The Stunning Transformation Of Tessa Thompson

Over the past decade, Tessa Thompson has gone from being a relatively unknown actress to a mainstream A-lister. With an impressive string of credits to her name, including "Thor: Love and Thunder," "Westworld," "Passing," "Men in Black: International," "Avengers: Endgame," "Annihilation" and "Dear White People," the actress is now practically a household name.

While Thompson may be a bona fide movie star these days, she wasn't always so successful. In fact, the actress started out as a shy girl from LA who struggled with being bullied by her classmates. After studying anthropology in university, she fell into an acting career after interning with an all-women's theater company. She then broke into film and television and eventually landed the major blockbuster roles that made her famous. Curious to learn more about how Thompson climbed through the ranks of Hollywood to get to where she is today? This is the stunning transformation of Tessa Thompson.

Tessa Thompson grew up moving around between LA and New York

Tessa Lynne Thompson was born on October 3, 1983. She spent much of her childhood growing up in Los Angeles during the 1980s and 1990s. "I'm an odd breed in that I'm a Los Angeles native," she told Issue Magazine. "I'm very much an LA girl. I went to Santa Monica High School and as a teenager, lived in Hollywood. I'm as LA as they come."

Tessa's parents separated when she was 3 years old; her father moved to Brooklyn, New York when she was 7 and had two more children, and Thompson remained with her mother — an administrative assistant and sculptor-painter. The upheaval in her childhood continued, as she had to move schools multiple times because she was being mistreated. "One school in particular was really racist, and I was having a lot of trouble with being bullied," she told Net-a-Porter. "Kids just make do, they're pretty resilient, but my mom really wasn't okay with it."

She fell in love with music at a young age thanks to her father

Tessa Thompson's father, Marc Anthony Thompson, is an Afro-Panamanian musician who began as a solo artist in the 1980s before founding the neo-soul musical collective Chocolate Genius, Inc. in the '90s. He has released a number of albums under his own name and with Chocolate Genius, Inc., and has even toured with rock music icon Bruce Springsteen.

Being raised by a musician certainly ignited a passion in Thompson for musicians of that time, particularly those who reinvented their music and artistic look with each record. She cites Prince, Grace Jones, and David Bowie as being influential to her as a girl. "Those musicians really set me free when I was young," she told the Evening Standard. "In telling your deepest truth, you can also create a construction that gives you enough separation that you feel free to express it in its fullness."

Tessa Thompson studied cultural anthropology in college before pursuing a career in acting

As child, Tessa Thompson didn't exactly have plans to be an actress. In fact, before becoming a globally recognized movie star, Thompson had very different plans. After graduating high school, she found herself studying cultural anthropology at Santa Monica College and waiting on tables in her spare time. She then made preparations to transfer to University of California, Berkeley where she planned to study law.

As she later told Backstage, she had always considered acting to be more of a hobby to be done in her spare time than a realistic career path, so she appeared in plays on the side of her studies. However, her plans for the future changed when she happened to come across an all-female Shakespeare company, the Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company, where she began interning and acting — and the rest, of course, is history.

The actress got her start in theater

Once Tessa Thompson joined the Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company, everything soon fell into place. Her first role was Ariel in a production of "The Tempest," and then she went on to play Juliet in the Theatre at Boston Court's "Romeo and Juliet: Antebellum New Orleans, 1836." Her early stage work paved the way for her screen career that followed. "I can sort of trace all of the early things that happened in my career to [theater]," she said in an interview with Backstage. "There are tons of people around the country, around the world, who are doing plays and things in their hometown — it's just that their hometown is not Los Angeles, California."

To this day, Thompson continues to hold a soft spot for her theatrical roots. As she explained to Issue Magazine, "I always grew up doing theater and I wanted to be on Broadway. So I still get involved in LA theater and celebrate it and go to shows."

Tessa Thompson almost quit acting early in her career due to prejudicial casting

Despite enjoying early success in her acting career, her enthusiasm for the profession waned after her role in the BBC America series, "Copper," where she played a former slave in 19th-century New York. She was dissatisfied by the familiarity of the roles she was offered after this job, and argued that the roles offered to Black women often pigeon-hole them into acting in slave dramas and portraying single parents.

