Maybe it doesn’t matter, says the actor, who tells Richard Godwin about the roles she really wants to play — the weirder the better — and the double lives of the characters in her Oscar-tipped new film, Passing
A few years into Tessa Thompson’s Hollywood career, she began to wonder how much longer she could continue. It wasn’t that she lacked roles, or success, or acclaim. It was more that there were the movies she loved — weird ones like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Being John Malkovich — and then there were movies that actors of colour were cast in. And there wasn’t a whole lot of overlap.
‘I thought, I don’t know if I can do this forever because it just feels like there’s always going to be a limit to the kind of stories that I can tell,’ she says. ‘I felt like: I would love to be in a movie like that, but I don’t ever see people like me in a lot of those films.’
What I think Thompson is saying is that she wants to be weird. ‘Honestly? That feels the most honest way to express what’s inside of me, you know?’ And while she has had a highly successful career in prestige TV (Dear White People, Westworld), in movie dramas (Selma, Little Woods), and in the sort of action movies that require colons (Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Endgame, Men in Black: International), it is only in the past few years that she has been able to give full vent to that inner weirdo.
If you’ve seen her leather-clad performance art in Sorry to Bother You; or her emergence from Janelle Monaé’s vagina in the video to ‘Pynk’; or maybe even for those internet-breaking images of her with Rita Ora and Taika Waititi — on which more in a bit — then you’ll know the world is a better place for that. ‘We’re all put into boxes that none of us fits squarely into,’ she says. ‘We’re all spilling out of the confines of how people perceive us in some way or another.’