Lea Thompson Has No Trouble with the Truth

 *UPDATE: Though this interview is over two years old, you may find it interesting that Lea and I actually discussed the possibility of Dancing with the Stars during our conversation. I’m so glad she made the decision to finally throw her hat in the ring, no matter what happens, she was destined to dance again!- Scott Hopkins 9/19/14
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It’s been said you should never meet your idols as it will, more often than not, only lead to disappointment. No doubt, the same could be said for meeting your teenage crushes but, in some rare and extraordinary moments, the exact opposite can occur, as was the case when I was fortunate enough to sit down for a few minutes with Lea Thompson last week at the 2012 Sedona International Film Festival.

Not only did the actress not disappoint, my teenage crush became a more mature, respectful and adult fondness. I believe one of the secrets to Lea Thompson’s longevity as an actress, aside from her brilliant comedic timing and dramatic versatility, lies in her casual, easygoing charm and natural humility and, I suspect, many of the people who have had the pleasure of meeting her often walk away a little bewitched and twitterpatted, she’s just that kind of gal.


Lea Thompson began her creative life as a mouse, to be more specific, she was a dancing mouse in a production of the perennial holiday classic The Nutcracker. Through her teens she danced in over 45 ballet productions with various ballet companies, including The Minnesota Dance Theatre, The Pennsylvania Ballet Company and The Ballet Repertory. She won scholarships to The American Ballet Theatre and The San Francisco Ballet and, at the age of 19, found herself auditioning for Russian “Lord of the Dance” Mikhail Baryshnikov. Her audition for the demanding Ruskie’s prestigious ballet company would eventually lead to Thompson’s long and successful career as….an actress.

Thompson, of course, is best known for her career defining role as Lorraine McFly in the Back to the Future Trilogy and as the star of the popular television series Caroline in the City for which she received the People’s Choice Award and the TV Guide Award. A few of her other popular titles include; All the Right Moves, Space Camp, Dennis the Menace, The Beverly Hillbillies, Casual Sex, Article 99 and, most recently, the Sundance hit Thin Ice and Clint Eastwood’s critically acclaimed J. Edgar. Throughout the last decade she has starred as Cathy Davis/Jane Doe in 9 installments of the popular Jane Doe film series for the Hallmark Channel.

In 1987, Lea Thompson met film director Howard Deutch on the set of the teen classic Some Kind of Wonderful, they married shortly after and are the proud parents of Madelyn and Zoey Deutch.

Thompson can currently be seen on ABC Family’s Switched at Birth.

Lea Thompson came to the 2012 Sedona International Film Festival to help promote the smart new indie dramedy The Trouble with the Truth, written and directed by Jim Hemphill and co-starring John Shea.

Pop Bitez: So what was it that first attracted you to your new film The Trouble with the Truth?
Lea Thompson: Well, it was a great part, it was a part like I’d never been offered before, it just seemed like such a gigantic challenge to see if just the acting and great dialog could hold an audience for an hour and a half. I was really interested in how honest the writing was and it was just one of those moments where I had the time. I couldn’t believe someone was going to make this movie and I wanted to be a part of it.

PB: Now the film centers around the reunion of a divorced couple, your parents actually divorced when you were pretty young, is that right?

LT: Yes.

PB: And yet you’ve been married to the same man for 23 years now which, by Hollywood standards, is nothing short of a miracle. So, I guess the question is, what are you doing right?

LT: I don’t know, I really don’t know, I think a long term marriage is like a novella, it’s like a roller coaster ride, we’ve had our bad times, we’ve had our great times. I don’t know, I just…I love my husband even more now than I did when I married him and I think we’ve created a life together that’s so lovely and, even in the times that aren’t so great, that life has kind of held us together, with our kids. I don’t mean to sound weird but I keep reading about these people getting divorced and they have kids and they’re like, “well, you know, it just kind of wasn’t working right now…”, and I’m like, really??! You couldn’t work it out for the kids?! You couldn’t try for a little bit longer?! My kids and my family are so important to me and I’ve always kind of known if you wait a little while it changes.