As she shared with The Guardian, "A lot of the parts that were coming my way were things that I'd seen before." This feeling of dissatisfaction was so strong that she took a brief hiatus from on-screen acting. She further explained, "I had all but decided to take a break and do some plays, and to see plays and read books and not work — literally not work — until I was going to burn for something." Perhaps this hiatus made her reflect on this experience and was a catalyst to pursue being cast in her breakthrough role.

She got her breakthrough in Dear White People

In 2014, Tessa Thompson got one of her most important roles to date in Justin Simien's 2014 dark comedy, "Dear White People." For Thompson, the role became a crucial jumping off point for her future work. "The film itself was an indictment of Hollywood in a way, of the opportunities that people of color are presented with," she explained to The Guardian. Apparently, the actor even wrote a fan letter to Simien prior to being cast. As she put it, "I felt strongly that I needed to be in that movie." Clearly, her enthusiasm paid off.

After the film was released, it led to more interesting projects. As she told Issue Magazine, the director Ryan Coogler and his co-writer Aaron Covington saw her in the project and later cast her in "Creed." "Aaron followed me through the year," she said. "I auditioned, of course, but at the time there were a number of actresses they were interested in and also musicians." She ultimately got the part though, so evidently, "Dear White People" was a pretty big turning point for Thompson.

With Westworld and Thor: Ragnarok, Tessa Thompson became a mainstream actress

While "Dear White People" and "Creed" were well-regarded by people within the industry, they didn't exactly make Tessa Thompson a household name. However, all of that changed when she was cast in the HBO sci-fi smash hit "Westworld" at the very end of the show's first season, which sent her reeling into the mainstream.

Funnily enough, Thompson almost missed out on the opportunity altogether. "I sent in an audition tape for the pilot. I was trying to figure out how to play a robot, and then I didn't get a call back," she told Variety in 2020. "I never heard anything about it. Much later, there was this chance to play a human on the show." And, of course, she got the part.

Thompson also landed a role in the sequel to Marvel's "Thor" in 2016. Entering the MCU solidified her transition into a Hollywood A-lister — plus, as director Taika Waititi told Comic Book Resources, it marked an important moment for the MCU's diversification.

The actress has ventured into songwriting and singing as her career has progressed

Aside from starring in smash-hit blockbusters and critically-lauded independent films, Thompson has written and performed music, too. In fact, she used to be part of the LA Ladies Choir where, as she recounted to Issue Magazine, "I really enjoyed that process of singing with other women. The idea of singing on my own, with just my voice into a microphone, was daunting." However, she eventually got over the fear.

Her first song was for the soundtrack of "Dear White People" with indie electro-soul band Caught A Ghost. Of the song, she told Issue Magazine, "I'd always been interested in songwriting — it was something I'd done in secret and had a few unfinished songs lying around." Thompson worked on the soundtrack for boxing drama "Creed" and its sequel, "Creed II." Since then, she's appeared in music videos for music icons such as Janelle Monae, Jay-Z and Beck.

Tessa Thompson came out as bisexual in 2018

Tessa Thompson came out as bisexual in 2018. Soon, fans began to speculate about whether Thompson and singer Janelle Monae were an item — after all, they'd been spotted together for years. "It's tricky, because Janelle and I are just really private people and we're both trying to navigate how you reconcile wanting to have that privacy and space, and also wanting to use your platform and influence," she told Net-a-Porter. While Thompson didn't reveal the nature of their relationship, she hinted that she had thought about announcing their relationship status in order to help other queer people find the courage to do the same. "Do I have a responsibility to talk about that?" she wondered. "Do I have a responsibility to say in a public space that this is my person?"

For her, representing queerness on screen has become vital — and as she told Variety, she'd love to see her "Thor" character, Valkyrie, in a queer romance. "I think a part of really being able to normalize queer characters, LBGTQIA characters, is to allow them to exist in their humanity and that doesn't always mean that they're in love or in a partnership because plenty of us know that sometimes you're not," she said. "So, yeah, we'll see if she finds love."

