Andrew Marton
November 22, 1991 AT 05:00 AM EST

Fred Dalton Thompson’s double life unfolds on a single bookcase in his Washington, D.C., office. On one shelf, the 11-volume record of the 1973 Watergate hearings, which first thrust the Tennessee lawyer — then House minority counsel — into the spotlight. Another shelf holds the manual Working in Hollywood, something he does a lot of these days. His 6-foot-5-inch frame and syrupy baritone are on view in John Hughes’ Curly Sue, as senior partner at Kelly Lynch’s firm, and in Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear, as ex-public defender Nick Nolte’s sage adviser. ”Nick was so easy to work with,” says Thompson. ”And Scorsese had a wonderfully light directorial touch.”

Marie: A True Story (1985) first lit Thompson’s star. Sporting his own cowboy boots, he played himself: the Nashville attorney who helped whistle-blower Marie Ragghianti challenge corrupt Tennessee governor Ray Blanton. Since then, 14 movies, including No Way Out and Die Hard 2, have been graced by Thompson’s bulldog presence. Although he only acts when it doesn’t conflict with his legal practice, he obviously relishes his film shoots. ”I remember rehearsing with Paul Newman in Fat Man and Little Boy and how he began apologizing to me for messing up his lines,” says Thompson.

Riding on his six-year success, Thompson is on the lookout for more varied parts. He wouldn’t refuse another lawyer role, but he’d prefer getting back into his cowboy boots. ”I’m just right for a Western,” says Thompson. ”And I wouldn’t mind getting the girl.”

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