Though The CW’s Stargirl is probably most recognizable for its titular star-spangled hero (played by Brec Bassinger), this week’s episode “Shiv Part One” had an icon of its own behind the camera: Lea Thompson.
Thompson is probably best known for starring in the Back to the Future trilogy, as the lead in the long-running NBC sitcom Caroline in the City, and ABC Family’s Switched at Birth. But in recent years she’s also built a career as a director, starting with episodes of Switched at Birth, then ABC comedy The Goldbergs, and most recently Katy Keene on The CW.
That segues nicely into her most recent — and potentially most complicated — assignment, directing a highly anticipated episode of DC’s Stargirl‘s freshman season. In the hour, Stargirl finally comes face to face with the girl who will become her arch-enemy: Shiv, a.k.a. Blue Valley High’s HBIC Cindy Burman (Meg DeLacy). The daughter of the Injustice Society’s diabolical chief scientist The Dragon King (Nelson Lee), Cindy first bonds with Courtney (Bassinger), then battles her in the middle of the school’s Grease themed homecoming dance.
To find out more about what went on behind the scenes of the episode, Decider talked to Thompson about that brutal fight scene, working with the cast, and yes, a little bit about everyone’s favorite time-travel comedy trilogy.
Decider: Geoff Johns told me that before they even started filming Stargirl, he actually screened Back to the Future for everybody to give the whole cast and crew the tone they were going for. As an expert in the movie, how do you think they did?
Lea Thompson: [Laughs] Well they’re completely different! But I think they got the same idea, the same hopeful and exuberant, youthful and fun for the whole family quality that Back to the Future had. In terms of the fun scope of it, I definitely think they made that happen.
It was funny, when I showed up on the set there was a poster of the first Back to the Future but with Geoff’s face on it, right in the hallway. It was a gift that someone gave him. That happens to me a lot. I directed The Goldbergs too, and there’s always Back to the Future/Goldbergs posters everywhere where I’m editing. It’s hilarious. But it’s nice to be part of something that people still celebrate and want to emulate, for sure.
I’ll get off of this in a second, but it’s the 35th anniversary of Back to the Future on Friday. Do you ever get sick talking about it? Or are you just happy that people still care about the movie that much?
No, of course. I watched the special last night [Back to the Future: Behind Closed Doors on ReelzChannel]. I always learn something new. I’m not really the biggest nerd on Back to the Future — I didn’t even know that there was another person in the girlfriend role! I literally didn’t know that. 35 years later, I’m still learning trivia about Back to the Future. So, no. It’s a movie that people seem to really love to show their kids, and then their kids’ kids. It’s just something that families can share with a really cool message, as far as I’m concerned. Which is, if you do the right thing at the right moment, it can change your life for the better. If you have the courage to stand up for yourself and your convictions at the right time, everything could change.
You started directing with dramas, and then you moved into comedy for a while. Now, you’ve moved to The CW satble — directing an episode of Katy Keene, now this episode of Stargirl. What’s been different about those shows, versus the things you’ve been doing for the past couple of years before that?
I always think, as an actor or any kind of artist, that comedy informs drama and drama informs comedy. Certainly Katy Keene and Stargirl, they do rely on a lot of comedy and understanding of that. I just find that it’s useful to have all of that in your arsenal. As an artist from the time I was a dancer in Minnesota, I’ve always appreciated people being versatile in terms of their styles. Musically, as a singer, I sing different styles. As an actor, I was lucky enough to do a lot of different styles. So as a director, I find that I’m back in the same thing. I’m doing a lot of different styles of directing, which is just so exciting for me.
You can’t get bored. And like I said before, each one informs the other. It makes you better at the drama, to understand comedy, as far as I’m concerned. Everybody needs those comic moments, even if it’s the darkest. Even if it’s Handmaid’s Tale, you still need that one laugh. You need that lighter moment. I, personally, don’t really like people that don’t have a sense of humor. I think we all perceive a sense of humor as being intelligent and resilient. I love that about Stargirl, that there were so many great comedic actors in there and they had those chops. That was really, really fun for me, to work with such a great group of actors who were versatile. Who could do the action, do the comedy, and do the touching moments as well.
Let’s start at the end of the episode, because that last fight scene is so phenomenal. You have that great spinning shot that goes around Stargirl and Shiv as they fight — that must have been technically complicated to put together.
Thank you, I’m so proud of that. We had this bigger set, it was just this big gym that had this huge epic fight with two girls, which is so great. The greatest stunt girls around. And we had to make that happen in this big giant gym. It started with the design of the set. I haven’t seen the final version, but all we had was this thing… This record in the middle, the circle in the middle. I’ve always loved those shots, and I really wanted to do it because it was my first time to do a big epic fight.
