Spoiler alert: Tessa Thompson is life. Sleep-deprived with just two hours kip in the tank, you would expect someone, who is rapidly becoming one of Hollywood’s most in-demand actresses (following starring roles in Thor and Westworld), to be barely functioning. However, it's quite the opposite.
With braids cascading the length of her body and a waistcoat worn as a dress, Tessa is in her prime and serving it. Her level of confidence and energy should be bottled and sold. We will have whatever she is having, and we will take a double shot.
Here, Tessa Thompson takes GLAMOUR behind the scenes at the UK premiere of Creed II and talks about the game-changing presentation of masculinity, sexual discrepancies in interviews and how, now in her 30’s, she’s able to let go of competition. Plus, after slaying a musical performance as her character, Bianca, she reveals whether she will ever switch on her Sasha Fierce by releasing an album. *Crosses fingers*
Everyone is going to come into this room and ask you ‘what is it like to play a strong girlfriend role,’ but no one will ask Michael B Jordan, ‘what is it like to play a strong boyfriend role.’ How does that line of questioning make you feel?
I don’t love the question because I get asked it all the time. Typically, that’s how they categorise the characters I play in general. 'Strong' really just means the character is finally drawn and not painted with faint strokes. She’s dimensional, complex, feels like a human and so often, particularly in the context of the male centric narrative, the female characters sometimes feel like ciphers. They don’t resemble women I know. For me, that’s all strong means but I hope we get to a space where as an audience we accustomed to seeing that.
Do you feel the conversation around strong women changing in 2018?
I think we need to move out of the space of it being a conversation and it actually becoming a real practice. In the sense that we allow more space, for example, stop mythologising this idea that audiences don’t want to see content that’s driven by women. When you look at a film like Girls Trip, we need to create a space where narratives like that can be told. There’s a demand for it. Audiences want to see it and by the way, those audiences are not just women.
Girl's Trip is THE best – they should get you in that sequel!
They probably don’t need me. I would even just be an extra!
Beyond the visible male strength, Creed II shows a form of masculinity that is refreshingly flawed. What comments do you think the film makes about masculinity in 2018?
It’s probably that it’s a dangerous and destructive thing. As people, we need to be conscious of how our actions affect other people. We need to operate from a space from thinking about community. That’s what the film talks about in its way.
Your character is a rare portrayal of a hearing-impaired person in a blockbuster film. How much research did you go into to make sure it was a very sensitive portrayal?
When I think about it, there really isn’t many at all! The first time around making the film with Ryan Coogler, he wanted to explore that, and he asked me if I felt comfortable doing that. His then-girlfriend but now wife, Zinzi Evans, is a sign language interpreter so she had proximity to that world and so did Ryan. He felt comfortable in exploring that and I have someone very close to me who has hearing loss so that was something I was interested by. To be honest, we didn’t know at that point if we would make more movies. She has progressive hearing loss so now we’ve made another one and may do another, it is now in the DNA of the character and we have to explore it. But the truth is, I felt reticent in representing a community that I’m not a part of and with real sensitivity trying to understand it and it turns out it is very complicated and because I am hearing, I had my own bias. We so often walk around assuming the world is hearing, for example if I’m behind somebody and want to get around them, I’m inclined to say excuse me because I assume the person can hear me. So, a lot of playing Bianca for me is unpacking my own privilege, bias and misunderstanding and I hope we have done that with some sensitivity because we went to great lengths.
Creed II follows on from Black Panther in bringing a varied view of black hair styles to the fore, which is still so rare. When you were younger, if you watched a film like this, how much would it have helped you feel represented in all your forms?
I think a lot! Lupita also talked about that with Black Panther, how powerful it was to see black hair from just natural black hair to other styles. As a viewer to see a reflection of yourself projected on screen, it validates you. It would have been hugely powerful for me as a young woman!
Creed is full of cracking pep talks – what is your ultimate self-taught pep talk?
Sly (Sylvester Stallone) is like the master of them. When you hear his voice coming, it really stirs me. I don’t think I’d give myself as an incredible pep talk as Sly would. I’m really lucky, I have an incredible group of girlfriends and they remind me a lot to slow down, self-care and go to sleep. I could do with them on this trip!
The Creed franchise deals with success and failure - when you’ve had moments where you’ve felt like you’ve not been enough, how have you picked yourself up?
When I have a sense of what is for me is for me when it’s my time – has really helped me. Particularly in this industry, there is so much competition and it was important for me to really be able to be excited for other people and not feel jealous. I think this has changed a lot because there are more opportunities, particularly for women of colour, than when I first began. But sometimes we operate from a place of scarcity and someone’s success makes you feel like you are less likely to have your own. It was really freeing to realise that and look around at the women in my field and be excited for them when they did well and to understand that, particularly for women of colour, when they win, I win. We can all make room for each other. That felt really powerful because I now feel part of a sisterhood where I can wish everybody well and be excited for their success because their success is mine. That has come with maturity though – I am loving being in my 30s.
You are Sasha Fierce personified in Creed II - are you ever going to release a pop record?
I don’t know. I love the experience of getting to put out music and write and perform original songs but have them be under the guise of another person, so I’d probably want to do the same thing and interpret an alter ego. Maybe there would be a release, but you wouldn’t know it was me!
Creed II is in cinemas now.