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'Creed II' star Tessa Thompson speaks to The Voice

PICTURED: Tessa Thompson

MEDIOCRITY ISN'T something that most people aspire to. But for Tessa Thompson, she acknowledges that as a woman of colour in Hollywood, the ability to be less than exceptional is not even an option.

“I hope we can get to a place where we get to be mediocre. I look around at all the women of colour working and they are so exceptional, which is incredible – but I hope we can get to a space where it’s normalised and we don’t have to be so gifted all the time,” she says.

And Thompson isn’t wrong – as the old saying goes, black people often have “to work twice as hard to get half as far”.

However, we are seeing a seismic shift in the breadth of black female representation in Hollywood, with the 35-year-old being one of the key faces taking on roles that were once a rarity for black and biracial actors. “I think during my career I made a decision that if it didn’t exist, I would just make it. That’s what’s so exciting about seeing so many trailblazers like Issa Rae or Lena Waithe. There are people who are seeing a de cit and deciding to make these stories themselves.”

Thompson’s colourful filmography is filled with complex characters which continue to challenge the star. She has featured in multiple small and major films, including 2010’s For Colored Girls, 2014’s Selma, and 2018’s Sorry To Bother You, not to mention blockbuster turns as Valkyrie in Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok, and reprising the role of Bianca Porter in Creed II.

“What I love about all of the women I’ve played recently, particularly Bianca, is that they have this ability to assert themselves,” says the LA native.

“I’m someone who’s really sensitive to other humans, but sometimes because of that you can be concerned about saying something that’s going to hurt someone’s feelings and I love that Bianca is a woman who insists on speaking her truth.”

STAR POWER: Tessa Thompson and Michael B. Jordan

The boxing sequel is the latest instalment in the ever-growing Rocky franchise, and there are many life changes for Bianca and Adonis Creed (played by Michael B Jordan). Three years on from the events of the first film, the couple are now engaged with a baby on the way, and Creed takes on his biggest fight yet against Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) – the son of the infamous Ivan Drago, who killed Apollo Creed in Rocky IV.

“Mike and I talked a lot about wanting these characters to have evolved in the years that have passed and also – in a life imitating art kind of way – he and I have evolved as friends and we wanted that to be reflected too,” reveals Thompson, who is of Panamanian, Mexican and white descent.

“So this time around we see the evolution of my character and that is largely re ected in the music. Bianca has now signed to a major label, her style has evolved, and I just love that in the context of a boxing movie she has her own stuff going on and I love that she has such agency.”

This agency that Bianca possess is an important quality for Thompson, who was adamant that her professional and personal growth was prioritised beyond being sidelined solely as Adonis Creed’s girlfriend.

“Steven Caple Jr [the director] is incredible, really sensitive and wanted all of my input and for this character to be a collaborative process. When I found out my character was going to be pregnant – which I was not a fan of in the beginning – my bottom line was like, ‘OK, as long as she’s making music’.

“I literally said to Steven in a video call that ‘she will not be barefoot and preg- nant making sandwiches’, and then we put that line in the film. My own personal anxiety of her being sidelined into just domesticity was put into the DNA of the lm, and I’m really grateful that Steven and the writers took to heart my concern.”

This openness among the cast and crew is re ected in their camaraderie – most nota- bly between Thompson and her co-star Michael B Jordan. “The cool thing is that Mike and I have a real familiarity,” Thompson says. “We had it even in the initial chemistry test and I don’t know what that is – you know when you meet someone and it’s just like you feel like you know them?”

“We stayed in touch for years since we made the first film and we’re still friends.” Both Thompson and Jordan continue to make strides in their careers, with many upcoming projects in the pipeline individually.

But in the midst of their rising stars, Thompson re ects on the magic of being a part of a long- running film series. “It’s been so cool to see Rocky fans embrace Creed so wildly because really and truly the films are a love letter to black folks.

“It’s so exciting to tell a story about real black love in the context of a boxing movie and the fact that people have embraced it is amazing.”

Creed II is in cinemas now

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