Tessa Thompson is one of the new stars joining the Marvel universe thanks to Thor: Ragnarok. She joins a cast that includes Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk, Cate Blanchett as Hela and Jeff Goldblum as Grandmaster. The 33-year-old Thompson stars as Valkyrie, who is based on the Norse mythological character Brynhildr.
Thompson, who is featured on the brand new poster for Ragnarok, should be a familiar face to sci-fi fans. She played Charlotte Hale during the first season of Westworld. She also starred in the films Dear White People, Selma and Creed.
Here’s what you need to know about the new Thor: Ragnarok star.
1. Thompson’s Performance Was Inspired by Linda Hamilton in ‘Terminator 2’
Thompson’s portrayal of a “badass” character was inspired by Linda Hamilton’s equally badass performance as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Thompson said director Taika Waititi gave her a picture of Sarah Connor as inspiration.
“Taika sent me a picture of Sarah Connor in [Terminator 2]. She’s incredibly buff and really lean and in leather. I took it seriously. I was like, ‘Cool, I want to look like Sarah Connor and do like 10 pull ups,'” Thompson told EW. “By the time I was Valkyrie I could do 10 pull ups in one set and take a break and then do 10 more. I got really, really strong and buff.”
Thompson’s character is also very different from the Valkyrie in the comics, who is white. In his own EW interview, Waititi said casting Thompson in the role wasn’t just for the sake of adding diversity to the main cast.
“I’m not obsessed with the idea that you have to cast someone just to tick a box,” the What We Do In The Shadows director told EW. “You should cast people because they’re talented. [With Valkyrie] I wanted to make sure we weren’t making a female character that was boring and pretty. What I wanted was someone who was going to play the opposite and be even more of the ‘guy’ character than the guys. Ultimately I thought Tessa was the best person we found.”
2. She’s Expected to Be in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’
Ragnarok won’t be the only time we see Thompson as Valkyrie. As CBR.com pointed out, Thompson was seen on the set of Avengers: Infinity War in Durham, England. She took a selfie with a fan near the Durham Cathedral in May.
When EW asked Thompson if she was going to appear in Infinity War, Thompson played coy about it.
She explained to EW:
You never know where people will pop up. In the next phase, the hope is to find ways to interweave all these characters, and certainly with Infinity War, those are the culmination of a lot of work since Iron Man. She’s part of the tapestry now. For me, it’s exciting to join at a time with young actors like Brie Larson and Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan. We’re all hopefully going to meet in one of these movies.
3. Thompson’s Father Is Singer-Songwriter Marc Anthony Thompson
Thompson has a musical background, as the daughter of Marc Anthony Thompson, a singer-songwriter and member of the band Chocolate Genius Inc. That musical background played a major role in her casting as Bianca, Michael B. Jordan’s love interest in Creed. Coincidentally, Creed was directed by Black Panther director Ryan Coogler. Plus, Jordan has a role in that film.
Thompson’s performance as an aspiring singer in Creed was so good that there was Oscar buzz. Unfortunately, she didn’t earn a nomination. (Notably, the only actor nominated for the film was Sylvester Stallone as an ageing Rocky Balboa.)
In a 2015 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Thompson said Coogler “was really interested in authenticity,” which is why he cast her in the role.
“I think it was helpful for [Coogler] to know that I had been onstage, that I could be onstage,” Thompson said. “He didn’t know much about my writing specifically, but I think he felt pretty safe once he knew that I could be onstage and command that part.”
Thompson told THR that her performance was inspired by real women she met in Philadelphia while making the movie. She also said that she didn’t really “fall in love” with acting until she got an early role in the series Cold Case, even though she grew up in Los Angeles. She didn’t have any actors in her family.
4. She Also Plays Charlotte Hale on HBO’s ‘Westworld’
Thompson is also busy at Comic-Con because she’s in Westworld, the hit HBO sci-fi series based on the 1973 Michael Crichton film. She plays Charlotte Hale, who may or may not be AI. In her recent TIME Magazine interview, Hale said she hopes she’s not because she’ll have to spend next season doing nude scenes. But she thinks she is.
In that interview, Thompson said creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy (who is working on the script for Sony’s Silver & Black movie) didn’t tell the actors if they were human or AI until they got the scripts, including Jeffrey Wright.
“It was brilliant because if Jeffrey had known he was playing AI, he might have wanted to add to an affectation to it,” Thompson explained to TIME. “Instead, he believed, just like the character Bernard, that he was human, and he went through the same experience the character went through.”
Thompson also told the magazine that the show has made her more “conscientious” when it comes to technology. “I’ve been thinking a lot about the central question of the show: What do we as humans do when we think there’s no emotional cost? How do we treat the hosts? It makes me think about our treatment of the earth. We’re actively causing climate change when we don’t consider the cost,” she said.
5. Thompson Has Been Also Acting on Stage Since 2002
Before she started acting in television and movies, Thompson tried her had at acting on the stage. According to This Stage LA, Thompson made her stage debut in 2002 for the LA Women’s Shakespeare Company’s The Tempset production. A year later, she starred in Theatre @ Boston Court’s Romeo & Juliet, a unique production that set the story in 1830s New Orleans. She even earned an NAACP theater award for the production.
Although she has starred in several other Shakespeare productions, she told This Stage LA that she wasn’t a fan of The Bard while studying at Santa Monica High School.
“I just didn’t get it. I was one of those kids that would read the CliffsNotes and sort of knew the plot points,” she told the site. “When I was a freshman, we read Romeo and Juliet and then as a sophomore, Julius Caesar. I had lovely teachers, but for some reason there was nothing immersive about the experience. It felt really archaic and foreign.”
Thompson returned to the stage in 2016, starring in an Off-Broadway production of Lydia R. Diamond’s Smart People with Mahershala Ali. (That’s another Marvel connection, since Ali starred on Netflix’s Luke Cage.)
You can see Thompson in Ragnarok on November 3.