Lea Thompson: Suddenly, She's Everywhere, but Don't Call It a Comeback

It is not your imagination that Lea Thompson seems to be all up in your pop culture these days.

She paid homage to her role in the Back to the Future movies with a DeLorean in her Dancing With the Stars performance last week, then again later in the week by riding a hoverboard in a cameo appearance in the series premiere of NBC's A to Z. She also plays Nicolas Cage's wife in the new Left Behind movie, and her ABC Family series Switched at Birth will return with a Christmas special this year and Season 4 in 2015.

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But while it's true there's an uptick in just how frequently Thompson is gracing screens big and small, don't call her sudden omnipresent status a comeback. As the actress herself points out, she never went away.

"I was on a red carpet the other day and two people said to me, 'You quit acting to raise your children.' What? I've been working all along," she tells Yahoo TV.

A quick check of IMDb illustrates what she's saying. Though best known for playing Lorraine Baines in the Future trilogy, for her title role in the 1995-99 NBC comedy Caroline in the City, and for playing Miss Amanda Jones in the beloved 1987 teen romance Some Kind of Wonderful (directed by her future husband, Howard Deutch), Thompson has worked consistently for the last three decades, including a stint on Broadway in Cabaret, guest spots on series like Ed, Greek, Family Guy, and CSI, starring in and directing installments of the Jane Doe movie series for the Hallmark Channel, and big-screen projects like J. Edgar.

[Related: Watch the 'Left Behind' Trailer]

Her children, in fact, have followed in mom's footsteps, and co-starred with her along the way: Daughters Madelyn and Zoey Deutch played her daughters in the 2011 movie Mayor Cupcake, and the three will co-star again next year in the indie film The Year of Spectacular Men. Madelyn wrote the script for Spectacular Men, and will co-star in History Channel’s highly-anticipated 2015 Texas Rangers miniseries Texas Rising. Youngest daughter Zoey, who also guest-starred on Switched at Birth, already has her own fans after playing Sarah Michelle Gellar's stepdaughter on the short-lived CW drama Ringer, and with big-screen roles in Beautiful Creatures and Vampire Academy. Next, she'll co-star in Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused pseudo sequel, That's What I'm Talking About.

"Hollywood wisdom is that, you know, if you're over 50 and you're a woman… if you're over 40, if you're over 35 and you're a woman, it's all over. It's surprising to me that I get to continue to work. It's an amazing blessing," Thompson, 53, says. I just try to say yes to stuff — things that scare me, like Dancing With the Stars, because I love to perform, and I love to help people feel things, and I'm just so lucky that I still am able to do that."

Scary though the prospect of DWTS was, Thompson said yes almost immediately after receiving the producers' email invitation to compete on Season 19.

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"It takes a lot of vulnerability to just do something that you're not that good at, and also, the whole reality show aspect is daunting, because you just don't have any makeup on [during filmed rehearsals]… it's just really exposing. But I just felt like, let me do this for all those moms out there who need to try something new, and that's what I did," says the actress, who studied ballet throughout her childhood.

"I called my family first, because I know it's hard on the family, since I don't have any time right now, and because it's so public. I also called my friend [DWTS alum] Gilles Marini, who's on Switched at Birth with me, and [another DWTS alum] Marlee Matlin, who's also on Switched at Birth with me… I called all my friends and they were like, 'You've got to do it. It's the most amazing experience you'll ever have in show biz.' And that's been true. It really is an amazing experience."

This week's competition promises to be an emotional experience for Thompson. For "Most Memorable Year" week, she and partner Artem Chigvintsev will perform to Luther Vandross's powerful ballad "Dance With My Father," in a tribute to her late stepfather, Rob E. Hanson.

"This week is Most Memorable Year, and I've had so many beautiful, beautiful, lucky, lovely years, but I chose a year that was very hard for me," Thompson says. "I'm doing a modern dance in tribute to my stepfather, who passed 11 years ago. I still think about him every day. He loved dance, so I'm doing a dance for him.

"I feel really defined by the lessons that I've learned and the people that I love who have left their mark on me. He was this person that I thought was the coolest person in the world. He was just fantastic. That's the story I picked, and Artem has created a really, really beautiful dance. It's really sweet and really personal. It's something different, and I feel proud that last week Bruno said that I've done such diverse [dances]. This whole experience will be worth it for me if I can show that people you love can still look down and see what you're doing. [And] if I can make it through without crying, it will be awesome."

See Thompson's Back to the Future dance on DWTS:

Thompson also hopes Monday's performance will resonate with viewers and that they will vote to keep her and Chigvintsev in the game. She says the toughest part of competing on Dancing With the Stars for her isn't the physical challenges, but the emotional ones, as she tries to play catch-up with some of the other competitors who have bigger social media fanbases than she does.

"The athletic part is actually not killing me as much as I thought it would. It's more the mind game, because they're always changing the rules, and it's like, you need to go on Twitter for this, you've got to go on Facebook for that. When you're up on stage, they might put you in jeopardy and make you dance," she says. "It's an opportunity for personal growth to not get freaked out because somebody else is good and [to] not worry about all the things that you can't control."

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She also hopes to remain in the competition through this week so her DWTS schedule will overlap with the beginning of production on the new season of Switched at Birth, and her ever-expanding TV families will get to spend time together.

"We'll have to rehearse on the Switched at Birth stage, and I know they're going to love Artem there," says Thompson, who will continue to direct episodes of Switched at Birth in the new season and has talked to A to Z producers about returning to that series to direct an episode.

Watch Thompson's A to Z cameo:

Which would make for a schedule where that hoverboard she zoomed around on in the A to Z pilot might come in handy.

[Related: 'A to Z' Star Ben Feldman Talks Tinder, 'Mad Men,' and Playing the Ukulele]

"Actually, doing that hoverboard stuff was really hard," she laughs. "It's like doing crunches on wires. Everybody thinks it's easy, as they're looking at you hanging on a wire with the thing glued to your legs, but no. You don't have to balance. You just have to crunch, pull your legs up so it looks like you're moving. Now I have much more respect for the people who did it in Back to the Future."

Check out Thompson on the hoverboard:

Dancing With the Stars airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC; Switched at Birth Season 4 premieres in January 2015 on ABC Family.