When I was younger I used to look forward to Saturday afternoons when certain local TV stations would run those sometimes cheesy but always entertaining black-and-white Horror and Science Fiction B-movies from the 50s. The recently released feature film Alien Trespass, which made its debut at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, pays homage to those classic movies that many of us grew up with. One of the film’s heroines is Lana Lewis, played by Canadian actress and Leo Award nominee Jody Thompson. Having previously appeared in a number of Sci-Fi/Fantasy-based TV shows, she was already familiar with what the genre called for insofar as performance. However, the actress needed to tweak some of her acting muscles in order to step into Lana’s shoes.
“During the audition I had the chance to meet [one of the film's producers and its director] Bob Goodwin of X-Files fame, which was really exciting,” recalls Thompson, “and in our first read-through he knew precisely what he wanted to do with each of our characters. Bob is a legend when it comes to the genre and he knows what he’s talking about. He was really specific about wanting me to watch movies such as War of the Worlds, It Came From Outer Space and a bunch of others. The thing is, you don’t often get to do a sort of ‘period piece’ like Alien Trespass. I consider my acting in the film to be a heightened form of realism. It’s not your regular, more contemporary way of communicating that you and I would use, but rather a more elevated approach, if you know what I mean.
“So Bob gave me these DVDs, I went home and watched them and the next time we met, I figured when he said it [her character rendition] was right, it was right, and I went from there. Again, because Bob knows what he’s talking about and is really specific with his direction, I felt very much at ease exploring the range of something that was somewhat out of my comfort zone at the time. I guess all us actors are afraid of being what we call over-the-top, and yet this role called for a bit of over-the-top acting. That’s why Bob was so incredible; he made us feel totally safe in the [acting] choices we made. Looking back now I think, my goodness, I was really gutsy taking this [role] on because it could have really backfired, but happily that wasn’t the case at all.”
In Alien Trespass, noted astronomer Ted Lewis (Eric McCormack) is preparing for a special wedding anniversary dinner with his beautiful wife Lana (Thompson). Unfortunately, their plans are interrupted when a spaceship crash-lands across town and a dangerous creature known as the Ghota emerges. It is intent on destroying the entire human race unless a benevolent alien called Urp can stop it. In order to do so, however, he must temporarily commandeer Ted’s body. With the help of Tammi (Jenni Baird), a local waitress, Urp sets out on his self-appointed task. When asked about her favorite scene in the film, Thompson is hard-pressed to choose between two.
“I loved working with Dan Lauria [Chief Dawson],” she says. “As an actor, he genuinely surprised me every time we did the scene. My character of Lana is supposed to act surprised, and sometimes a scene can get a little tired after you’ve done it a dozen times, but Dan always responded in such a way that kept it interesting, so it was wonderful to work with him.
“At the same time, there’s the scene in the kitchen where Eric’s character of Ted is taken over by Urp, and Eric was just so funny to play off of. It’s too bad you haven’t seen the outtakes, but the improv stuff he did was hilarious. The film is a serious one in a lot of respects, but when we were filming it, it was hard not to laugh. The chemistry with Eric was just effortless. Besides being super cute in real life, he’s also very easy-going and so friendly. Eric doesn’t have any Hollywood airs at all. The dialogue felt, not clunky, but, again, elevated, so I was worried about how it was going to come across because you usually play off the other actor. I needn’t have worried, though, because Eric has the best timing. He just delivers the line like it’s no big deal and you listen and respond and it comes out just right.
“And Bob Goodwin was there was our guide to bring us back if we got too big or if we were playing it too melodramatic. We were supposed to be earnest but not parodying the work of the period. This wasn’t a Naked Gun 33 1/3-type thing. We were trying to do an accurate re-creation of something that would have been done in the 50s. So Eric and I just did our thing and, on occasion, it was way too much and other times it was far too contemporary, and Bob did a terrific job of keeping our performances on the straight and narrow as well as flowing from scene to scene.
“Sometimes when you’re on TV and not the star of a show, you end up sort of directing yourself in a sense because the director doesn’t always have time to worry about every day player every day. So it was nice to have a director who was really dedicated to his actors and focused on keeping our performances in line so we didn’t have to worry about them. That’s a big part of what made our time on Alien Trespass so enjoyable and fun.”
An avid horse loved, Thompson originally thought she was going to be a veterinarian and planned to study veterinary medicine in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. However, she ran out of money just before finishing her Bachelor of Science degree, so someone suggested that she try booking some TV commercial work in order to raise the necessary funds. Instead, Thompson ended up booking the lead in a made-for-TV movie.
“That’s when I thought, ‘OK, I’d better take some acting classes,” notes the actress, “and wow, there was just something so cool about using your mind and body in such a way and I was bitten by the acting bug. After that, there was no going back for me. Much to my surprise, my parents weren’t even that disappointed when I decided to become an actor instead of a vet. Now I get to play dress-up for a living. How can you beat that? I have my very scientific, linear side and my creative side, and I guess the latter won out.”
