What the Hell Happened to Lea Thompson?
Also in 1984, Thompson appeared in the Fast Times at Ridgemont High rip-off, The Wild Life.
Fast Times alum, Eric Stoltz starred as a recent high school graduate. Chris Penn, brother of the original Jeff Spicoli, co-starred as his roommate. Thompson played Stoltz’s ex-girlfriend who works at a donut shop. Naturally she has an affair with a married cop who frequents the establishment. Rick Moranis, Randy Quaid and Jenny Wright co-star. The movie was written by Fast Times screenwriter, Cameron Crowe.
Thompson actually filmed a topless sex scene which was cut from the movie. According to Thompson, this was by design:
“It was a calculation on my part. It was contractually obligated, so I said, ‘If I’m going to have to do this, it’s not going to be stupid. It’s going to be really sexy.’ And that’s what happened, and because of that, it was too sexy for the movie. [Laughs.] It was like, “Wow, this is a really sexy scene!” It didn’t fit with the tone of the movie, so they took it out. So, y’know, it was mission accomplished, actually, on my part. I outsmarted them. That was in the scene with Hart Bochner, by the way. The scene’s still in the movie, but they cut before he unbuttons my blouse. Kind of a funny accomplishment, but take note, teenage girls in exploitation films: Make the scene sexy! “
Reviews were mostly negative and The Wild Life failed to duplicate the success of Fast Times. It opened at number two and grossed less than half of what Fast Times made. However, the movie did have an important impact on Thompson’s career…
In 1985, Thompson starred in Robert Zemeckis’ time travel comedy, Back to the Future.
Michael J. Fox starred as Marty McFly, a typical 80’s teen who befriends an eccentric scientist played by Christopher Lloyd. After an encounter with Libyans in the parking lot of a local shopping center, Marty is sent back in time to the 1950s. Thompson played Marty’s mother who was a boy-crazed teen in the 50s. When she unwittingly develops a crush on her own son, Marty has to set the timeline right by setting her up with his dad played by Crispin Glover.
But then, you already knew all that.
Originally, Eric Stoltz was cast as Marty McFly. After a few weeks of shooting, Zemeckis decided to recast the role. However, Stoltz’s involvement opened the door for Thompson. Zemeckis watched Stoltz in The Wild Life and was impressed with Thompson so he auditioned her for the role of Lorraine. According to Thompson:
“For some reason, I just really got her. I got the depressed, beaten-down, drunken Lorraine, and I got the young, silly, oversexed, repressed Lorraine from 1955. Some parts just click in your head, and you just go for it. I remember the audition or screen test—whatever it was—at Amblin, where Spielberg was working the camera. It was just so much fun, playing dress-up and inventing these characters, and then the idea that they let me play four or five more aspects of the same person in Back To The Future II and III… It really was such a gift.”
Back to the Future received positive reviews and was a hit at the box office. I don’t think it’s an over-statement to say it is one of the most beloved movies of the decade.
In 1986, Thompson starred in the family adventure, SpaceCamp.
The movie is about a group of teens who get launched into space while attending space camp. Thompson played an ambitious girl who wants to be the first female space shuttle commander. Tate Donovan played the arrogant teen who gets the job Thompson wants. Future Mrs. John Travolta, Kelly Preston, played a valley girl who is actually more intelligent than she appears. Joaquin Phoenix made his film debut as the youngest member of the team although he was credited as Leaf Phoenix. Kate Capshaw and Tom Skerritt played the camp’s instructors.
The trouble started on Space Camp during filming. According to Thompson, the production was always behind schedule. What was meant to be a three-month shoot turned into six. Thompson said the cast had T-shirts made up that read: “SpaceCamp: It’s Not Just A Movie, It’s A Career.” They jokingly referred to the movie as SpaceCramp due to the small sets.
“We had to be this sort of weird mime troupe trying to simulate no gravity. They had no idea how to do it, so they were like, “Lea, you’re a dancer, we’ll just hang you from these ropes and just pretend!” I’m like, “Uh, okay, whatever…” So we would literally come in, they’d block, and we’d sit around for the entire day while they tried to figure out how to shoot it. And then they’d get one shot. It was a crazy movie. Very, very difficult and tortured film to make. But we had a great time, we laughed a lot, and we knew each other very well by the end of it.”
SpaceCamp‘s original release date was pushed back after the Challenger shuttle disaster which was eerily like some of the events depicted in the movie. As Roger Ebert noted in his review of the light-hearted family film, “Our thoughts about the Space Shuttle will never be the same again, and our memories are so painful that SpaceCamp is doomed even before it begins.”
Despite the tragedy, Thompson says that SpaceCamp has a positive legacy:
“I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and say that they became physicists or inventors, how much they loved that movie and how much it inspired them. That was really sweet and something I never really expected.”
Although SpaceCamp has developed a cult following in the years since its release, it opened to negative reviews and disappointing box office.
Next: Howard the Duck
Posted on July 15, 2014, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actress and tagged Back to the Future, Howard the Duck, jaws, LEA THOMPSON, red dawn, Some Kind of Wonderful, switched at birth. Bookmark the permalink. 149 Comments.