. I wasn’t told any of this by casting or production upfront. So I got a lot of hanging upside down as “old” George McFly 2015 for a few weeks (I was told it was intended to torture Crispin for all the hassles he caused on the first film).
And then, in the young George make up, it was very awkward. The good thing is that I helped to fill in a big part of an important trilogy, and most fans still don’t realize there is anything different about George. In pt two George was more of a support role anyway, and if you look at it, the first film was George’s story, the second Marty’s, and the third Doc’s. The beautiful part, is that I got to become a member of a great cast, act in one of the best trilogies of all time, and have interactions with the BttF fans, who are the sweetest. I have been appreciated from them the world round.
I’ve always wanted to know, are you wearing a Crispin mask in
Basically, yes. Four hours of prosthetics make up to apply, and another hour to remove. If my call was 9:00am, I had to be in the chair at 4:00am. Designed by Ken Chase. Applied during the shoot by an amazing line up of make up artists; Ken Meyers, Marvin Westmore, Mike Mills, Nancy Vasta, Zoltan & his wife, Sonny Berman, et all
Glover actually sued the producers of Back to the Future for your part in the sequels. Were you called in to testify?
I was deposed for many hours over several days. As were many of cast and crew. It was obvious Crispin and his reps would keep everyone tied up for a very long drawn out case, that they knew they’d be hard pressed to win. So it never went to court, and the insurance company that covered the film for Universal paid Crispin $750,000 to go away, without having to admit fault.
3. Your parents were against you becoming an actor. At what point did they start to come around?
When they saw my name as co-star on Twilight Zone Movie, they stopped telling me to stop dreaming. And they often enjoyed my work on stage before that, and eventually I even became an acting coach for my Father, who took up acting in his retirement. I was glad my late brother got to see me co-star with Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider before his passing a year later.
My folks are gone now, but I think they know I’d keep doing it, and I think they would want me to, because they know I try to do my best. And it’s who I am. Here’s a sad story, but worth telling– About five years ago, I was about to go on as Larry Fine, at a Three Stooges live gig for an Autistic Woman’s 50th birthday party, when my Mother called, and let me know through her screams, that my sister had passed away unexpectedly. Naturally I started to fall apart emotionally. But my sister always supported my career choice, and she loved the Stooges. So the show must go on. And as it turned out the autistic birthday girl had been comatose for the whole evenings festivities, until we came on, and she came to life, and got into the act with eye pokes and pie throwing.
4. You’ve played so many different film, TV and live theater roles. Which is your personal favorite? (My favorite credit listing of yours is “Asshole” on The Man Show).
I remember when they wanted a close up of me crying, as the sensitive asshole. I started to get myself into the emotional state to bring the tears, and they said, “Here, we’re going to add this glycerin to use for the tears”, and I said, “But I can act, I can do this without it!” They said, “Oh no, we don’t have time for that.”
Speaking of tears, on one of my favorites shoots, on Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider, it was so cold (-10 with the wind chill), that in the scene where Daddy (Spider) gets shot from head to toe, when I cried the tears were there, but they froze in my eyes.
5. In addition to your performance work, you also teach acting classes both public and private. What’s one lesson that every actor should learn?
Get training..and remember the training never stops. No casting director will take an actor without good training on your resume. And you’ve got to be prepared, for when opportunity knocks. Be confident and ready to dance, move, sing and do accents. Be truthful. Listening is key to being engaged. Don’t be needy. Get in, be brilliant, and get out. And then let it go. Don’t take rejection personally, or it will kill you. This is a very impersonal business. Remember it’s a business, so have your paper work (resume, great headshot), your team (agent, manager, publicist, support, assistants) that you trust and communicate well with. It takes about 10 – 20 years to be an overnight success, so be patient. I know you only asked for one, but one leads to another…
6. When are Georgians gonna get you down here to Monsterama or Wholanta? There’s also some Dragoncon thingie, very small. You wouldn’t like it.
I’m happy to be a guest at any of those you mention. I’ve been wanting to attend Dragoncon for years, but the invite never has materialized. If you know the guest bookers, please introduce me. I do a great panel with rare photos, new project previews and plenty of fun tales to tell.
7. You were in the best episode of the Twilight Zone movie (Nightmare at 30,000 Feet) Unfortunately, there was tragedy during filming of another segment, when Vic Morrow and two children were killed. As a young actor in one of your first roles, how did this affect you?
I was horrified, (as were so many) with the news of the accident. Three months later, when my agent called with the audition, she explained that Spielberg decided he would finish the film. I felt it was in bad taste.
I went in to meet with legendary director George Miller and the casting personnel (Mike Fenton & Marci Liroff). My audition was to tell a joke. George is a gem of a human being, and we got on very well, and I told my joke(s), and he cast me. During the shoot I got to hang with cinematographer Alan Daviau, steady cam inventor Garrett Brown and I learned amazing stories. I got close to beautiful Donna Dixon, and loved getting to rub elbows with Abbey Lane, JD Johnston and amazingly talented John Lithgow, who is another gem of a human being. And I’m still in touch with Larry Cedar, who played the gremlin on the wing.
8. Who’s your favorite Doctor?
The Doctors I like are Peter Capaldi, Tom Baker, and Matt Smith. I watched some Doctor Who when I was a kid in the ‘60s, but I didn’t keep up. I attended Gallifrey One in Los Angeles (The Doctor Who Con) a few years ago to promote the Back to the Future Cruise to End Parkinson’s, and I was amazed at the cosplay. A large percentage (85%) of attendees dressed as a Doctor, a Companion or a Villain. One beautiful tall model went around in a corset TARDIS, when she’d open it up, there was a 3D interior, very amazing.
I had a great time rubbing elbows with the likes of Freema Agyeman, John Barrowman, Chase Masterson, Dan Starkey, Nicholas Briggs, Janet Fielding, et all. At London Film and Comic Con that same year, I was set next to Sylvester McCoy, who was very sweet. We both had played Stan Laurel at some point in our careers, and ‘had much to chat about.
Jeffrey Weissman as Stan Laurel
9. You recently performed the role of Parry (originally played by Robin
Williams) in a staged adaptation of The Fisher King. You also co-wrote the adaptation. How did that project come about? What’s up next for this– Broadway? Off-Broadway? Kibuki theater?
I was contacted by a Facebook friend that I had never met. And decided it was a great opportunity to play a role I was fit for, and raise money for great causes. I worked my tail off preparing for the role of Parry. I knew that filling Robin’s shoes was a huge task, and all my life I’ve been compared to Robin. I dove in, trying not to ‘be or recreate Robin’ but rather to own the role, and I ended up getting amazing responses to my performance…as did the entire cast. Peter Illes, the main adapter of the film script for stage, who also produced, is known for his charity outreach, along with his satires and spoofs; Breakfast Fight Club, It’s A Wonderful Life Live, Top Gun Live, and currently he’s opening a stage version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Unfortunately reps for the Fisher King are not interested in it continuing, but we raised some good money for five different charities.
10. I’m all out of questions– give us your best plug.
I’m currently putting the finishing touches on a three Stooges tribute stage script that has started booking dates around the country. I’ve got three projects in post, one feature and two shorts, and I recently played Mark Twain in a PBS documentary about his trip to Europe and the Holy Land in 1867.