To many Lea Thompson will always be associated with Back To The Future, where she played various incarnations of Lorraine Baines McFly. However she has had an incredibly broad career, thats taken in everything from the successful sitcom Caroline In The City to the Broadway stage. With her latest movie, the action-thriller Exit Speed, reaching DVD on Jul 18th, Movie Musers Tim Isaac spoke to Lea about the film, as well as what she thinks of Back To The Future 26 years on, and her upcoming role in Clints Eastwoods J. Edgar, where she play Ginger Rogers mom!
Can you tell us a little bit about Exit Speed?
Yes. I hadnt done an action movie in a long time when I made this, so it was a lot of fun. Its just kind of a cool idea. A romp about these people who are stuck on this bus. Theyre all just in their separate worlds, then all of a sudden their bus is attacked by this crazy, meth-smoking, motorcycle gang. They have to survive. They have to fight their way out of it, just these normal people. Its kind of a survival story really. Theres these amazing stunt in it. These people do these crazy things on motorcycles. But you know, it a story of how strangers can band together when they have to.
You say you hadnt done an action film in a long time. Is it something you were looking to do?
No, it just kind of found me. I call them westerns, as its kind of like a western, when youre shooting out in a desert-y kind of area and its the good guys versus the bad guys. I love doing westerns. I love that whole thing of being outside, and guns, and bad guys. The whole thing was fun.
There are quite a lot of good roles for women in Exit Speed. You half expect your character to be a stereotypical soccer mom who just going to scream all the way through to build tension, but she reveals herself to be something else. And thats true of many of the other female characters.
Yeah, that is one of the surprising things about the movie. I did like the character. I really think that women can be quite fierce when it comes to protecting their children and stuff. So I liked playing that character. And its always fun to have a character who surprises the audience, and she is surprising.
Were there any stunts that you were involved in that you were particularly proud of?
Well, when youre making a not super-expensive movie, you get called on more often to do your own stunts. I think its interesting in Exit Speed that I kill the same person twice! Thats what happens in a low budget movie. I had to do a lot of running and dodging of motorcycles, and thats fun when youre not 20, to be able to do that.
You started off in ballet, so has the discipline of that helped you keep fit and able to do all the running?
Yeah, I think it did. I think it becomes more and more important as you get older to keep in touch with your body, and that youre not afraid to move. Its one of the reasons I still do yoga and still dance a little, because if youre too careful with your body, you cant do this stuff anymore. And I like being physical, especially as you can tell a lot about a character by the way they move. I always say, If you dont move it, you lose it!
Ive talked to quite a few actresses around your age group whove said its difficult to find decent roles, but I was looking at your IMDB credits, and you seem to be doing more than ever. Do you find it difficult to get roles or is it not so tough?
Well, its always difficult to get roles. There are a million actors and three parts. And it is more difficult for actresses. Just statistically if you look at it, it does look rather grim, but I think what happens is that it is such a difficult business and so a lot of people give up. So as you get older, there are less people doing it anymore because its so hard. I do think Ive been lucky. I had a really brilliant year and done a lot of good parts. I think that by virtue of staying fit and not giving up you can get the parts.
I think the quality of the parts is more interesting for me lately than it has been, say, in my early 40s. Ive been able to do a broader spectrum of roles, which is what Ive always tried to do comedy, drama, action, thriller… because its just fun to attempt to do different things. I think particularly in America, with the broadening of all the different cable channels, and the fact they now specifically have channels for women and for older women, I think thats been a real help to actresses like me, because it broadens the spectrum. For example Ive just done my first romantic comedy movie for the Hallmark Movie Channel, and they specifically wanted women in their 40s to do that, which wouldnt have made business sense before.
You said youre trying to do all sorts of things, but of course to many people youre particularly associated with the Back To The Future movies. Are you still proud of those films, or have they become a bit of a millstone round your neck the thing youll never escape no matter what else you do?
Oh no, no, no. And look at that part. That was a great part. I played a woman in her late-40s, a 17-year-old, an 84-year-old all different incarnations of the same character. I would love to get that part right now! I was very lucky. That was a huge character part and I feel very fortunate to be most famous for that. And Im amazed that little seven-year-olds come up to me – that those movies are still holding up, even though we got the future so wrong! We were just a disaster for what the world would be like right now.
