As an actress, Lea Thompson considers herself a “long-distance runner” — someone who keeps up a steady pace instead of a sprint.
“I always felt like my best years would be from 50 to 65 years old,” Thompson said. “I don’t know why. It was a feeling I had even when I was really young. My kids are kind of all grown up now and I can be in a difference space where I can put everything into it. “
Just a few months shy of her 51st birthday, the gamine former ballerina could easily pass as a 30-something. In fact, she doesn’t look much older than she did in such film as 1983’s “All the Right Moves,” 1984’s “Red Dawn” and of course as Michael J. Fox’s mom in Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 classic “Back to the Future” and the blockbuster’s two sequels.
Since the 1980s, Thompson has appeared in countless TV movies including the award-winning “Stolen Babies” in 1993 and starred from 1995 to 1999 in the NBC sitcom, “Caroline in the City.” She’s appeared on Broadway and toured the country in the Sam Mendes-Rob Marshall revival of “Cabaret” and in 2005 began a series of Hallmark Channel “Jane Doe” lighthearted mysteries in which she plays a soccer mom who is actually a spy.
Thompson is the first to admit that she has a “good, rich life.” Perhaps her personal happiness has been her fountain of youth. Thompson has managed to balance her career with her marriage of 23 years to Howard Deutch, the director of her 1987 John Hughes-penned teen drama, “Some Kind of Wonderful” and raising two daughters, Madelyn, 20, and Zoey, 17.
Both have followed their mother into acting, with Zoey appearing as Sarah Michelle Gellar’s stepdaughter on the CW show “Ringer” and Madeline working with her mom and baby sister in the 2011 film “Mayor Cupcake,” which Thompson produced. Madelyn is also a singer-songwriter who recently released her first EP (as Maddie Deutch).
Thompson didn’t talk her offspring out of going into the business. “It is kind of all I know,” she said. “This profession and being an artist has been good to me. It has been really great because I can pass on what I know to them and they have to listen! And for teenagers to do that....”
Thompson is relaxing on a comfy sofa of her sprawling ranch-style home in the Studio City hills, which is populated with dogs, fish, a bird, a cat and a parrot. There are also a barn full of horses and two corrals for them nestled on seven acres. It’s an idyllic location.
“It is like the best time of my life,” she said. “There is always something exciting happening here. I feel like I am in the middle of the play ‘Stage Door’ — the door bursts open and someone says ‘I have a job .... ' We are running lines together. And to top it off, my husband’s uncle, Bobby Walden, is here and he’s doing ‘Happily Divorced.’ It’s really a fun existence.”
And a fun time in her career, because she is that rare actress-of-a-certain-age who seemingly is never wanting for work. Thompson currently can be seen in the “Fargo'-esque dark comedy “Thin Ice” as Greg Kinnear’s estranged wife and on the hit ABC Family series “Switched at Birth,” about two teenage girls switched at birth at the hospital who grew up in very different environments.
She also made the low-budget indie “The Trouble With the Truth,” which screens Wednesday evening at the American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre. Thompson plays a middle-aged woman with a grown daughter who agrees to have dinner with her ex-husband (John Shea), a down-on-his-luck musician with commitment issues. As the evening progresses, the two discover they still have feelings for each other as well as resentments. Both Thompson and the film’s writer-director, James Hemphill, will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A.
“The Trouble With the Truth” doesn’t have a distributor yet, but Thompson is optimistic.
“I have a feeling from my experience of watching it with an audience, it will find its way to the right distributor,” she said. “It’s funny, interesting and it’s very personal.”
She was terrified about doing the film because the majority of it features just the two main characters talking, à la “My Dinner With Andre.”
“But my instinct is when someone offers me something terrifying, you just do it,” Thompson explained. “It was a risk that really paid off. I have done so many things and every once in a while these magic things occur.”
Hemphill had long been a fan of Thompson, first admiring her in the 1984 teen comedy “The Wild Life,” which was penned by Cameron Crowe, as well as the “Back to the Future” franchise. And in the back of his mind, Hemphill always remembered a Q&A Zemeckis did at his film class at USC in which he stated that Thompson was his favorite actress.
Thompson more than lived up to her reputation.
“We had almost no preparation for this movie; it came together very quickly,” Hemphill noted. “So there was no rehearsal or anything like that. But she was really gung ho and she jumped into it fearlessly and trusted me. It was one of those things where I feel like we immediately connected.”
For more information on the screening Wednesday night go to https://www.americancinematheque.com.