Tessa Thompson was more than ready to flex her muscles as Thor: Ragnarok’s Valkyrie, and now she wants to power her way into a film uniting all of the heroines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The actress – whose career has been building steam after her roles in high-profile projects like Selma, Dear White People and her breakout performance in Creed – flips the script on Marvel’s classically blonde-haired, blue-eyed Norse swordmaiden who was long a member of the Defenders. Thompson’s decidedly more diverse take is every bit as fierce and formidable, though, and possesses an even badder attitude (along with a taste for booze), as Thor finds out the hard way when he encounters the Asgardian expatriate in her new role as a gladiator recruiter for the Grandmaster’s arena on Sakaar.
As Thompson tells CBR, she enthusiastically dove into the role, down to working out and scarfing down high-protein diet to go toe to toe with Chris Hemsworth. And while those two heroes are in conflict, the actress reveals that she’s hoping to join forces with another A-list assembly of champions – all female – for another Marvel film.
CBR: There are some pretty big projects in the world of the fantastic on your plate, between Thor: Ragnarok and Westworld. Are you a fan of genre entertainment?
Tessa Thompson: I am. You know, what’s funny is right before I got both of those jobs, I had sort of been asking the universe for that. I wanted to work in the space of genre. I think it’s so imaginative, and also the challenges that it presents as an actor working with green screen – I was really hungry for that. So I got my wish in spades!
Making Thor, what were the things you had to wrap your head around that weren’t your typical acting requirements?
Oh, my gosh -- so many things, but just, like, dealing with a cape. I guess dealing with long dresses should be some practice! But yeah, the physicality, having to work with swords, green screen, having a spaceship. Basically, everything.
Are you pretty good with a sword now?
I’m not bad, actually! [Laughs]
So nobody should mess with you when you have a sword in your hand?
No, definitely not. Either because I could get them, or I would just accidentally throw it, and that would also be dangerous.
Chris Hemsworth’s been doing this for a while. Is there anything you were better at than him?
All things: acting, friendship... No, no! He’s great! He’s fantastic. He really is, and a lovely, lovely human being.
When he’s the figurative quarterback on a movie like this, he’s the guy who’s really setting the tone for all the other actors.
He is. He was really excited this time around to have a fresh take on the character and the universe. I think we really brought something the fans haven’t seen before, and that’s always refreshing when you’ve been working on something for a while. You want to feel like it has new energy and new life, and he did that with our director Taika [Waititi], really.
I’m excited how you guys are reinventing Valkyrie. I’m an old school comic book nerd, and love that you’re moving into a new direction. It must have been fun to be able to claim ownership of this character.
I think so. We had lots of conversations about diversity and inclusion. It shouldn’t all be rhetorical. I think it’s important the films that we make reflect the times that we live in, to realize that big movies have the power to also shift culture. I think it’s really great that young comic book readers that look like me can see themselves in a film. I think it’s about time.
You got into some serious shape for the role.
I gained about 15 pounds of muscle mass, which yeah, it was a lot for me.
What did you like about being bulked up like that?
I like sort of bucking this conventional idea of a woman is beautiful or sexy if she’s sort of thin. She’s felt, but you can’t really see her strength. I like the idea that she can just be ripped, like Valkyrie is in the comics. Yeah, I found that sort of essential, that not really caring about how I looked, but caring more about how I felt. I felt so strong, and in my skin.
In your own everyday life, how did it feel walking around like that?
It felt great! Yeah, it felt great. Particularly for the five months that I was there, and I was working on the stage where did all the stunt choreography and the likes of folks like Chris Hemsworth. It felt good to be able to be on par with everyone around me.
But you didn’t have to eat as many chickens a day as Chris does?
I certainly tried, but I couldn’t, actually. I gave it a good effort.
I have to hear the story of you going to Kevin Feige with some other Marvel ladies. Who were you with when it happened?
I think in that group was Brie Larson, myself, Zoe Saldana, although she ran off to the bathroom, I think, so she came midway through the pitch but she had been in the rev-up to it. Scarlett Johansson. Pom [Klementieff] and Karen [Gillan], who are both in the Guardians movies. Yeah, I think it was that group.
Paint the picture for me. Tell me about the walk-up, getting yourselves worked up to approach Kevin.
Actually, that happened really quickly. We were just sort of all in a semicircle talking, and it just came up, because none of us really worked together – well, I suppose Zoe, and Karen, and Pom – and wouldn’t it be nice if we could all work together?
And we were sort of speculating on they ways in which it might happen in Infinity War, or might not happen. And we thought, “No, we should just have a whole movie where we know every day we’re going to arrive and get to work together.” So we just ran right up to Kevin Feige and started talking about it.
Did you feel a genuine interest from Kevin when you mentioned it?
Yeah. That’s the thing that’s so fantastic about Kevin is you always get general interest from him. At least when you start speaking, and then you might get ten minutes in, and you sense that maybe something is not as exciting. But no, he’s really open to collaboration and wants to hear what we’re interested in.
How could you not have all those women on the same marquee together?
Listen, from your mouth to Kevin Feige’s ears!