Of all the moves the makers of All the Right Moves made, perhaps the rightest was the casting of Lea Thompson, 22. The lovely newcomer plays Lisa Lietske, Tom Cruise's demure, dewy-eyed girlfriend in this working-class fable about success and ambition in a dreary industrial town.

Thompson, who grew up in Minneapolis, is familiar with ambition—especially the thwarted variety. "I dreamed of being a great dancer," she says. Indeed, she started studying ballet at age 9 and, at 14, began performing professionally with the Minnesota Dance Theatre. "But," she realized, "I was just too stocky to be great. My legs weren't long enough. And," she laughs, "I was sick of not eating cookies."

So, with all the wrong experience, Thompson went to New York to become an actress. She worked as a waitress for 11 months. "But I kept getting fired," she says, "because every time I'd get a call for a screen test, I'd skip work." To make ends meet, she did TV commercials for the likes of Burger King and Twix candy bars. Finally, two summers ago, one of those screen tests paid off. Thompson won the role of a water-skier who was attacked by a shark in Jaws 3-D. Aside from the acting experience and exposure, it also introduced her to co-star Dennis (The Right Stuff) Quaid, 30. To the extent their careers will allow, they are a couple. Lea, who has an apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side, sees Quaid when she's in L.A. "I'm very much in love," admits Lea, blushing like the maidenly Lisa Lietske. "He's very special."

Her next film will be Red Dawn, a World War III epic in which she plays a commando. She recalls that at her audition, the movie's director, John Milius, "asked me whether I could shoot a gun, ride a horse, and if I could kill a bunny rabbit. I said, 'No.' "

Once again the wrong experience. And once again the fresh-faced kid from Minneapolis got the part.