Entertainment - Film
Why Tessa Thompson Is Breaking New Ground As Valkyrie In Thor: Love And Thunder
Tessa Thompson is two decades into her movie career but it’s fair to say that she had to be patient in waiting for the big roles in Hollywood. Starting out in TV with Cold Case, Grey's Anatomy and Veronica Mars, Thompson gained high-profile billing with 2015's Creed, and when its sequel proved a global box office smash, Thompson’s drive into franchise territory landed the 38-year-old her Marvel debut in Thor: Ragnarok.
Men in Black: International followed, giving the LA-born actress an indomitable place as a franchise queen. She now returns in Thor: Love and Thunder, taking forward Valkyrie, the king of New Asgard. In the movie, and following the events of Avengers: Endgame from 2019, Valkyrie is recruited by Thor to help stop Gorr the God Butcher from eliminating all gods.
While evolution of plot is vital to the franchise, the evolution of Marvel’s first ever bisexual character may be just as important in Thor: Love and Thunder, as RSNG discovers.
RSNG Valkyrie’s return has been wrapped a lot in terms of plot and evolving image, but also for adding to the presence of LGBTQ characters in film, and the superhero genre in particular?
TESSA THOMPSON, MARVEL STAR “I think film as a reflection of society will always need to push a narrative forward with positivity and purpose, and that’s what’s happening here.
“We’ve always known that Valkyrie was a leader for Marvel as a character that didn’t conform to all the straight stereotypes that follow around so many other superhero characters, and I have always played her in that way, and with that logic in mind.
“Naturally with each new movie that will progress, and I think that is exciting for a lot of people.”
RSNG Is there a growing responsibility in the film industry to address LGBTQ+ issues?
TESSA THOMPSON “The industry must reflect society and society must reflect the industry. I think it’s as complex and as simple as that, really.”
RSNG With such a behemoth of a project, do you feel the pressure increase with each new film?
TESSA THOMPSON “There is pressure, but it’s shared around so many characters, so it never really feels like it’s just on your shoulders.
“There is a whole machine that takes the strain, and a world of support and fanaticism that makes you feel so protected and loved. The Marvel universe is really like no other.”
RSNG You can lay claim to being part of a number of the industry’s biggest franchises – Men in Black, Rocky, Thor. How does that feel?
TESSA THOMPSON “It’s just the way it has fallen, but it does feel exciting. You know you are joining a legacy of cinematic and cultural importance.
“I don’t want to big it up into being something it’s not, but when you set out as a kid you always look at iconic movies, and most of the iconic movies people think about are ones that have prequels and sequels and spin-offs.
“They become part of the public’s consciousness, so that’s always a big thing for any actor, so to be a part of that feels like I am fulfilling an ambition that goes right back to my very earliest understanding of what film and storytelling was.”
RSNG Which is your favorite franchise of all?
TESSA THOMPSON “The answer to that will be the one I’m working on at that moment, haha!!
“I think they all have their merits, though as a black woman what I will say is that right back at the very start of Men in Black I always admired the way Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones went about using satire and wit as a vehicle for bigger topics. I mean, they could talk about things like immigration and race in a way you would never get away with in a straight movie.
“It's so tongue-in-cheek and I think that it's really important to talk about those things inside of a world that feels so fictional and silly that you can laugh, but in a subversive way you are also ingesting ideas which are important. So, I love that about those films.”
RSNG In your career, you have played so many diverse characters. Why is it so important for you to fight stereotypes?
TESSA THOMPSON “Both as a woman and a woman of color, it is inevitable that I am labeled as such and that’s just me standing up for women and black women, as well – this has gone on for too long. However, what is cool is that through the film industry we have the ability to replicate the world that we live in, as well as the capability to create it and create culture.
“Political change is always preceded by cultural change. So, for me, I think that it is really important to project varied images of what we can be.
“Similarly, for far too long, if you were a black person or a person of color, so often you are tasked with going into a dimly lit cinema and being in the shoes of somebody who looks nothing like you. I’m glad that is changing.”
RSNG Is there a role that you haven’t yet played that you would really like to and that you wish a woman could play?
TESSA THOMPSON “Not so much, although when people are talking about who they want to be the next James Bond, it makes me think that we should just create a new franchise that isn’t Bond and is just applied by a woman, and it’s in the DNA. Not that women suddenly take over a male part – we just create new iconography. How far away are we from doing that, I wonder?
“The problem is you speak like this, and people take it to be some feminist pursuit, and it’s really not. It’s actually just celebrating the emotional and physical attributes that both sexes have; and I think the superhero genre probably does that in a way that is perfect. For the first time ever we see no hierarchy in place.”
RSNG Who is your favorite actor to work with?
TESSA THOMPSON “I make a point not to have favorites, but there are some actors who stand out for me in terms of their persona, their outlook, their style.
“I guess one who always springs to mind is Chris Hemsworth, for the reason we have appeared in so many films together, across different franchises as well.”
RSNG What’s it like rocking up again to the newest Thor and seeing your old buddies waiting and ready to go?
TESSA THOMPSON “Of course it’s a nice feeling. For years the process of starting a film, particularly when you’re just setting out, is about working out people you know.
“Obviously, you will have heard of and researched your co-stars, and generally chatted to people to see what they are like, how their creativity works and what inspires them on-set, because you want to find a way of working that best suits all of you.
“It's great when you already have all the pieces to that jigsaw put together, and you can just get straight on with working out scenes and characters and ideas without all the formal introductions.”
RSNG Chris is renowned for putting others at ease anyway, I guess?
TESSA THOMPSON “Oh he is entirely that person. We like to make each other laugh and tease each other, so it’s always pretty easy with him.
“I think having an ability to laugh at yourself is important in that whole process. When you can do that, I think it shows everyone around you that you don’t take yourself too seriously, and if you don’t take yourself too seriously then, by default, you aren’t going to take other people too seriously either.
“Of course Chris and I always work so hard at trying to make every film good as good as this one. It's not done as often now, but I love the idea – and I am in no way comparing Chris and I to them – but of like a Hepburn and Tracy thing where two actors can work together on so many movies during the breadth of their career, and do new and dynamic things.
“So, when we are thinking about a movie project, even if it’s the latest on a big line of a franchise, we are always trying to come up with new ways of making it different. We always say how we would miss that sort of rapport if it wasn’t there, and that is maybe something that encourages you to come back to these multi-movie projects – you can take away a lot of the doubt and uncertainty, and of course that extends on to the other actors, the director, producer, the crew. There is real comfort in familiarity.
“I guess when we are in Thor together, we are kind of an odd couple too, so maybe that is just our thing, haha!”
RSNG What do you mean?
TESSA THOMPSON “Well, we’re very different people anyway who find a certain connection. But then also he's just a big Australian guy, unlike me, so I think we're naturally just like that chalk and cheese. But in everything new thing we do, we set out to find something new and fresh.”
RSNG Your comedic side is always something that comes through. That leads to the suggestion of a new career doing stand-up?
TESSA THOMPSON “The truth is I have had a moment where I tell myself that I am going to do stand-up comedy, but I cannot promise that I was entirely sober when I said that! I think maybe that I had a drink or two and then I had a tight five minutes going in my mind, like: “Ah, I'm so funny.
“In reality, I think I may crash and burn… which in itself would be funny, just not for me.”
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Photos: Shutterstock, MovieStillsDB