Lea Thompson was born on May 31, 1961, and spent the first year of her life living in the Starlight Motel in Rochester, Minnesota, with her parents and five brothers and sisters. Poverty was part of Thompson's childhood until age 12 when, four years after her parents divorced, Thompson's mother remarried.
Lea began studing dance at the age of 9, and her career began at the age of 14 when she went on to win scholarships to the American Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet. Thompson graduated from Marshall-University High School in Minneapolis at 16 to dance professionally. She performed in more than 45 ballets with The Minnesota Dance Theatre, The Pennsylvania Ballet Company and The Ballet Repertory (her first part was a mouse in the "Nutcracker"). But her dreams of being a ballerina ended after an audition for the American Ballet Theater in New York City, when ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov told the five-foot-four, 94-pound Thompson that her legs were too short and she was too stocky to make it as a dancer.
At the age of 19 with only 300$ in her pocket Lea moved to New York City to pursue a career in acting. Although she never experienced a typically idyllic teenage lifestyle (she used to work as a waitress, until she was 14 her family didn't even have a TV), she was cast as the wholesome, all-American girl with Midwestern values in Burger King and Twix commercials during the 1970s. Thompson earned enough money from these commercials to eventually buy a house for her mother.