Fred Thompson started his career as a lawyer, passing the Bar in Tennessee in 1967 and then working as an assistant US attorney from 1969 to 1972. In 1973, he was appointed a minority counsel to the Republican senators involved in the Watergate hearings. In the early 1980s, Thompson worked as a Congressional lobbyist, before being cast in a film version of a real-life case he participated in.
Marie (1985) told the story of Marie Ragghianti, a former Tennessee Parole Board official, who Thompson had defended after she was fired for refusing the release of prisoners who had bribed gubernatorial aides to secure early release. Thompson played himself in the film. He has since continued to work as an actor, appearing in films such as No Way Out (1987), Days of Thunder (1990) and Die Hard 2 (1990). He has also appeared in a number of television programmes, including a five-year stint on Law & Order as well as appearances in its various spin-offs.
In 1994, Thompson was elected to serve out time on Al Gore's Senate seat in Tennessee, and then won re-election in 1996. He stood down in 2003. While in the Senate, he served variously on the Finance Committee, the Intelligence Committee and the Committee on Governmental Affairs. He was co-chairman of John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign. He campaigned himself for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, but dropped out after finishing a disappointing third in the South Carolina primary.