She has been at the helm of a big change in Hollywood's diversity — but she's still campaigning for change

As a Black woman in Hollywood, Tessa Thompson is passionate about championing diversity and equality within the industry. Throughout her career, she's already seen how her own opportunities have changed for the better. "Even the fact that we can make a film like 'Passing' that stars two Black women, that is about the interior lives of two Black women, is something that obviously couldn't have been made before," she explained to W Magazine. "And Hollywood would've never lensed a woman like me to be the protagonist. So I think in that way, there's been a tremendous amount of change." However, she added, all of this is "not to say that there isn't more change to be made."

And Thompson has been actively working to make that change happen faster. She is a vocal supporter of the 4% Challenge, which encourages people in the film industry to work with more female directors. And, as she told Marie Claire, she's trying to increase awareness about how race plays a role in inequalities in the industry. "When we talk about issues of pay equity, that means something different to Natalie Portman than it does to me," she said. "Women who are not of color are talking about pay equity with men. [We] are so far away from that."

She spent her lockdown trying a few new things

Lockdown was a time when many of us experimented with new things — and for Tessa Thompson, it was no different. As much of the world came to a standstill during the pandemic, Thompson spent lockdown in as positive a manner as possible, as she explained to the Evening Standard, by voraciously reading and offering a home to puppy named Coltrane.

In addition to this, Thompson took up fencing with her combat mannequin she affectionately named "Bob." "We've spent a lot of time together," she shared with Kelly and Ryan on their talk show. "I learned how to fence over this break, so Bob has been a constant companion," she said. Luckily, she added, fencing helped her unload "some of [her] anxieties and aggression," while also being a pretty fantastic cardio workout. It sounds like a great lockdown pastime if you ask us!

Tessa Thompson has experimented more and more with bold looks over the years

Over the past few years, Tessa Thompson hasn't only made an impact with her acting work — she's also made headlines thanks to her increasingly bold and adventurous red carpet looks. As the actress explained to Elle UK, experimenting with fashion and beauty became an outlet for self-expression. "I like the idea that beauty should be playful," she said, adding, "In my own make-up and fashion aesthetic, especially on the red carpet, I'm trying to contend with that idea. I want to show that beauty can also be surprising, it can also be challenging and, inside of that, it can also be simple."

In fact, Thompson explained that she's become tired of the "oppressive" prescriptive styles dominating the fashion world today. "I like the idea that I get to decide what makes me beautiful and that can change radically," she said. So, instead, as she told Elle UK, she uses fashion to explore other characters and personas. After all, it's pretty fun!

The actress has started her own production company

2021 marked a big development in Tessa Thompson's career as she launched her own production company, Viva Maude. She hopes it will give other women of color the confidence to start their own companies as they are under-represented in this area of the industry. She told gal-dem, "It's something that I've wanted to do for some years. I didn't even know if it needed to be a company necessarily but I just knew that I wanted to focus more squarely on producing." She feels holding this position will enable her to "create spaces for so many different kinds of Black women, because we are not a monolith to be seen on screen and I do feel really conscious that some Black women don't see themselves in me." 

The company has been given the go-ahead for upcoming projects such as adaptations of Africanfuturist novel "Who Fears Death" by Nnedi Okorafor and the 2020 National Book Awards finalist "The Secret Lives of Church Ladies" by Deesha Philyaw.

Tessa Thompson is focusing on self-care and stepping away from her screens

These days, Tessa Thompson is focusing on keeping her life simple and healthy. A big part of her new self-care routine involves removing herself from the toxic noise of the internet. In fact, limiting her screen time has become an important part of her life — as she told InStyle, she has even removed Twitter from her phone and limits her time on Instagram. She is also focusing on getting at least eight hours of sleep a night. Instead of spending her time scrolling, she has preferred to dedicate her time to exploring local spots in her neighborhood.

Perhaps the most important thing she has learned? "I can always just shut down my laptop and not read about the public part of me," she told the Evening Standard. "I think we all spend too much time on the internet anyway." That's definitely a sentiment we can agree with.