In 1982, Michael J Fox won the TV viewers’ hearts as Alex Keaton on NBC’s popular sitcom Family Ties. Over thirty years later, he’s back on NBC headlining The Michael J Fox Show, premiering on September 26th, 2013.
During the intervening years, Fox had tremendous ups and downs in his life, becoming an international film star with the Back to the Future franchise, and in 1991, being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which he didn’t share with the public until 1998.
In his new sitcom he portrays Mike Henry, one of New York’s most admired news anchors, who retired from his job due to Parkinson’s. But after five years at home, he and his family are ready for him to go back to work, and when the opportunity arises he grabs it.
Michael came to the TV Critics tour to talk about his new series, which mirrors his life.
How does the series reflect on your own life?
I feel that this is a reflection of my experience, the way I look at life, the way I look at the reality of Parkinson’s, that it’s sometimes frustrating and sometimes funny.
Beyond that, I think we all get our own bag of hammers. We’ll look at this through the filter of that experience, and we’ll say, ‘Yeah, I need to laugh at my stuff, too.’
Can you talk a little bit about walking that fine line between dealing with the humor of a bad situation and not going too far?
I think the one thing that this show plays on, at least when it deals with Parkinson’s, is about perception. A lot of times when you have a disability, one of the things you deal with is other people’s projections of what your experience is, and their fear about it, and not seeing the experience you’re having.
There’s nothing horrifying about Parkinson’s to me. It is what I deal with. It is my reality and my life, but it’s not horrible. There’s nothing horrible about someone in their life saying, ‘God, I’m really tired of this shaky hand,’ and me saying, ‘Me, too.’
That’s our reality. We have no control. If someone wants to be outraged, they can be outraged. I don’t think it’s that outrageous.
You went on a self-imposed retirement. What was that like?
I took a hiatus and I just rested. I spent time being with my family, driving them nuts in a similar way to Mike Henry on the show. My son is 24, my daughters are 18 and my youngest daughter is 11 now. So I really got a good piece of their formative years where they were the focus of my attention, and it was beautiful.
And I messed with pills and new medications that helped me deal with dyskinesia and some other things I was struggling with earlier that I don’t have as much now, because of medication to counter the side effects.
Did the guest shots you did on other shows like Rescue Me and The Good Wife give you the confidence to believe you could take on a series like this?
Yeah, the guest shots were great, and it really brought me to a place of this is what I was built and programmed to do. And so I wanted to do it.
It’s what I love to do, and what I’ve enjoyed throughout my life, and I just thought, ‘Why can’t I? There’s no reason not to do it.’
Do you have to pace yourself differently now as opposed to when you were doing Family Ties?
[Yes], I think partly because I’m 52 years old. (he laughs) I do pace myself a little differently, but I find the muscle gets strong again.
The scripts have been fantastic, they’re such a joy to work with, and they’ve really captured this unique perspective of this family in a way that this feels like a show that’s been on for a while. We just fell into the rhythm and all enjoy working with each other so much.
It’s different from Family Ties. I can’t just say I developed a different way of working because of something to do with me.
I’ve developed a different way of working, because I’m working with different people and we’re doing a different thing that’s really unique and exciting.