Thompson fights 'For the People'
Rochester native takes on lawyer role in new Lifetime drama
By Andrea Faiad
Lea Thompson used to be the "girl next door" -- literally.
The 20-year Hollywood veteran began life in Rochester, where she lived in a house near the Edison Building and watched her mom Barbara Thompson star in Rochester Civic Theatre productions.
Now, she's starring as Camille Paris, a liberal-minded, tough chief deputy assistant on the new Lifetime drama, "For the People," which has earned successful ratings since premiering July 21. It airs at 9 p.m. on Sundays.
"It's a really difficult schedule, and it's a real challenge playing a lawyer because it's so verbose," Thompson said, via telephone from the "For the People" set in Los Angeles. "But I really love the actors, a really, really fun group of people. I feel really blessed to get to spend my day with them."
Thompson said she's also happy to work for a growing network that supports controversial issues.
In the series, Thompson's character's professional world shifts profoundly when conservative District Attorney Lora Gibson, played by Debbi Morgan ("Soul Food," "The Hurricane"), becomes her new boss. Centered in the Los Angeles District Attorney's office, the series explores the diverse professional and personal lives of strong women who find themselves seeking a common goal from different ends of the political spectrum.
"There's a passion and strength that both characters have," Thompson said. "They've both had to struggle very hard to get where they are, and they had to be extra good at what they do to get what they have."
Drama is a welcome change of direction in a career characterized by "good girl" comedic roles in hits such as the "Back to the Future" trilogy and NBC's "Caroline in the City."
"I don't think of things as career moves anymore, I just think of it as a job that I find interesting," she said, adding that taking on the character of Sally Bowles in Broadway's "Cabaret" was another such choice.
Her chameleon ability has helped Thompson adapt to a fickle marketplace as she ages.
"I keep trying to change styles and things and hair colors, so nobody will know it's me," she said with a chuckle. "They keep thinking they're hiring a different actress. I just try to change and grow and develop and find a different audience and hope that the people who like me will follow me through my different incarnations."
The 41-year-old got her big break in 1980 in a string of 22 Burger King commercials. Hollywood took notice.
Thompson went on to play Tom Cruise's girlfriend in "All the Right Moves," the popular girl in "Some Kind of Wonderful" and Michael J. Fox's mom in the "Back to the Future" trilogy, among many other roles.
These days, she's working 13-hour days on "For the People." With the hours, Thompson, mother of a 7- and 11-year-old (with her husband of 13 years, film director Howard Deutch), said balancing work and family is a struggle. She relies on a longtime baby-sitter and family for help.
"I really have a great network of extended family, more like in the old days," she said. "Even when I'm gone, they feel really safe and nurtured. If you don't have any family around, it's so hard to raise kids. You can't really trust your kids with anyone but your family sometimes."
Thompson rarely returns to Minnesota these days; only one relative remains in the state. But she gets a taste of home on the "For the People" set -- a makeup artist and camera assistant are also Minnesota natives.
While the tabloids and talk shows portray a backstabbing, competitive arena, Thompson said the entertainment world offers better than that.
"There is a lot that people don't realize, like the camaraderie you have with the crew, the excitement of working with a bunch of people trying to make something good and just the jokes," she said, chuckling.
"When you work long hours with a bunch of people, you get to the point where you're so exhausted that everything's funny. I love that part. We get to that point a lot. There are a lot of great people in our business."