Actress and businesswoman Claudia Wells gets recognized a lot for her small but memorable role as Jennifer Parker in the blockbuster 1985 sci-fi comedy Back to the Future.
Wells appeared in the beginning and end of the film, bookending the time-traveling comedy as the loving girlfriend of Marty, played by Michael J. Fox. It's a role that still follows her more than 30 years after the film's release.
"It's not a huge role but it's carried so far," Wells says from Singapore during a mission trip. "The truth is when I was Jennifer Parker, I was playing myself. So Jennifer and Claudia were very much the same person."
Wells says she thinks her role was more than just a secondary character who drives the protagonist's journey to get back to his time and avoid getting Photoshopped out of history. Jennifer delivers a big part of Back to the Future and its two sequels' heart and soul.
"I think maybe it's the innocence, the genuineness, the actual love that Marty and Jennifer felt for each other and the kindness," Wells says. "I just think that's how God decided how it would be and is, but if it gives me a platform to love people and show them the beauty that they are and that everyone is a masterpiece of God, if it gives me that ability to spread that love through the world, I'm in."
Making people feel special is a theme throughout her career, whether she's helping guys look their best thanks to her menswear store Armani Wells in Studio City, California, or meeting fans at conventions such as the Dallas Comic Show Fantasy Festival happening this weekend at the Premiere Event Center in Lewisville.
Wells has a long résumé of roles on TV shows and films. She was so busy that she almost had to back out of playing Jennifer in director Robert Zemeckis' movie, Wells says. She almost had to back out of Back to the Future since she was also cast as Linda Barrett in Fast Times, the sitcom version of the hit teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Wells has had such a demanding acting career that she barely had time to notice the success and impact that Back to the Future had on audiences for years to come.
"I didn't really notice because I was so accustomed to acting," she says. "I starred in a ton of series and movies-of-the-week. I was accustomed to people wanting autographs and things like that. I didn't notice the hugeness of the movie 15 years ago or 10 years ago. I notice it more now than when it came out."
She also had to step away from acting shortly after the release of the movie when her mother received a devastating cancer diagnosis. Elisabeth Shue picked up the role of Jennifer in the succeeding two Back to the Future sequels. During her break from show business to grieve for her late mother, she found her other passion in the men's fashion industry and solace and comfort from her faith.
"I always knew I'd come back one day and I know I will because acting is a passion of mine," she says. "I'm grateful my store filled the creative part of me in that I get to make gorgeous clothes for men in my store and coming in contact everyday is something that fills me. My prayer is if I'm meant to act again, God will bring it to me in a wrapped box with a pretty ribbon on top."
Wells says she is relatively new to the convention circuit since her business keeps her pretty busy. She makes a lot of international appearances because of her business and religious work, but she tries to fit an average of one national convention per month into her hectic schedule. She says she wasn't sure if she even wanted to do them at first, but she found a great reason to do them during her first appearance at one in 2014.
"At first, I was a little uncomfortable sitting behind a table and people paying for my pictures and things like that," she says. "I realized it brings people so much joy and happiness, so I do it. I'm a people person so I love meeting people and I adore travel. Anywhere am I, I'm home. It's a beautiful aspect of my life that I never take for granted."
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The recognition doesn't stop at the conventions. She says she regularly gets recognized in her daily life and keeps stacks of the "Save the Clock Tower" flyer for autographs at her store, an appropriate keepsake since she also signs her number and a love note to Marty in the movie with her actual handwriting.
"Every single week, I get surprised by fans coming in from all over the world," Wells says. "It's really beautiful."
She says she's also looking forward to the Dallas Comic Show because of its uniqueness on the convention circuit and the things it offers her, like a chance to meet with friends and people who still admire her work after all this time.
"If it's a show that makes fans so happy, I want to be a part of that," Wells says. "It's a joy for fans to meet someone from a favorite movie. It's such a beautiful experience to be a part of and just by me being me and the ability to bring happiness to someone is really hard to say no to."