In the indie crime drama Thin Ice, actress Lea Thompson plays Jo Ann Prohaska, a woman who has been often wronged by her insurance agent husband, Mickey (Greg Kinnear). A self-proclaimed master of spin, Mickey believes that if he can make his business a success, he’ll be able to reunite with his estranged wife and escape the frigid Wisconsin weather, but instead gets mixed up in a spiral of danger, deceit and double-crossing that will push him to the breaking point.
At the film’s press day, Lea Thompson talked about how this role came about for her thanks to her cat Stinky Pete, what she enjoys about directing, that she’d like to direct an episode of her hit ABC Family series Switched at Birth, her shock that she hasn’t done more big studio films in the last 20 years, that she would love to play a really evil character someday, what she thinks of a possible Back to the Future musical on Broadway, her reaction to the remake of Red Dawn (which she originally did in 1984), the professional advice she’s given her actor daughters, and how being told by Mikhail Baryshnikov that she didn’t have a dancer’s body ultimately led her to having a successful, longtime career as an actress. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
LEA THOMPSON: I have a cat named Stinky Pete, and Stinky Pete is a slut. He goes to everybody’s house and pretends that he’s got no house and that he’s hungry. So, my neighbors called me up, and my neighbors are (co-writers) Jill and Karen Sprecher, and they said, “We have your cat.” I went to see them to get my stupid cat, for the fourth time that week, and we started talking. I realized Jill was this director and writer that I really admired, and she said, “I might be doing this movie, and there’s this part that I wonder if you’d be interested in.” So, Stinky Pete, the cat, got me the job. It was one of those things that was meant to be, and I was really honored to be asked to come and do that. Whenever you don’t have to audition, thumbs up! I just couldn’t believe this cast she got was so spectacular. To be a part of that, I was really honored.
What did you think about this script, as it got darker and darker?
THOMPSON: (Director) Jill and (co-writer) Karen are sisters, and that this would come out of their minds is really amazing. They thought this incredible, intricate plot up, that’s so dark and very male. It seems like a very male script.
THOMPSON: For me, if I don’t have to act, I’d rather not. I’d rather not act cold. I’d rather actually be cold. That’s my weird way of acting. If the door is supposed to be locked, I’d rather have it locked. But of course, most of the time, we have to act, and that’s okay, too. I am actually from Minnesota. I moved away when I was 18, but I did my share of scraping windows and waiting for the bus. When I was a little girl, there were two and a half months where it never went above zero. Not once, for that long. It was before global warming, and it was freezing cold, when I was a little girl in Minnesota. I was relieved that it wasn’t like that, at least when I was shooting. I know that Greg [Kinnear] was out on that ice with Billy Crudup, and it was horrible. I spent my share of time on ice, so I know exactly how that feels.
Are you going to direct any episodes of Switched at Birth?
THOMPSON: I hope so! They’ve told me that, in the second season, they’ll let me direct, which I’m really looking forward to. That would be great. I really love directing! I love to be directed, but I love directing. It’s so creative, and I feel so much love for the people when they do things really great. When the actors do a great scene, I cry. I love the feeling of that.
THOMPSON: Yes, they will be. It’s a very supportive cast. Everyone is really nice, and we all really love each other. I think they will be.
Was directing something you had always planned to do?
THOMPSON: I’ve always been interested, but I’ve been a mother for 20 years. Directing is a big deal, and I really needed to save whatever energy I had left, after acting, for my kids. But, now that they’re older, it’s easier. Kind of like motherhood, your kids learn more from how you do things than what you tell them. They learn more from example then you even think they do. I’ve done that with directors. It’s not about asking them why they did a shot, but it’s a second nature. I’ve worked with so many good directors. My husband, Howard Deutch, is a director. He directed me in Some Kind of Wonderful, where I met him. Sometimes the best kind of advice is really simple. My husband said, “It’s all about the story. You put the camera where the story is.” That seems really simple. It’s not, but it is. He also said, “Hire really good people, and let them do their job.” That’s another very simple idea that’s very useful. I learn from example more than specifics.