I was think you probably ought to phone up Bob Zemeckis, because now youre actually the age Lorraine would have been in 1985, so you should see whether they can digitally insert you as you really are, rather than how they thought you would be.
Yeah, I know. We all were together just musing about that how they got the makeup right and how they got it wrong. But you know, they were also trying to put a lot of weight on me too. That makeups still not perfect. Even though now they can help it digitally when you change an actors age, its still difficult to do.
I believe that youve recently been working on Clint Eastwoods J. Edgar, playing Ginger Rogers mother. Is that right?
How does she fit into the story?
Well, its not a large part. She was a really interesting character, but its not really fleshed out in the movie. But she was an expert for the McCarthy Hearings, and she would decide which line in what movie was a communist ideal that was being put into the movie. It was a ridiculous thing, but she was very political and she was very good friends with J. Edgar Hoover. There were rumours they dated. I dont believe they did, but they were friends and my function more in the story is to put pressure on him, because his sexuality was, well, not interested in women, so Im there to put some pressure on that. I think she wanted to be his girlfriend, but he wasnt really that interested.
But it was just an honour to work on that movie and to be part of that crew, with Leonardo DiCaprio, it was amazing. Id always wanted to work with Clint Eastwood because he shares my birthday [laughs]. No, but whenever he calls, anyone will go. The cast of that movie is amazing. Its like Woody Allen you just go. You dont question whether the parts the best part or not, you just go. That was really a wonderful lark and a great experience. And of course its all set in the 30s, so theres all the hair and the makeup, which is so much fun.
You have worked on an incredibly wide variety of projects. What for you in your acting career is the thing youre most proud of?
Uh, well, I suppose, Cabaret on Broadway. Its the only English accent that Ive ever done and that was my proudest moment. I did it for eight months, eight shows a week. It was just one of those parts where it I really had to earn it, because I had to sing and dance as well. And it was just a great project. Same Mendes and Frank Marshall were the directors it was actually developed in London and then came to Broadway. It was just a spectacular experience. You know, in America when I started, they really categorised actors. You were either a film actor, a TV actor or a theatre actor, and they really didnt help you do all those mediums. I always looked up to British actors, as it was always so acceptable for them to move easily from TV to film to theatre and the community was so supportive of that. Im happy that in America thats bled over, and its easier for people to do different things. I always tried to do that, and I think I sometimes suffered for that, so Im pleased that British sensibility has bled back over to America.
I believe your daughter Zoe is now having some success in the acting field. Are you pleased shes following in your footsteps or would you have preferred her to choose a different direction?
No, Im honoured that Im not such a formidable a mother that she want to shy away from that. I think with some mothers theres a sense of not wanting to compete not that wed be up for the same roles but it becomes difficult. I think that its an honour. Im really enjoying working with her and helping her and showing her the ropes. And my other daughter has just graduated college. Shes more of a musician though. Ive sung with them both, Ive acted with them both, I hope to direct them one day. Its really nice that theyre following in the family business, and its good that I can tell them that I know how they feel and for that to genuinely be true. Theyre both so talented that its really exciting for me to just watch them.
You say youre hoping to direct your daughters. Is directing youd like to do more of, as I believe you directed a couple of the Jane Doe TV movies that you starred in?
Yes, I would love to. I would like to direct the new series that Im working on for ABC Family [Switched At Birth in which she plays the mother of teen girl who was switched in the hospital as a baby with another child]. Its a big hit at the moment, and its a really interesting idea. Id love to direct my own movie as well. Im just waiting a few more years until my kids get a little older, because when you have to make your own project its such an all consuming event. So Im saving some of that energy at the moment to be a mom. But I love directing, and I feel I have a lot of talents that are good for it. And Ive done so much in the entertainment industry that I know so many people, and I really understand the economy and how the business works. I really hope so!
Thank you very much, Lea.
Exit Speed is released on DVD on 18 July by 2020 Films