From Sam White in Dear White People to Valkyrie in the Thor franchise, Tessa Thompson has always challenged herself, taking on complex characters who break the mold for what a woman of color is supposed to look like.
In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, the Afro-Latinx actress was taken on a ride through all of her past roles and how their complexities have prepared her to be the actress she is today. Here are some quotes about how she’s championed this space throughout the years.
1 Her reoccurring role as Jackie on Veronica Mars “primed” her to look for roles on “surprising, dynamic women.”
“You look back at some of the quips—someone accuses Jackie of ‘skulking around and she responds, ‘oh, you mean standing while black?’ It was so cool that they were doing work like that. It would take me a while to get back to getting to do that kind of work.”
2 She almost met with Harvey Weinstein.
“I was asked to meet with Harvey once and didn’t end up going—the role was really nothing. He hasn’t been incredibly interested in the course of his career with presenting women of color with much to do, with some few notable exceptions.”
3 She wrote a letter to Justin Sims after reading the script for Dear White People.
“I honestly felt like I hadn’t played a role like that before—it was multi-protagonist, and you had all these different ideas of what it is to be Black … I just felt so passionately about the script. Getting to do it really changed my trajectory in the sense where I felt like, once I understood what that feeling is just to burn for something, I didn’t want to do anything after that I didn’t feel the same way about. That’s been the way I’ve approached looking at material since.”
4 She worked hard to make her role as Bianca in Creed a fleshed out character.
“The danger with a role like that is you could end up with a female character that is at home, concerned for her lover, or is nagging him about not taking the next fight. Some people talked about how she sort of disappears from the third act of the film. For us, it was really intentional in the sense where he does something that kind of pisses her off, and so she goes and decides to live her own life.”
5 Her role as Charlotte in Westworld has allowed her to challenge others’ opinions on gender norms.
“I’m someone that likes to not think too binary about human qualities. I understand when you say it codes male, but in my personal life and also in my work, I try to challenge myself not to think in those terms. Getting to boss folks around and not look people in the eye while telling them what to do—with Charlotte, I’ve gotten license to behave with men in a way that I have never in my life.”
6 She didn’t just get the part of Valkyrie because of a diversity quota.
“Marvel wants to be sure that it feels really organic to the characters, and that it isn’t, again, pandering to audiences or filling some sort of quota. When I was cast in Thor, there were some people that would say, ‘Oh good, Marvel. Now you’re being P.C.’ The truth is—and Taika said this in the press, and I’m grateful for it—they cast a really wide net and saw tons of women and, for whatever reason, they felt like I was the right person to capture her spirit. I just happen to be of color.”