PB: Peaks and valleys?

LT: Yeah, peaks and valleys and I’m really happy we’ve stayed together for so long because, like I said, I love him more today than when I married him.

PB: You said something recently on IFC’s The Mortified Sessions…..

LT: Which I still haven’t seen…..

PB: Really? You haven’t seen it?

LT: No, I was too “mortified” to see it.

PB: Seriously?

LT: Honestly.

PB: Oh Lea….

LT: (she laughs) Really, you liked it?

PB: Well, I’ve seen all the episodes of that series and yours was easily my favorite…

LT: Isn’t that nice?

PB: You actually said something in that interview that I thought was fairly profound and I instinctively connected to it and understood what you meant immediately, you said, “some kids aren’t really meant to be kids”.

LT: Mmm, right.

PB: Can you expound on that a little bit for me?

LT: I don’t know, I just feel like there are just different kinds of spirits, I mean, I have one daughter that was like this and it’s just hard for them to be kids, you know, it’s a very interesting thing when you’re a mother because you realize people come out with spirits, they come out with souls, and as a parent you try to mold them, but they have their own destiny, they have their own temperaments, and you try to lead them towards the right path and you try to help them curtail the darker sides or the more destructive parts of themselves, but they come out that way….it was interesting watching my daughter go through that because I felt the same way so I could really understand her, it was really difficult for her to be a kid. I’ve really always had a lot of respect for children, the things they go through sometimes are really profound and adults sometimes just don’t want to deal with it because it’s too painful for them to even remember their own childhoods and how intense those feelings were, so it’s easy to dismiss their feelings, but they’re very strong.

PB: I gotta tell ya, if ever I’ve met someone who needed to write a children’s book…

LT: Oh, that’s so sweet, really? I’ll think about that.

PB: So Baryshnikov did you a favor….

LT: (laughs) Yes, right, absolutely. Well, I was, like, 19 or 20, I think, and I was in really great shape, I was at the peak of my dance career and I was auditioning for his company and he took me aside and said, “you’re a beautiful dancer but you’re too stocky for my company”, and I was 96 pounds at the time and I thought, “I’m here, at the top of the ballet profession and I’m not going to make it”, I picked up my stuff, I turned around and I never came back. About four months later, I was waiting tables and Ohio Ballet offered me a position in their company, someone offered me a little Off-Broadway play and I also got a call back for a musical, and this was all on the same day! I took the play and said goodbye to dancing.

PB: The moment of truth.

LT: Exactly, so, yeah, he did me a really big favor. I actually bumped into him at a party, my daughter was singing at this really big event, and Baryshnikov was there and I kept hiding from him because this story has come up so many times he must be like, “Will that Lea Thompson shut up about how I ruined her dance career! I don’t remember that girl !!” (laughing), but, yeah, he definitely did me a favor and the moral of that story is, sometimes when you’re swimming up stream, if you just turn around and let the stream carry you, you can find your best, you have to be willing to change course. I’ve tried to do that a lot in my career as an actress.

PB: And when you starred in Cabaret on Broadway was that a return to dancing for you?

LT: I didn’t really dance that much in that show, this is my dancing in Cabaret, (she gets up and does a few Fosse stomps and a pivot). They didn’t really want you to dance, everyone was supposed to be untalented, and I was like, “can I do this?”, (still standing, she does a Grand Jete) “or this?”, (she does a perfect Chene turn), and they were like, “no, no, no”. I danced a little on Caroline in the City but I actually have no film of me dancing, not one frame, video was just starting and no one thought I was worth videoing. It’s really weird for me because I wonder if I was good?

PB: I’m not sure if your schedule would allow for it but wouldn’t it make sense for you to be on….?

LT: They’ve never cast me on Dancing with the Stars and I think it’s kind of a good thing, I did one reality talent show and it was traumatic, (laughs), it was REALLY traumatic. Dancing with the Stars is different and the reason that it exists in it’s form is because they are so polite to the dancers, “the stars”, they’re very polite and kind, you have to be a real creep for them to not treat you right but, they’ve never asked me and there must be a reason.

