Liana Hunt on playing an iconic role in 'Back to the Future' on Broadway
The actress stars as Lorraine Baines, the lovesick yet strong-willed mother of time-traveling teenager Marty McFly, in the critically acclaimed musical.
On the first day of rehearsals for Back to the Future on Broadway, director John Rando gave the cast one instruction, actress Liana Hunt remembers: "We need to take really good care of these characters."
Hunt understood the assignment. Years before getting cast as Marty McFly's mom, Lorraine Baines, in the musical, she grew up loving the 1985 film about a time-traveling teenager who nearly breaks up his high school-aged parents back in 1955. As a longtime fan, she enjoys the "responsibility and challenge" of bringing Back to the Future to a new audience.
"One of my favorite things that's happening for audiences is that parents who love the film are coming with their children, and their children are falling in love with the story and the characters," Hunt said. "It's bringing generations together."
Naturally, one might wonder how characters like Marty or Doc Brown will translate to the stage (excellently, for the record). But Lorraine — who runs the gamut from comic to poignant as she searches fiercely for love, misguidedly in Marty — shouldn't be overlooked. Hunt knows that thanks to Lea Thompson's onscreen performance, "fans will come and expect to see the Lorraine Baines they know and love."
Like Thompson, Hunt plays three different versions of her character (bringing generations together in a different way): the lovesick yet strong-willed teenage Lorraine, the unhappily married adult Lorraine, and the adult Lorraine whose life turns out differently thanks to Marty's travels. Thompson's "groundedness," as Hunt described it, put her up in the pantheon with Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, giving Hunt big saddle shoes to fill.
But with a modern comic flair and a bit of her younger self — with, of course, some Thompson sprinkled in — Hunt successfully secures Lorraine's future as a beloved Broadway role. She spoke with New York Theatre Guide about what makes Back to the Future and her character so timeless.
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What was your history with the Back to the Future movie?
My brother and I watched it a lot growing up on VHS in our living room. It feels very cozy to be a part of it, very nostalgic, because it was a part of my childhood, and I always loved the role of Lorraine.
But I hadn't seen it in years when I got the audition for this, so I watched it ahead of the audition and was flooded with nostalgia and also excitement. It's such great storytelling, and the characters feel like people from my childhood that I know.
Did revisiting the movie reveal anything new for you about Lorraine Baines or the story?
It was interesting, watching it as an adult and specifically watching the role of Lorraine Baines. I was deciding whether I was going to audition; I was doing a show out of town, so I was going to have to fly back early. So I was watching it like, "Do I want to audition for this? Is this a role for me?"
I remember watching it and falling in love with the role of Lorraine as an adult — loving all versions of her, too, and getting really excited at the idea of getting to play all three different versions of her: beginning Lorraine and end Lorraine, but also teenage Lorraine.
[When I got the role,] I tried to watch the film in preparation for rehearsals and say, what is so special about this character? What do audiences want to see that's familiar to them on stage? And then, how can I find my own way inside of Lorraine Baines? I'm not just putting something on my body externally, but I'm finding my own way into her from the inside out.
What, if anything, from Lea Thompson's portrayal of Lorraine influenced your performance?
There's an easy trap to fall into with a role like Lorraine Baines: girl in the 1950s, boy-crazed, looks like a good girl, but she likes to drink and smoke! Surprise! But one of the things that really struck me is how Lea Thompson played her with such groundedness. I believed everything.
Even though the circumstances may seem silly — she's boy-crazy and trying to find her husband, she's falling in love all over the place — she really approached it with such high stakes. Because for the character, in 1955, these are huge things to happen to a teenager.
Lea Thompson was so invested in the stakes for her character and took them so seriously and was funny and charming without trying to be [...] because she's so invested in the moment of what's happening. So I really try to honor that. It's musical comedy, so the situations I find myself in are very funny, but I try to approach them all from a real place of honesty.
What parts of yourself do you bring to Lorraine?
I'm bringing my sense of humor and my sensibilities to that genre within the role.
I love the beginning Lorraine. I have so much fun getting to be older Lorraine in 1985 when life is really tough. It's a really tragic moment, but it's also really comedic. I love bringing my version of that Lorraine to the stage, and then just infusing teenage Lorraine with me — not the me that I was when I was that age. I was certainly not that confident, cool, forward with boys, but as an adult, I have more of those qualities now. That's fun to bring myself back to that age, but be a much cooler version.
A past Broadway role of yours, Newsies's Katherine Plumber, reminds me of Lorraine a bit: They're both girls chasing their own desires in a boys' world. Has that occurred to you?
There's something there, and that became apparent to me in rehearsals. Because, yes, these women are very much in a man's world, and they both have this spirit. Lorraine finds herself in a lot of situations [where] she's getting thrown around by men, and I love the way she holds onto herself in those moments.
Even though, eventually, it's George that pulls her up off the ground, Lorraine as a character really holds herself. She doesn't take it. She stands up to Biff, and she fights for herself, as Katherine does surrounded by boys on that stage.
What was it like meeting Lea Thompson?
I was freaking out. As a person, she's so genuinely cool and grounded and smart and talented. She came on our opening gala night, which was July 25 [,2023]. We went into the show not knowing for sure, but I was definitely nervous knowing that maybe she was there, and I just wanted her to like [not just] our show, but me. Hopefully, she would think I brought justice to Lorraine.
After the show, the creative team and the producers invited [the film's cast] on stage, and she immediately scanned the cast and found me and came right up to me and gave me a big hug. I was dying. After, when they brought the curtain down, we got a moment on our own, and we got a photo together, and she said some really nice words about my performance and my version of Lorraine. That was an epic dream come true.
Since then, she started following me on Instagram, and she's sent me a couple of messages! She did comment on one of my photos something along the lines of "you're a dreamboat" or "you're an absolute dream." That was surreal!
If you could time-travel anywhere, where would you go?
It is so tempting to go to the future, but as Doc Brown says in our show, we really mustn't. So [...] even though I was alive during the '90s, I want to go back to the '90s as an adult in New York City.
It was a really cool time, and any movies I see that take place during that decade in New York City make me feel cozy and make me pine for what it was like living in the city, picking up the payphone, not having cell phones. I'm a Sex in the City nerd; I want to live my Carrie Bradshaw life!
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This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
Top image credit: Liana Hunt. (Photo by Justin Patterson)
In-article image credit: Casey Likes and Liana Hunt in Back to the Future on Broadway. (Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)
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