Having played a variety of characters in a wide range of TV and film projects, the actress is especially well-known to TV Sci-Fi audiences. Perhaps her most recognizable role is that of Devon Moore, an employee at the 4400 center and one of Jordan Collier’s (Billy Campbell) lovers in The 4400.
“Devon was actually never intended to be a recurring character,” says Thompson. “After my first appearance, I got a call from the producers asking if I would like to bring her back for another small bit in the next episode, and I said, ‘Yes, I’d love it.’ A few episodes later I had some discussions with the writers as far as her back-story and what could possibly be motivating Devon. She always secretly had a thing for Shawn [Patrick Flueger], even though she worshipped Jordan. My character originally went to the 4400 center because she was looking for a father figure. As the series went on, I feel like Devon came into her own in that she developed a bit more confidence in her own decisions. They weren’t necessarily the right ones – injecting yourself with a strange toxin is probably not a good idea – but she became more confident and went from being a vulnerable child to a naive teenager, I guess you could say.
“Having this character become a recurring one on The 4400 was one of the nicest surprises I’ve had so far in my career,” continues the actress. “A lot of times when you know a part is going to be recurring you have big expectations, which are not always met. Here, however, the writers never told me what was going to happen with Devon, so I was always surprised to read from script to script what was happening to her. The scene where she has the aneurysm [after injecting herself with promicin in the hopes of acquiring a 4400 ability] was challenging as well as memorable for me. Had that scene gone into Devon’s life flashing before her eyes, that’s the moment when she would have realized that she was looking for a father figure in Jordan and trying to find acceptance by gaining a power rather than trusting in herself. Had Devon just followed her true gut instinct, she would have known that she was OK as she was and that she actually cared for Shawn. So it was an unexpected joy to find out that a small character like this was going to be reinvented and taken along on a journey for a few seasons.”
Thompson’s other Sci-Fi credits include the warrior queen Azura in Flash Gordon, a sexy and toothy vampire named Glynnis in Blade: The Series and a bounty hunter in Stargate SG-1. “In Flash Gordon I was blue, really blue,” she says with a laugh. “I was painted blue with an airbrush from head to toe, while the top of my outfit was a pair of coconuts and some string, and my character wore a small dog’s skull on her head. The make-up artist and I had a good relationship by the end of the filming because I’d spend about four hours in make-up every day before filming began. All that really helped me get into that creepy witch mindset, which I think it would have for most people. I had fun with the role and it was a blast to have a whole bunch of extras cheer every time you said something.
“Blade was awesome because I got to do all my own stunts. I was on wires, hanging from the ceiling and flipping off the walls. They had a stunt person there as well as we spent two days learning the fight. It was a lot like a dance routine in the way they taught it to us, and then we got to rehearse with the wires before putting it all together on the set. In the final cut they used my stunt-person a couple of times, but otherwise it’s me, even for the roundhouse kick. I was like, ‘Hey, look at me, I’m a bad-ass vampire.’ The teeth were a lot of fun, too. I still have them and I wear them on Halloween and scare the kids when the come to the door,” chuckles Thompson. “They’re not the cheesy plastic ones either, but beautiful porcelain. So I got a nice pair of fangs out of the deal as well.
“With Stargate SG-1 I especially enjoyed working with Michael Shanks [Dr. Daniel Jackson]. I’d known him for a while but had never gotten to act with him. The scene where my character is hit by a bus was interesting to do. They had a stunt coordinator there, and when I finished my line, he would push me and I’d fall onto a crash pad. The bus was then [digitally] put in later [during post-production]. The first time we did it I wasn’t ready and landed on my face. Fortunately, there were no broken bones thanks to a nice squishy pillow.”
Along with her acting credentials, Thompson is also an accomplished filmmaker and president of The International Filmmakers Institute, a production company dedicated to the creation of movie and video artworks that endeavor to relieve social injustice and promote a message of hope, mercy and reconciliation. She made her debut as a documentary filmmaker with the 40-minute Montana de Luz, which is the heartfelt story about an Honduran orphanage that cares for children living with the HIV virus.
“Working on that film really put things in perspective, and I can’t begin to describe the wisdom of those seven and nine year olds,” says the actress. “I’m really proud of that particular piece and it’s done quite well in the festival circuit. At the moment, I’m working as a writer/director on a series of webisodes that deal with how cancer affects the entire family unit and not just the person who is struggling with the disease. The project has been commissioned by the International Psycho-Oncology Society [IPOS] and it’s basically for doctors to log in, watch these webisodes and then discuss the various ways that they should be taking cancer patients’ and cancer survivors’ families into consideration as well in the treatment process. Festival circuits are terrific, but if you can also find a practical application for your project that’s a bonus, and it fits the mandate of our company, too, so it’s all good,” she enthuses.
For more information about Jody please check out her website – www.jodythompson.com
As noted above, all photos courtesy of The Promotion People, and while there are no specific copyrights on any of the photos, please refrain from any unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!