Thompson was born on August 28th 1959 in Ellensburg, Washington and raised in Longview. He attended Central Washington University, where he studied business management, played football and appeared in many school productions. He then moved to California and received a Masters of Fine Arts from University of California-Irvine.
Thompson’s athletic build and unique facial structure were key in the initial roles he was offered. He has stated that it has occasionally been a double-edged sword when it comes to auditioning for roles but it has provided him with consistent work. “If you’re very physical in stature, you’re gonna get hired for action movies. The star’s always going to be chasing someone so they need an equal adversary. I’m never going to play a nebbish geek.”
Whilst still at school Thompson was cast in The Terminator where he appears alongside Bill Paxton as punk thugs.
He followed that up with “bad guy” roles on Otherworld, Street Hawk, and Knight Rider before landing the role in the Sylvester Stallone 1986 vehicle, Cobra. Although the movie was critically panned, it was a commercial success. The New York Times noted Thompson’s portrayal; “the archvillain, a character that is a cross between a James Bond fantasy villain such as Jaws and a raging psychopath, delivers a scorching monologue – a feat of linguistic sophistication that Cobra would have a hard time matching.”
Thompson was also seen in Three Amigos (1986), Fright Night II (1988), Alien Nation (1988), Miracle Mile (1988), and Nightwish (1990).
In 1989, Thompson landed his first Star Trek role in Star Trek: The Next Generation. His size worked against him at first, because the producers were originally looking to cast someone who could fit in a certain costume. He was able to convince them to give him a try; “That was the first of four auditions that I’ve had for Star Trek’ and they’ve hired me every time.” Thompson played a Klingon in the episode A Matter of Honor. In 1993 and 1996, he appeared in episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as different characters. In 1994, he appeared in the film Star Trek: Generations.
In 2005, Thompson was cast Admiral Valdore in three episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise. Thompson has since participated, to some extent, in Star Trek fandom; giving narrative DVD extras and appearing at conventions
In 1992 Thompson starred in Rage and Honor as Conrad Drago, he followed this up in 1993, in the large ensemble series Key West which was filmed on location in the Florida Keys. The series lasted for 13 episodes. In a departure from his previous work, he played a ‘new-age sheriff’ which Thompson stated was his favorite role of his career. The character uttered the introductory line; “I’m Sheriff Cody Jeremiah Jefferson. I’m a direct descendant of Wyatt Earp and the Lone Ranger. My personal heroes are Ted Nugent, Buddha and Davy Crockett. I am the last real lawman and the first peace officer of the 21st century.”
The following year, Thompson began his tenure on The X-Files and followed that with roles in the science fiction/fantasy series Seven Days, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Charmed. Between these, Thompson made dozens of appearances in other shows and movies, often in similar roles. In 1996, he appeared alongside Sean Connery and Dennis Quaid in Dragonheart.
Thompson then returned to the big screen as lead antagonist Shao Kahn in the film adaptation of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. In 2014, Thompson released The Extendables; a movie he’s produced, written and starred in. A parody of movies like The Expendables, Thompson stated that it contained true-to-life instances from his own career.