Let's be clear: There's no "Bedtime for Bonzo" in Fred Thompson's past.
That's not to say there haven't been a few cinematic duds for the lawyer-actor-U.S. senator. But for someone contemplating a presidential run -- as a Republican, of course -- his bio on the Internet Movie Database is hefty enough to make Warren Beatty jealous.
Thompson has played a district attorney (currently on "Law & Order"), an FBI agent, a detective, a White House chief of staff, a CIA director, a lieutenant colonel, a rear admiral, a major general, some guy named "Big John" in Tom Cruise's "Days of Thunder," and a U.S. president.
And the real-life resume isn't too shabby either: special counsel on the Watergate hearings, senator from Tennessee, consultant to Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr.
Now for his latest role: serious 2008 presidential contender?
Ever since Thompson told Fox's Chris Wallace on March 11 that he was thinking about running for president, the political wags have been busy handicapping the possible candidacy of the socially conservative Republican. (And those pundits are more gossipy than Hollywood paparazzi.)
All this has made the Hollywood Democrats a bit envious -- Ronald Reagan, George Murphy, Arnold Schwarzenegger and now Thompson? It seems Republican celebs -- what few there are -- have all the luck.
"There's an irony in this whole thing," said Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman. "Democratic politicians love to come here and raise millions of dollars from the entertainment industry. Yet it's the Republicans -- by virtue of Reagan, Arnold and Fred -- who have figured out how to play candidate."
In many ways, Thompson is a politician who learned how to be an actor by simply playing himself. A big man with a deep baritone Dixie drawl, he exudes authority. Pro 2nd Amendment, he looks like a guy who could manage a crisis. And, according to television producer Dick Wolf, who cast Thompson in "Law & Order," he probably could.
"Look, I've met every president since Nixon," said Wolf, an independent who supported Bill Clinton. "When they focus their attention on you, it's like a light goes on. They have this unique ability to make you feel like you're the only one in the room.
"I don't know if it's a gift or a trick, but Fred's got it."
Wolf finds Thompson's potential candidacy interesting. He's even had conversations with him about it.
"We talked about it in the abstract," Wolf recounted. "I said, 'You should run.' He said, 'Really, why?' I said, 'Because I don't think there's anyone out there who can appeal to the base.' "
Wolf said he could easily see Thompson running and winning.
"When Fred Thompson walks in a room, people want to salute," Wolf said. "But beyond that, he's a remarkable consensus builder. He can see both sides of an issue.
"The character he plays in 'Law & Order,' as all successful characters are, is not too far from the mettle of the man."
Thompson began his Hollywood career in 1985. Director Roger Donaldson cast him to play himself in the movie "Marie," a real-life story about a woman determined to expose political corruption in Tennessee.
Donaldson went on to cast Thompson as the CIA director in "No Way Out" in 1987. After that, he was inundated with work on similar shows and movies. He took a break in 1994 to run for Vice President Al Gore's unexpired senate term in his home state of Tennessee. He was reelected to a full term in 1996.
He announced in 2001, shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, that he would be seeking reelection. A few months later, however, his adult daughter died unexpectedly. He pulled out of the race. He was drained.
Wolf said when he heard that Thompson was giving up his Senate seat in 2002 he phoned Thompson's Washington office to see if he'd like to play the part of a conservative district attorney in the long-running "Law & Order."
"I called him cold," Wolf said. "It's one of the good things about being 60. You remember so much. I remembered him from the Watergate hearings."
Thompson started work almost immediately.
Wolf realized he had every producer's dream: While Thompson was still in office, he was limited on the amount of money he could earn for outside work.
"Those first episodes were very cost effective," Wolf says, laughing. (Suffice it to say, Thompson is now making slightly better than scale.)
Like everyone else, Wolf and his cast are waiting to hear Thompson's decision.
In the meantime, Thompson has been inundated with so many interview requests that he's had to hire a communications consultant. It's easier to get Leonardo DiCaprio on the phone. "He's taking the time to think about what he's going to do," Thompson's spokesman said.
This much is certain: If Thompson does run and win, no one would have to worry about what he'll do after leaving office.
He'd have a lock on presidential cameos for life.