Michael J. Fox says he can't play roles with heavy dialogue due to Parkinson's memory lapses: 'It can't be done'

·4 min read

Michael J. Fox, 60, has been a Hollywood favorite for decades.

Even after he went public about his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease in 1998, the actor continued winning the hearts of television viewers on shows like Boston Legal, The Good Wife and The Michael J. Fox Show, most of which involved playing a character who was also living with the disease.

In an interview on Mike Birbiglia’s podcast Working It Out, the actor opened up about his recent decision to not take on roles with a lot of lines due to his inability to memorize long strips of dialogue.

“I don't take on something with a lot of lines, because I can't do it,” he said. “And for whatever reason, it just is what it is. I can't remember five pages of dialogue. I can't do it. It can't be done. So I go to the beach.”

That wasn’t always the case, however. The actor acknowledged he was “cruising along” while shooting The Good Wife and Curb Your Enthusiasm throughout the 2000s and 2010s — until a couple years ago, when he began finding it harder to memorize long pages of dialogue.

“When I did the spinoff from Good Wife, which is Good Fight, I couldn't remember the lines,” he said. “I just had this blank, I couldn't remember the lines. And it was strange because on Family Ties, [producers] used to give me the script and I'd go, ‘I’m in. Mallory, get off the phone.’ And I knew it, like in an instant. And it continued to be that way for me.”

“I get to this point, I'm on a soundstage in Culver City, and I can't get this line together,” he continued. “It was this legal stuff and I just couldn't get it. But what's really refreshing was I didn't panic. I didn't freak out. I just went, ‘Well that's that. Moving on. A key element of this process is memorizing lines, and I can't do it.’ And I had done Kiefer's show in Canada, [Designated Surivor]. I had the same problem.”

Though Fox reportedly retired from acting altogether in 2020, he seemed to dial the finality back when speaking with Birbiglia about how watching a scene from Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood made him realize he had to limit his dialogue when working on set, for the sake of his own mental health.

“What's cool about it was [Leonardo DiCaprio] was doing a scene of a Western show and he couldn't remember his lines,” he explained of Tarantino’s film. “He went back in the dressing room, he was screaming at himself, he was like tearing into himself in the mirror, and drinking. Just a mess. And I thought about that, and I thought, ‘I don't want to feel that. Am I wrong to feel that? Am I right to feel that?’”

Meanwhile, the actor has been a huge advocate for Parkinson's and other neurological diseases, having founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation in 2000.

While the foundation has raised over $1 billion for Parkinson’s research, Fox recently opened up about not expecting to find a cure for the disease in his lifetime — but that it doesn't mean he's without hope.

“I’m really blunt with people about cures," he told AARP last year. "When they ask me if I will be relieved of Parkinson’s in my lifetime, I say, ‘I’m 60 years old, and science is hard. So, no.’”

That said, "I am genuinely a happy guy," he added. "I don’t have a morbid thought in my head — I don’t fear death. At all.”

“It’s hard to explain to people how lucky I am, because I also have Parkinson’s,” Fox said. “Some days are a struggle. Some days are more difficult than others. But the disease is this thing that’s attached to my life — it isn’t the driver. And because I have assets, I have access to things others don’t. I wouldn’t begin to compare my experience to that of a working guy who gets Parkinson’s and has to quit his job and find a new way to live. So, I’m really lucky.”

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