Lea Thompson isn’t shy about talking Back. (Back to the Future, that is.) But that shouldn’t be a surprise considering Thompson is appearing at the Florida Film Festival on Sunday, April 23, to screen the iconic film.
“It was a massive hit, and people loved the movie, and then it just like seemed to quiet down for a while,” she says. “But then I think what happened is all the people who saw it when they were kids grew up and had kids and started infecting a new generation, and then it really took on this whole other thing.
“It’s aged well, even though its depiction of, you know, 2015 wasn’t that perfect. But … the deep, deep, deep themes of it are really powerful to different generations or all generations of filmgoers. And it also was a great script. It was a script that people study at UCLA, in the screenwriting classes at NYU.”
Thompson, who played Marty McFly’s (Michael J. Fox) mother, Lorraine, in the film and its two sequels, also credits the cast for the movie’s longevity.
“It always starts with the script form, but they were also lucky to just make a great movie and really have a perfect cast, which is very rare. Usually there’s some big mess-up in the casting. And there really wasn’t any. Every single part was great.”
The element of time travel, which has grown even more prevalent in pop culture since Back to the Future was released in 1985, has played a role too, Thompson says.
“I think people are fascinated with time travel not just because of machines or all that. They’re fascinated with it because of our humanity, you know, or fascinated how people change and don’t change over time, and how people’s aspirations and desires really don’t change,” she says. “And I think [that is] the deeper meaning of the time travel in Back to the Future.”
The other element in the film’s success, of course, is director Robert Zemeckis, whom Thompson calls “the smartest guy in the room.”
“He is a great director,” she says. “My feeling about him was like how great it was to make him laugh, how great it was to tickle him and make his vison come true, and how completely obsessed he was with every single detail in Back to the Future. … It felt so lovely to be part of that vision of such a genius.”
Though Thompson is from Minnesota, Orlando is memorable for her because of 1983’s Jaws 3-D, which was filmed extensively at SeaWorld.
“Jaws 3-D is, you know, close to my heart in Orlando because that was my first film,” she says. “And imagine my surprise when I showed up for a shark movie and it was inland. Like, where’s the ocean?”
Though it was her first film, Thompson told the producers it wasn’t. She also told them she could water-ski, which she couldn’t. But bravery seems the rule rather than the exception in a stage-and-screen career that spans nearly 35 years and includes Dancing With the Stars (which Thompson admits took guts) and a love scene with an animatronic bird (Howard the Duck).
“I call it like jumping in cold water,” she says about her risk-taking. “I find doing scary things keeps me from being scared. … A lot of times, just don’t think – just do it. … You don’t want to do it now. You know, it seems like it’s gonna be inconvenient or scary. And just do it because … that’s how you keep staying young. You keep staying alive. You keep trying new things. And the minute you get scared and you say no, it starts to get easier and easier, and then you find yourself living in a very beige world.”
Back to the Future screens at Maitland’s Enzian Theater at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 23. A ticket to the film and Q&A session costs $50 while a backstage pass (which includes a photo with Thompson and admission to the film) costs $125. See the festival’s site for details.
“If people come to the screening,” Thompson says, “I will be sure to have some great stories.”