I saw Lea Thompson this summer at the Television Critics Association summer press tour, and got to ask her a few Back to the Future 30th Anniversary questions there. Last week she was available for some devoted Back to the Future interviews so I got to really go in depth.
Thompson called me from New York on October 19, two days before her appearance at the Back to the Future Day screening of Back to the Future Part II in New York. I also spent the week celebrating Back to the Future events in Los Angeles so will have more reports on those festivities, but first here’s what Thompson shared about being part of fans’ sexual awakenings and recreating the original 1955 without Crispin Glover. Back to the Future 30th Anniversary Trilogy is available on Blu-ray now.
Nerd Report: Every time you experience a Back to the Future anniversary, do you learn more about the films each time?
Lea Thompson: In some ways I do, because I change. Since the last anniversary, I’ve been directing a lot more, so when I watch the movie, I’m thinking more about it as a director than as an actor. My performance kind of gets further and further away, so I’m like, “Oh, isn’t she cute?” I think I’m thinking about the movie more as how brilliantly directed it is this time. And it’s really fun because we’ll be in an audience with like 3000 people and I’ll look around and I’ll realize over half of them weren’t born when the movie came out. I’m like wow, that is the coolest thing ever. To really reach through time like that and with a movie is so cool.
Nerd Report: You experienced a lot of highly technical scenes like in the future where Michael J. Fox played all of his children. Do you remember how technical those were and do you have a new appreciation for them now?
Lea Thompson: I just keep thinking about how I wish that we had the technology we have today. It would’ve been so much easier. It was insanely difficult to do all that stuff at that point with the technology that we had. Now we could’ve done that on a low budget movie.
Nerd Report: People must feel really comfortable coming up to you and sharing. What are the most touching things they’ve shared with you over the years?
Lea Thompson: I just did a video for a friend of a friend who’s getting married at the exact moment on the 21st. They’re getting married at that time dressed as George and Lorraine which is so cute! Isn’t that? Isn’t that crazy?
Nerd Report: Has anyone ever overshared anything weird because they feel so comfortable with you as Lorraine?
Lea Thompson: You know what? That happens on a daily basis. Mostly people are just like, “You were my first crush. You’re the reason I’m gay. You’re the first girl I ever had a boner [for.]” Like really? Don’t tell me this. It’s so embarrassing. But it’s actually really sweet.
Nerd Report: That’s very good of you to have such a good attitude about the boner one.
Lea Thompson: It’s surprising how often I actually hear that. Anyway.
Nerd Report: I assume “the reason I’m gay” is a compliment?
Lea Thompson: It’s definitely a compliment, I think. Yes. Yes, it’s definitely a compliment. It’s hard to figure out a reply for that. That’s the problem.
Nerd Report: Back to the Future must’ve been the first time you played a mother, much earlier than most actors do, through age makeup. When you finally became a mother, how close do you think they came to you, at least in the good 1985?
Lea Thompson: Not very close but they were making a 47-year-old mom in 1985 which looked a certain way. People are allowed to be a lot hipper than they used to be allowed. When you get old, you can wear the same stuff that kids wear. Before it was very delineated. Old people had to wear certain clothes and the young people got to wear other clothes. It’s a different time. I can still have long hair and wear a miniskirt and I’m 54. It’s a different time.
Nerd Report: When you look back at your performance as a mother, and she had very specific circumstances, do you feel you would have made the same choices had you played Lorraine after being a real mom?
Lea Thompson: No, it was a comedy and I was filling the story so no. That wasn’t applicable. Bob Zemeckis has very specific things that he wanted the comedy to hit, but it is an interesting thing bringing it up that I’ve been playing the mother of a teenager for 33 years.
Nerd Report: There was a big gap from Back to the Future to when you started playing moms again.
Lea Thompson: That’s true, there was a big gap. I definitely have had my share of playing moms and then being a mom.
Nerd Report: I understand Back to the Future II is one of your favorite performances because of the alternative 1985 Lorraine you got to play. I always loved it but I remember the backlash when it came out. Has it been nice to see people come around and appreciate all the things you got to explore in Part II?
Lea Thompson: I don’t know. It was a very, very dark movie. It was extremely dark. It did not feel like Back to the Future I in the same sense so I could see why people didn’t love it. I think they love it now as part of the whole. I’ve always had a little bit of an off sense of humor so I definitely like that movie and I love that character. I’d love to play her again, that same kind of character but no one will ever give that part to me.
Nerd Report: Why? It seems there’s more dark material these days, especially on TV?
Lea Thompson: I know. People just see me as being little miss sunshine. They don’t see that character which I played very well when I was 25.
Nerd Report: I must’ve had an off sense of humor too because I loved the idea of changing everything we thought we knew about the first movie and then going back into the first movie. That really spoke to me, even at the time and still now.
Lea Thompson: Yeah, it was a great idea. It was really fun to do. I mean, I was sad that Crispin Glover wasn’t there when we recreated the dance but it was really fun and weird to go back to the same time. It was four years later.
Nerd Report: It’s so seamless, I can’t tell what scenes were recreated and what’s old footage. Was it weird to be there recreating that, especially with a different actor?
Lea Thompson: It was weird. It was really weird. I don’t think they used any old footage, honestly. I really don’t. I think they used all new footage. I think they had to too, especially the stuff with Crispin. They couldn’t use anything that had his real image in it.
Nerd Report: So even him punching Biff was redone?
Lea Thompson: All of that was redone, because it was a different camera angle.
Nerd Report: Great, so I have even more to notice when I watch it again, which I will because I’ve been waiting for October 21 for 26 years.
Lea Thompson: Oh, that’s so sweet. That’s so sweet.
Nerd Report: Well, you can tell how much I love Back to the Future but you made a lot of great movies. Are there any others you wish had the same sort of anniversary retrospectives that Back to the Future has?
Lea Thompson: I know, I know. It’s really an honor to be part of the zeitgeist of the ‘80s. I feel so honored to have done this body of work.