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STUDIO CITY, Calif. - Thanks to the three “Back to the Future” films, actress Lea Thompson was already a movie star in her 20s. That’s enough to rattle some performers for the rest of their life. But not Thompson.


“I think it’s always difficult just dealing with how you age gracefully, how you redo your time when you’re not chasing little kids around, and how you deal with the transition of becoming a mature woman - how you deal with that gracefully in a society that’s telling you you’re over,” she says in an office conference room here.


“You don’t feel over. You feel like, `I’m just starting.’”


Thompson has worked most of her life and, at 46, that’s not changing. She presided over three TV series, including her sitcom, “Caroline in the City,” and has costarred in scores of films like “Article 99,” “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Some Kind of Wonderful.”


“I have a sunny disposition about it,” says Thompson, who’s dressed in a white gauze top, pearl and gold necklace, loop earrings and navy-blue pants. “I’m not one to sit and whine about parts and everything.


“But it’s the truth. It’s a 20- and 30-year-old’s world. On the other hand, it’s nice to not have the pressure. When I think of my 20s and I was a movie star doing movie after movie, and movies coming out and doing publicity. And in my 30s when I was doing `Caroline in the City’ and the pressure of all the awards shows and the dresses and the publicity and how mean everybody is. I was just always nervous, and it’s not always as pleasant as people think it is.”


Thompson, who started in ballet, learned in her 20s that fame is fickle. “It’s a short ride,” she nods. “I had the wisdom even at that point to know it wasn’t real that it wasn’t because I was so fabulously special that I was doing all this stuff. It was because I was young and pretty and talented, but I knew it was not necessarily me. I was a piece snapped into a business machine. I knew that. It’s ridiculous to feel ashamed about not having a huge career, because no one does.”


Having said that, Thompson - who has been headlining in the long-running mystery series, “Jane Doe,” on the Hallmark Channel - is starring in the channel’s latest film, “Final Approach.” This edge-of-your-seat thriller features Thompson as an FAA agent whose husband (Dean Cain) is trapped on a hijacked airplane. The film premieres May 24.


Thompson is so grounded now it’s hard to believe as a kid she had a rough start. Her parents divorced when she was 6 and her mother tried to rear her five children on her own. “My mom lived through a lot of stuff and a lot of stuff I’m going through in terms of being vivacious and talented and wanting to express yourself - like wanting to get your talent out,” she says.


“You know, talent is like a little bomb ticking inside of people. You can’t sit there, it’s no good. And she did the best she could do in the time. We were poor, and my parents got divorced, but a lot of it was really good. I had to take care of myself, I had to motivate myself.


“I had to work through pain and come out the other way. Some people go through bad stuff and become resentful and angry and bitter, and some people go through bad times and they turn it into something good - compassion, when you have to love someone who’s really creepy to you is a great lesson. You really have to try to feel why they’re bad or mean or cruel. Instead of being, `Ehhhh, they’re horrible.’ It’s a chance to be a better person.”


The cruel source in her life was her ballet teacher, who did her best to convince Thompson that she was defective material. “She controlled my life from the time I was little ... She was really, really talented, but she was insane and really mean to me. I’d work and work and work and never got the part. She would say horrible things, `You’re nothing. You’re not even good enough to be a Las Vegas dancer. You ruined my ballet.’


“My whole childhood was like that. I had to keep working and working. And those kinds of teachers are invaluable because you have to figure out how to overcome resentment and injustice. So I learned a lot. You see your life in hindsight and end up thanking the people who taught you the most, who sometimes not the best people.”


Married for 19 years to director Howard Deutch and the mother of daughters, 17 and 13, it would seem that Thompson has it all together. But she admits she isn’t always so confident.


“I remember one moment that really changed me. I was standing backstage at David Letterman ready to go on, and I was freaking out. It’s really hard when you’re a people pleaser. You want to be everything to everybody - funny, sexy, cute, lovely, serious, blah, blah, blah. `How should I be? Should I be sexy, funny, wahhhh?’ I was freezing back there and I swear to God I heard a voice just say, `You are enough.’ They pushed me out on stage and that was pivotal to me. I just remember that voice. What I was trying to tell myself was, `Don’t try to be EVERYTHING, just be you and you are enough. Just be present and that’ll be good enough.”


___


NBC’s American Gladiators are bulking up for another season starting this week. Two of the competitors are the massive Wolf, 38 (real name Hollywood Yates), who spent much of his life in the bull ring, and Phoenix, 25, whose real name is Jennifer Widerstrom.


The Gladiator character has to be strong and beautiful, says Phoenix. “The saying is we have to be hard to the touch but easy on the eyes.”


Wolf insists that the most important quality a Gladiator needs is heart. “When you’re getting beat up the most that’s when the Gladiator says, `I’m fine.’ You just don’t stop. The one with the biggest heart is the most dominant,” he says.


___


Fox airs the season finale of “‘Til Death’ on Wednesday. Brad Garrett, who stars on the show, began in the comedy field when he was a gawky adolescent of 15. “I was doing standup and that’ll always be my roots and my foundation,” he says.


“But I knew that acting was always going to be where I wanted to go. I think that’s where my strengths lie. I knew early on what I wanted to do. That was my thing. I wasn’t the athlete and wasn’t the scholar but I was always cutting up and doing improvisation, impressions and getting laughs, and once you start doing that it’s hard to stop.”


___


The new kid on the block on “Law & Order” is Anthony Anderson, who takes over for the departed Jesse L. Martin. Anderson is well known for comedy in films like “Kangaroo Jack” and “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle,” and he says that comedy is easy for him.


“It just comes second nature to me and it was what hit for me first. And I just rode that wave. And before I rode that wave any further than I was going to, I wanted to just take a step back before I was typecast as just being the funny guy because the industry can just be myopic in their thinking at times,” he says.


“Once they see you do something and you do it well, they may think that’s all that you can do. So shows like `Law & Order,’ shows like `The Shield,’ movies like `The Departed’ and `Hustle & Flow,’ those were shows and movies that I sat back and targeted, and had my team go after because those are the things that I wanted to do to show the converse of what people were used to seeing me as.”


Anderson says it’s always been his plan to diversify. “You look at Richard Pryor. Some of his best work was when he was the straight man in `Mahogany’ and `Lady Sings the Blues.’ You look at what Robin Williams has done with `Dead Poets Society’ and `Good Morning, Vietnam’ when he made that turn. You look at Jamie Foxx and Will Smith, and others like that. This is a path and a pattern that we’ve plotted out for ourselves and myself in particular.”

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