Canada’s “Boy Prince of Hollywood” on living with Parkinson’s
In NOR: A Michael J. Fox filmFrom director Davis Guggenheim, the actor’s infectious charisma seeps through the screen as The Young Prince of Hollywood takes us through his personal journey of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“I started reading his books and they offered me something,” Guggenheim said after the film’s screening at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival, ahead of its May 12 release on Apple TV+.
“I don’t have Parkinson’s, but there was something about how he learned to deal with it that appealed to me.”
“Never Still” as a child in Canada
NOR: A Michael J. Fox film uses re-enactments of Fox’s life to visualize intimate moments, with narration from the Emmy winner himself.
The film opens with one of those re-enactments, in which Fox, hungover from a night out with Woody Harrelson, notices his little finger twitching, one of the first signs of the imminent Parkinson’s diagnosis.
These recreated moments are paired with carefully selected clips from Fox’s work, including Back to the future, Spin City And family ties used to tell the life story of the actor.
The film takes us back to Fox’s upbringing in Canada and describes himself as an active kid who “never was still”.
Fox’s acting career began after seeing a CBC casting ad in a newspaper. Some success in the Canadian series lion and meFox was told that in Hollywood it would be attractive to look like he was about five years younger than his actual age, so he made his way to Los Angeles and drove there with his father.
But Fox had some humiliating experiences in the US, including a recall for the film Ordinary people where Robert Redford flossed during Fox’s audition.
Fox booked very few jobs and was broke. He lived in a small apartment, couldn’t pay rent, and hoarded packets of jam from restaurants so he had something to eat.
Actually, Fox almost didn’t get his iconic role as Alex Keaton at all family ties. After Matthew Broderick turned down the role, Fox’s name was thrown around as a replacement, but NBC executives still weren’t convinced, and Brandon Tartikoff said Fox’s face would never be on a lunch box.
As we now know, the show was a hit on Fox. The actor even got revenge by sending Tartikoff a lunch box with his face on it.
“He loves the movie”
Things changed for Fox when he started noticing the visual cues of the imminent Parkinson’s diagnosis.
When he was actually diagnosed in 1991, he kept it a secret from the public and the people he worked with.
clip in NOR: A Michael J. Fox film show examples of actors who make a point of holding things in their left hand while filming Spin City to mask the tremors. Fox also explained how he would meticulously time his meds to manage his symptoms, especially while he was on set.
But Fox is also open about the aches and pains of his body in constant motion, including regular fractures. He also reveals details from an early phase of his diagnosis, in which he describes himself as an alcoholic who turned to alcohol to help cope with the illness. Fox hasn’t had a drink in 30 years now.
Interestingly, while Fox is incredibly forthcoming, Guggenheim originally planned not to have any interview footage in the film.
“I started with the idea that there would be no interviews in the film,” Guggenheim said. “I just wanted to get carried away by a story.”
NOR: A Michael J. Fox film does not use traditional interview recordings. The camera feels so close to Fox, as if he’s speaking directly to the audience and looking you in the eye, adding to the documentary’s impact. Guggenheim himself is the perfect interviewer for Fox, as he is sensitive about his questions but also uses the sarcastic humor that Fox cultivates in the film.
It would be easy for this documentary to lean on the sombre notes of one of pop culture’s most popular people battling Parkinson’s, though NOR: A Michael J. Fox film gives you a sense of joy with the way it really brings out Fox’s witty personality.
Guggenheim revealed that Fox saw the film and it gets his blessing.
“Michael saw the film twice,” Guggenheim said. “I wanted to show him before we shot the reenactments and then just before he was done.”
“He loves the film, he is so proud and I have to say it is very difficult for him to travel and he would give anything to be here tonight and share the film with you.”
The Hot Docs Festival in Toronto takes place from April 27th to May 7th. The next screenings of STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie are on May 5th and 7th. The film will also be available on Apple TV+ on May 12th.