Tessa Thompson is having a moment. Fresh off her supporting turns in Creed and Westworld, the actress is poised to become an even bigger household name – soon to appear as the warrior Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok. The character’s a bit of a spin on her traditional comic origins. No longer the leader of Odin’s taskforce Valkyrior, Valkyrie has been slumming it on the planet Sakaar, taking any odd job that comes her way (in turn bringing her into contact with Thor). For Thompson, playing Valkyrie gave her the chance to redefine the traditionally white character and add a little diversity into the Marvel hero pantheon. It’s about time the Marvel Cinematic Universe had a black female hero – and there’s no one better suited for the job than Thompson.
In the following on-set interview with Tessa Thompson, the actress discusses redefining Valkyrie, the race-controversy surrounding her casting, and the challenges working opposite a blue screen. For the full interview, read below.
Who is Valkyrie and what’s her role in Thor: Ragnarok?
TESSA THOMPSON: Valkyrie becomes a part of this team. When we meet her, she’s hanging out on another planet called Sakaar and she’s sort of an ex-pat… She’s no longer with her tribe of Valkyrie anymore and she meets Thor & Hulk and she has a similar goal. They become friends and teammates in a way.
What is your research process? Are you looking at Norse mythology or do you look to the Marvel Comics or just the script?
THOMPSON: Both… Norse mythology is mystifying and fantastic and totally confusing, but you can draw a lot of inspiration from it. The exciting thing for us was to create a Valkyrie that is a combination of all those things. If you look at her origin in the comics, sometimes she’s on earth, sometimes she’s in Asgard, sometimes she’s with The Fearless Defenders… It’s all different. So it left us a lot of leeway. The cool thing about working with Taika [Waititi] is he has a healthy respect for the comics but also a total irreverence in the sense that he’s like, ‘Let’s create something new.’ The exciting thing about Thor: Ragnarok is that you get to see even characters that have long been a part of the Marvel cinematic universe shift. We are getting to see a Bruce Banner and a Hulk that we’ve not seen in any of the other movies. Chris has a new haircut. There’s stuff going on with him… All of these characters are fresh and new. And because it was Valkyrie’s introduction, we really had a lot of space to create ‘our’ Valkyrie.
What is Valkyrie’s costume and look in the film?
THOMPSON: There are two [costumes]. In the beginning, when Valkyrie’s on Sakaar, [she’s] closer to the Valkyrie that fans might know from the comics. Then [she changes to a] sort of a classic battle look that is closer to what she would have worn when she was with the other Valkyrie. The designs are incredible. They’re so detailed.
Do you have a British accent in the movie like everyone else seems to or do you get to do your own kind of accent?
THOMPSON: That was a big conversation actually because we were of two minds. When I met Taika and he heard me as Valkyrie, he wanted ‘me’ to play the part. But then you watch the Thor movies, there’s this Asgardian thing that I could not get out of my head. Then you read the source material and anytime Valkyrie speaks it’s in those cool italics — so I’m like, ‘She has an accent!’ And Taika’s like, ‘It doesn’t matter. They won’t care.’ Even Tony Hopkins, who I worked with recently on the show Westworld, was like ‘Oh darling, it doesn’t matter, they’ll be eating popcorn.’ That’s literally what he said to me! But I’m a nerd and I go back to the source material and I’m like, ‘I have to speak in italics.’ I don’t know how else to approach the part. So we [settled] on something that felt like it honors Asgard.
How much input did you have in Valkyrie during the early story process?
THOMPSON: There were a lot of early conversations that I had with Taika about [the part] because you never know. Early on there were conversations, at least in the press, about her being a love interest but you want to also have a character that’s dynamic and does her own thing. But from the jump, Marvel and Taika really wanted Valkyrie to exist in her own plain and to offer something strong and fresh and new. I think they’ve been really smart to answer the call to a lot of fans that we need more women in the universe that are dynamic and not necessarily tied to male characters.
Do you follow the fan reaction, especially with the race [change] of the character?
THOMPSON: It’s a tricky thing cause there’s… I think as an actor there’s this idea sometimes that you just don’t want to read anything, but then when you’re entering this cinematic universe that people are so diehard about, you actually can learn a lot from the fans when you’re doing research. You can learn a lot from the fans, so I didn’t have the thing of like, ‘I’m never going to read anything’; but then when people were posting about the race swap and the implications of that and they were very upset that this doesn’t honor Norse mythology…. if you read Norse mythology, it doesn’t really make sense. And, you know, Idris Elba needs company. He can’t be the only black person in the neighborhood.
Did you and Chris [Hemsworth] compare notes, he having come off Ghostbusters with that horrific backlash?
THOMPSON: Yeah we talked about that. I think the only way to weather [the storm] is to just to do the work. It’s twofold because there’s definitely an element of it where you go, ‘Okay that’s just racism so that’s not cool.’ Then another part of it, I hope, is people being very invested in these stories that they have read and looked at for ages and wanting to see that reflected in the content that they take in. And I can’t be upset about that necessarily. It’s like when they made the On the Road movie, I was just such a nerd for that book as a kid that I couldn’t even watch it. So – I get having a certain reverence. But I also think it’s why it’s important for Marvel to answer the call for inclusion and diversity. What Taika said to the press, which I am happy for, is that they cast a wide net and I was the person that made sense for the part. They saw all kinds of girls, some of them probably looked closer to Valkyrie and some that looked even less like her than I, but I think we just do what we do and we hope that people respond to it and we ignore the ones that don’t.
What’s it like working in front of a blue screen or opposite a guy with a huge Hulk head above his own head?
THOMPSON: A year before [Thor] was even a conversation, I kept saying to myself and anyone that would listen, ‘I want to do something that’s blue or green screen because I think it’s working in a space of such imagination.’ There are funny times though, like the Hulk head… I remember from my very first day, we worked a bunch with him and you just find yourself looking at the guy [instead of the head above]. Now I know what people feel like when they can’t stop looking at someone’s breasts. ‘My face is up here!’ That’s what they kept saying… It’s like parting the curtains and suddenly you get to meet Oz because you watch these films and you’re so invested in the world, but you don’t realize everything that’s involved in it.