PB: Maybe they don’t know, do you think they know?

LT: Well, when it started they didn’t want people who were actual dancers but then they realized you can’t have a girl who doesn’t have any kind of training because it’s too hard to learn without being at least a skater or something….but I don’t even know if they asked me if I’d do it, I don’t know, it’s so traumatic,(laughs).

PB: I think if there’s one thing I see reoccurring throughout your life, whether it’s the dancing, your film career or your marriage, it’s discipline. Where do you think you learned your sense of discipline?

LT: Well, my mom said she raised us with a “calculated neglect” and when we could do something for ourselves she stopped doing it for us and I kind of raised my kids with a little bit of that, which is extremely difficult in this culture right now, you know, torturing your kids by doing everything for them and trying to make sure they have the perfect this and the perfect that all the time, I think that robs kids of their self esteem. I had to do so much for myself, yes, too much, but I was the youngest of five and we were really, really poor but what that did for me… you know, there’s this weird thing that happens when you’re the passenger in a car and you’re in a strange town and you kind of don’t even see things and all of the sudden, when the person gets out and says “you want to drive now?”, things are much clearer when you’re responsible and I was responsible for my life at a very young age. I moved to New York with 700 dollars and no safety net, there wasn’t going to be any, “Mom, can I have some money?”, it was like, “no, you gotta do it, you gotta take care of yourself”, so I think that makes you responsible, but I also love being an artist and I have a great deal of respect for the people who spent the money and have hired me to fulfill their vision, so that’s given me discipline to not be self indulgent and really try to do my job as best I can. I believe, that’s part of why I’m still working, I mean, I’m not a great big star or anything but I’m still working.

PB: And there’s a lot to be said for that, quite a few actresses of your generation have fallen off the map by this point, I’m not sure if it’s discipline or fortitude or just your perfect timing……

LT: Well, no, my timing could have been better (laughs).

PB: I mean your comedic timing, I think you’ve always had expert timing, obviously with Caroline in the City but also going all the way back to Lorraine McFly.

LT: Oh, thanks, well, I’ve always maintained versatility, which, I think, makes it easier to cast me in both comedies and dramas. I’m doing kind of a drama series right now but, I think I prefer comedy because it’s harder, it’s more frightening, so, you know, I think versatility plays a big part but, one piece of wisdom I’m really feeling right now is that your life is really made up of a bunch of little decisions, all those little moments where you got to work on time or when you didn’t feel like doing something but you did it anyway or you didn’t really like that person but you were still kind, do you know what I mean?

PB: Sure.

LT: You know, your life is made up of a bunch of little times when you just did the right thing.

PB: An accumulation of Karma….

LT: It’s an accumulation of little pieces, little blocks of things and, now, I’m happy to say I’m sitting here, at my age, with a life that has had some luck, but also that I earned, through doing the right thing more than NOT doing the right thing, (laughs), which I certainly have done, but I’ve tried to be professional and kind, as much as I possibly could, and I think that’s helped.

PB: Alright, last question, if you could hop in the DeLorean and go back in time and visit any time period you missed when would it be?

LT: I love the 30s and the 40s and when I did J. Edgar I got to walk into the Cicada Club and it was the 30s and I’ve been in the 1800s and got to wear what they wore and ride the horses and smell the smells, that’s the beautiful thing about being in my profession, I feel like I’ve kind of lived, at least in my imagination, in other times, but I feel like this is great time for being a woman, I think if I had to go back to another time, being a woman, it would be very difficult.

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3 thoughts on “Lea Thompson Has No Trouble with the Truth

Add yours

  1. Outstanding job, Scott, and you are completely correct in your insightful observations. Not only does Lea Thompson not disappoint, in person; she is even more astonishing than any of the remarkable characters she has played throughout her stellar career. Lea is humorous, intelligent, quick-witted, observant, sensitive, kind and considerate.

    You have indeed captured those qualities of Lea’s in your interview.

    Like

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