THOMPSON: It’s very interesting, and a strange mystery to me, how little film work I’ve done since I had my second child and did Caroline in the City. It’s actually kind of shocking. I didn’t do a movie for 15 years. I did some independent movies that never really made it, but made it onto TV. But, J. Edgar is the first big studio movie I’ve done in 18 years, since Little Rascals. I don’t know how that happened. I don’t know how I didn’t do a movie. I made a bunch of movies that made a bunch of money, that are classics now, and I wasn’t in rehab. I was working and behaving. I just don’t know how I didn’t do movies.
For me, it was the part that was offered to me, and that work seemed to be on TV – on my sitcom, on my Lifetime show, and with TV movies – and with little independent movies, and on Broadway when I did Cabaret. I’m just comfortable being uncomfortable and doing anything that feels like a challenge. But, I really can’t complain. I’ve worked steadily for 28 years, and on my terms, I think. I feel really, really lucky. I manage to keep myself fit and strong, and I know my lines and do my job. That’s the kind of artist that I wanted to be. I am still here, so that’s good. It’s hard to complain.
THOMPSON: Every once in awhile, I get to. In The Beverly Hillbillies, I was bad. And then, on Broadway with Cabaret, Sally Bowles is a drug addict and a whore. That was fun. Really evil is really fun. I hope I get to do that someday. I think I’m perfect casting to play evil ‘cause you’d never see it coming.
What was your reaction when you heard they were remaking Red Dawn?
THOMPSON: That’s interesting because it will never come out. They remade it four years ago, and they’re not going to release it. It’s weird. Now, they’re talking about doing Back to the Future on Broadway. I thought that was interesting. Chris Lloyd and I could still be in it. I could be old Lorraine. It’s weird to be around as long as I have and still be working. We all look back at our lives and go, “How did that happen?” I still feel like I’m young. Time is weird that way. But, I don’t know. I really want to see Red Dawn, but they’re never going to release it. Apparently, they turned the Chinese people into North Koreans, digitally. Yes, that really happened. I’m also fascinated about that movie because it was so low-tech. Everything that happened was real. There was no CGI or anything, and that made the story more compelling because you didn’t get to see it. One of the problems with movies, these days, is that you see too much and it exhausts you. You don’t get to imagine it.
THOMPSON: They have seen some of my movies, but I was definitely not the kind of mom that made them watch my movies. There’s about a million hours of me. I didn’t say, “Look at this! Aren’t I good?” I didn’t do that to them. And, some movies were scarring. With Howard the Duck, when I got in bed with the duck, they were like, “No, turn it off! That’s disgusting!” But, it’s fun for them to accidentally stumble upon certain things. Now, they’re both actresses, so it’s even more interesting for them to see the movies now, from that light. They haven’t seen a lot of my movies.
Have you given them any professional advice?
THOMPSON: As a mother, anyone who has a teenager can attest to being really excited when they have something positive to be putting their energy into. They have so much energy, and it can go in the wrong direction. I wasn’t totally happy, but pretty happy when they [decided to get into the business]. My older daughter is more of a musician, and my younger daughter is on Ringer with Sarah Michelle Gellar. My husband just directed her, which was really funny. She was like, “Dad’s being mean!,” and I was like, “You better be nice to her!” It’s a funny world. But, I give them a lot of advice and I coach them all the time, which is actually really good for me, as an actor. I’m putting my craft into words, which I never have done before. I was more instinctual, and now I have to figure out why I do things and why the things I do work, the way I do them. What’s really awesome is having a teenage girl listen to me and really be interested in what I have to say. I know what I’m doing because I’ve been doing it for so long.
Did Mikhail Baryshnikov really tell you that you didn’t have the shape to be a dancer?
THOMPSON: Yes, when I was in A.B.T. 2, at the age of 20, Baryshnikov was the head of that. When the moment came where he had to say whether we would advance to the company or not, he was like, “You’re a lovely dancer, but you’re too stocky,” and I was 98 pounds. I was like, “I can’t be any thinner! There are bones here!” So, he was there at my epiphany, when I decided to stop dancing and do something else. I didn’t know I was going to became an actress, but I decided not to be a ballet dancer. It was a wonderful moment because I could have just been banging my head against the wall for another 10 years, and instead, I started acting and got work really quickly. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, really.