Interview: Lea Thompson as Lovely Lorraine is ‘Back to the Future’

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CHICAGO – Everybody’s favorite 1950s Mom – besting June Cleaver by a mile – is Lorraine, from the classic 1985 film “Back to the Future.” Lea Thompson, celebrating that milestone character on the 25th anniversary of “Future,” met admirers recently at the Hollywood Blvd Cinema in Woodridge, Ill.

Lea Thompson seems poised on the edge of an another career shift. The ebullient sitcom survivor – she was “Caroline in the City,” don’t you know – is excited about some current projects. Recently, she completed her series of ‘Jane Doe’ films for the Hallmark Channel, and she has a new pilot for the TNT Network called “Uncle Nigel.’ She is also doing a movie called “The Convincer” with Alan Arkin, Bob Balaban, Greg Kinnear and Billy Crudup, plus she’s produced a movie with her children called “Mayor Cupcake.”

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These Boots Were Made for Kicking: Lea Thompson Looks Towards the Future
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

HollywoodChicago was able to talk to Thompson – who spoke alongside her “Back to the Future” co-star Christopher Lloyd – and she seems to have stepped out of that time-traveling DeLorean herself, unchanged from when she shot the film. She spoke of course about Lorraine, but also about the experiences of being Caroline and co-starring with a duck called Howard. By the way, she was wearing the cowboys boots she wore in “Red Dawn.”

HollywoodChicago.com: With the character of Lorraine, you created one of the wildest 1950s girl in the history of the medium. How did you and Robert Zemeckis work on upping the sex quotient of Lorraine to create the Oedipal tension between you and Michael J. Fox?

Lea Thompson: I don’t know, I think when I was breaking down the character I just came up with this idea of cat in heat. [laughs] And I kind of would always sing this song, ‘Mr Sandman,’ when I was trying to get in character. They’d be like ‘we’re ready, come to the set,’ and I’d be like [starts to sing, with Christopher Lloyd joining in] ‘Mr. Sandman…yes…I’m so alone’…and I would just sing it to myself and it would get me into this space, like a little cat in heat. I’m not sure how much of that was written, but it was definitely something.

We worked really hard, we all worked really hard on our characters. I just recently found the script, and I was like ‘oh my gosh,’ all the work that I did was there. Not enough people give credit to Crispin Glover. He and I use to have long, ridiculous discussions about things, if you can imagine [laughs]. At one point to do the last scene in the movie, when we were the cool parents, he had me over to his all-black painted apartment to paint a volcano together. Paint a painting of a volcano. That’s how we were going to work on the characters. I didn’t ask any questions, I was just like okay, we’ll paint a volcano.

HollywoodChicago.com: Now that you’ve had a little more life experience, could you see re-interpreting the scenes where you played Lorraine as a older woman?

Thompson: No, I was very pleased with how I did it. I was looking at ‘Back to the Future 2’ and the first one because I was making a new reel for myself, and I thought, ‘I’m going to put these scenes in, because now I’m the same age.’ [laughs] I’d like to that again, a very big character part that people don’t generally consider me for in film. You know, that kind of diva that I play in the second film, with the big boobs and everything…people don’t think of me like that, because I played it 25 years ago!

HollywoodChicago.com: What do you consider an example of a film genre that you did outside of the comedic roles of Lorraine and Caroline?

Thompson: I consider ‘Red Dawn’ to be a Western. We were out there on the land, riding horses, and in this tundra. Whenever that happens – chases, horses and wide open land – that’s the best stuff of Westerns.

HollywoodChicago.com: You appeared in one of the most infamous movies of the 1980s, ‘Howard the Duck.’ What do people not appreciate about that film that they could appreciate now if they watch it?

Thompson: Geez, even I haven’t watched it in so long. [laughs] I was saying recently that people recognize me for ‘Back to the Future,’ ‘Caroline in the City’ and ‘Howard the Duck,’ then ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ and ‘Red Dawn.’ So people do love ‘Howard the Duck,’ but I think it’s because they’ve been told that it’s the Worst-Movie-in-the-History-of-the-World… which it really isn’t. I think it could have been a lot better… maybe it was ahead of its time. The biggest problem of the production was deciding whether it would be a kid or adult film, because of course the comic was very adult.

Related to that, I heard through the years that it also was a guilty pleasure for a lot of people, because their parents put it on, thinking it was kid’s film, and there I was, pulling out a duck condom. I’m sure those kids watching it are like, ‘Great!’ You know what I mean.

HollywoodChicago.com: Since you portrayed a rock star in the film, fronting the band Cherry Bomb, what was your favorite song?

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Lea Thompson in ‘Back to the Future’
Photo credit: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Thompson: I think ‘Hunger City’ – that’s a pretty great song. And yes, I got to be a rock star, and did the vocals myself. It may have ended my singing career temporarily…for about 20 years [laughs]. I’ve since been in musicals on Broadway.

HollywoodChicago.com: I always thought that ‘Caroline in the City’ was an underrated show, it displayed a wit that put it a cut above the usual. Since you were a producer and title character on the show, what did you learn about the business of ‘the sitcom’ through your work on that show?

Thompson: It was just a matter of trying to be collaborative. I had a particular terrible situation on ‘Caroline in the City,’ since it was produced by CBS Productions, but actually appeared on NBC-TV. So neither one of them wanted it to succeed over 100 episodes [the magic number for syndication]… both networks were both kind of unhappy with the situation, which wasn’t good for me.

In retrospect, I’m not bitter, but they eventually took away all the writers that launched the show, and left us with kind of a mess. Even though I wanted to keep it together, it wasn’t destined to survive. We made 97 episodes, just short of a 100, to make it even meaner at the end. It was difficult to produce at that point because we couldn’t ask the studio for any extra money or promotion. They’d just look at me and say, ‘we want your show to fail.’ [laughs]. I can laugh now, I guess, since overall it was a great experience.

HollywoodChicago.com: What was fun about doing the ‘Jane Doe’ series of films for the Hallmark Channel? Since you played a Soccer Mom who was secretly a spy, how was fulfilling probably every soccer mom’s fantasy?

Thompson: I wish they were still making those movies, it was just a fun character – she was super smart, and I loved her double life. I made nine or ten, and got to direct two of them. People will always recognize ‘Jane Doe’ because the Hallmark Channel plays them endlessly. So yes, a lot of people saw them, and will continue to see them. [laughs]

HollywoodChicago.com: In that sense, what character do you think you will be best remembered for and why?

Thompson: Well, I’m hoping there is one coming up. In lieu of that, it will definitely be Lorraine in ‘Back to the Future.’ It was a great character…c’mon, what a character. I was happy to pull it off like that, with that great cast. I never had any formal actor training, I learned at the school of hard knocks… probably because I was a dancer and I hadn’t been messed with too much. [Affecting a diva voice] ‘No one is messing with me anymore.’

Follow Lea Thompson on Twitter by clicking here.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2010 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

Anonymous's picture

I thought this was a really

I thought this was a really good movie, I wish they would re-make it.

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