The idea of this big giant record, stage in the middle of this giant space… I really wanted these laser beam lights. Because at first it was like, “Well, it’s Grease, so let’s make it cutesy!” And I was like, “No! This is an epic battle. I don’t want it to be cute.” So we just all worked together really quickly to draw the designs, to get the cool lasers going all over the place with the blue, the different colored lights that were more dramatic.
Of course, you know, we had no time. But the stunt coordinator — he’s really epic. He really helped design everything. I remembered that he was like, “We have to do that shot first.” Because the stunt girls were all at that point on the wire to do that. Very, very, very complicated. Takes a lot of strength to do. He was like, “We gotta get that shot over with really early, while they still have the strength to do that crazy shot, because it’s so complicated.”
And it was so fun for me, being a dancer, to watch these incredible stuntwomen. Not only the stuntwomen, but the men who have to pull them. They have to pull them up — every time they jump, they have to pull them on. I’ve done a bit of that wire work as an actor, so I can really appreciate how difficult it is. Those people have the stuntwomens’ lives in their hands.
I can’t tell you how fun it was to watch these incredible professionals, and to help design the whole thing. But the stunt guy does all the actual moves. He was remarkable. Absolutely remarkable. The stuntwomen were absolutely remarkable.
On the other end of the spectrum, the really episode hangs on Meg DeLacy’s performance as Cindy. And it goes through so many different emotions: it’s sad at points, it’s harrowing, horrifying… How did you work with her on moderating her performance, so it felt continuous throughout the episode?
Well, wow. She was so good, I thought. I was just so impressed with how sexy, and funny, and sad, and beautiful, and strong… She just was epic, to me. It was such a gift to have that episode. She was all in, was the thing. She was all in for whatever. I tried to give them different temperatures, so they could decide whether she could be quite that evil. [Laughs]
The script was really good, in terms of how they built the character and also showed why she was like she was. That was nice, because it wasn’t just one note… She had that in the script.
She was really great with the stunts. It’s such an interesting thing, creating these moments where the actor turns into the stunt person, that turns back into the actor. You really need the actors to commit. She was so good about that, and so fun to be around. Just really professional. It’s a great cast.
Similarly, the scene with Dragon King and Cindy is so fascinating. Not just because you get a different view of this terrifying character, but also, Nelson Lee as an actor has to get across all these emotions with arm movement and voice, since you don’t see his face. How did you settle on the right approach for him?
It was sad, sometimes, when we’d see the rehearsal and you could see his face. Then they’d cover him up, I’d be like, “Oh, I wish you could see his face!” Because he was so good. But, again, as a performer, he had such command of his body that it was super, super useful. Because you could say, “I need more of your body in order for this to convey this.” Or, “We need to mic you better underneath, so that we can really capture your voice.” If we couldn’t hear him strongly in the dailies, it didn’t sound as good.
He just was really great, working with him. Because he was so menacing with hardly anything but his voice and that incredible costume that he wore. I just really enjoyed it, almost as a choreographer, the way he moved and the way you could ask him for more to help convey the movement. That’s a really classical actor, is somebody who really has that much control over their body and their voice.
Now that you’ve tackled action, now that you’ve done comedy, you’ve done a superhero show… What’s next for you? Are you looking to do more action shows like this? Or do you have some other things in mind, from the directing perspective?
Well, I think whenever it’s a heightened reality — like a fantasy or a sci-fi fiction — I really like that genre. Time travel, fantasy, science fiction. I just feel that in those heightened worlds, there’s more opportunities visually and technically and story wise, to tell these giant stories. I don’t know why I respond to them. Maybe it goes back to Back to the Future or whatever. But I like that work. I really enjoy stretching my wings and trying different things.
I really, really loved this opportunity. It meant a lot to me. It was so fun to work so closely with such a great team. The art director, the stunt coordinator, the whole team of special effects and all that. It’s really fun to work with this caliber of talent. There’s nothing more fun. So to answer your question: I loved doing this show, I hope I can do some more. When you work in this field, there’s more opportunities for really intense drama and intense visual spectacle. Which is obviously really fun for a director.
It sounds like you should probably take on a reboot of Back to the Future for your next project.
Yeah, right! Yeah, no. But I was pitching a reboot of Howard the Duck — that’s ripe to be done. Not an actual reboot of the movie, but a reboot of the character. That would be fun for me.
DC’s Stargirl airs Mondays on DC Universe at Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Source: New York Post
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