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Getting Dressed With Tessa Thompson

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The Violet Files

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The Westworld antiheroine gets ready for the premiere of her latest film, Thor: Ragnarok, in her hometown of LA.

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tessa thompson

As Charlotte Hale on HBO’s Westworld, Tessa Thompson carries herself with the kind of icy poise that reduces those under her gaze—whether robot or human—to quivering wrecks. So it’s a nice surprise that the atmosphere in her suite is relaxed. Curled up in a fluffy bathrobe, the actress laughs non-stop with the hair and makeup team who’ve worked with her since she first hit the premiere circuit, offering quesadillas and ginger-grapefruit tonics to everyone who stops by.

Thompson’s latest role is in Thor: Ragnarok as Valkyrie, a character who couldn’t be further from her steely Westworld persona. Alongside Chris Hemsworth and Cate Blanchett (!), Thompson stars as a battle-hungry Viking space-woman, who teams up with Thor to defeat the goddess of death. “The physicality required [of the character] gives her this kind of explosive energy,” says Thompson, “but you also have to maintain this relaxed aspect and be like whatever, particularly because Valkyrie spends a fair amount of the movie a bit drunk!”

Despite the fact that Thompson is a Hollywood native, the actress takes a low-maintenance approach to off-screen glamour—she apologetically offers tea tree oil toothpicks as a “makeup must-have.”

Luckily for us, however, she confesses to a love of edgy, experimental fashion and beauty looks for the red carpet. Here, she talks to VIOLET GREY about growing up in Los Angeles, Prince, and the cathartic aspects of playing a superhero.

SUBJECT: Tessa Thompson
OCCUPATION: Actress, activist
OCCASION: The premiere of Thor: Ragnarok
TEAM: Mai Quynh (makeup), Christian Wood (hair), Steph Stone (nails), Wayman + Micah (styling)
VENUE: The Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills
THE LOOK: Schiaparelli gown

tessa thompson
  • 01

    VIOLET GREY: Off-screen, do you have a relationship with beauty?

    TESSA THOMPSON: Well, I really love getting made up but I’m not skilled at it. It’s not something I do a lot of, necessarily. But even in my career I feel like so much happens for me with costume, makeup and hair. There’s something transformative about changing the way you look. When it comes to red carpet stuff, I feel like [I’m playing] a character. Like tonight, I’m a character.

  • 02

    VG: What character are you tonight?

    TT: I’m wearing this Schiaparelli dress, this yellow gown. I’ve never done something that feels Old Hollywood—I guess I’m more interested in doing things that feel interesting. And I find the pressure to look “beautiful” sort of oppressive! That’s why I tend to wear things that feel more interesting, because then I relinquish myself of that responsibility. But tonight is just a really, really pretty dress. It’s kind of princess-y. I was just taken by the color. But I’m having a two dress night—I have a slip dress for the after-party. There’s also something magic about that Cinderella moment—pouf, the dress disappears at 10 p.m.!

  • 03

    VG: Well it’s the opposite of Valkyrie, your character in Thor, who’s incredibly physical—did you enjoy getting into that aspect of the role?

    TT: Yeah I loved it. Partially because I’m maybe not so good at doing that in my waking life. I’m a lady of leisure, I like to hang out and read. In my work, I like to do things that leave me with a more expansive idea of who I am. Or to take on roles I’m not even sure I can do—the physicality in this was daunting to me and I had to figure it out and work hard at it. And also this idea that, because so much of the work that you do as an actress is subjective, when you’re doing something so physical there’s an objectively good way to do it. You work with a stunt team and it’s good or it’s bad. And I liked that actually, having a clear barometer of accomplishment. There’s something so absolute. You can measure it.

  • 05

    VG: You’re a Los Angeles native. What was it like growing up here?

    TT: I would say that I don’t have much to compare it to, but that’s a lie. My Dad moved to New York when I was nine, so I grew up part-time in Brooklyn, and because of my work I travel so much. And certainly I’ve been to parts of the country I wouldn’t have [otherwise] traveled to. Which is great, because it’s really insular being only in Los Angeles or New York. But I was just texting with my Dad because I grew up very much in Hollywood—my Dad had a studio on Yucca and Ivar, and we would walk down to Hollywood Boulevard just to do errands and go to the library and stuff. The premiere tonight is at the El Capitan, and my Dad was saying what a trip it is for him to be back there. Before the Roosevelt was trendy, we used to go and use the pool there. And that’s where the after-party is—so it’s this odd, full-circle thing. I think a lot of people in the industry have come from elsewhere, and Hollywood to them is a notion. To me, it’s just a place that needs street cleaning.

  • 06

    VG: If you were to have an LA night to yourself, what would your ideal evening be?

    TT: If I wasn’t in a hotel room?! I would say one thing I really love about LA—and I miss when I’m in New York—is the dinner party. Also the potluck. It’s such a Los Angeles thing to get together and have a weird combination of food. Because no one has bothered to give a thematic idea of what to bring [laughs]. Those tend to be my favorite meals. And, because it’s LA, having to hear about people’s dietary restrictions once you’re there. But me and my girlfriends are really fond of that sort of a night. I also like to go to this Korean spa called Olympic Spa, and they’re open until 10 p.m. Or [you can] go there in the daytime and when you leave it’s pitch black outside.


The color of the dress is a mustard yellow, so I wanted to do a rusty brown on her eyes to play with these plum-y colors. I wanted it to be really polished, but not like, “oh my God look at that lipstick!” [laughs]. I wanted it just to be really fluid.


  • 07

    VG: If we were to have a look in your bag, is there a beauty item that’s always in there?

    TT: When I’m working a lot, I have those blue eye drops that you can get in Paris. And tea tree oil tooth picks—I really like those! And Marc Jacobs lip color in the shade No Angel. It’s kind of close to my natural lip color.

  • 08

    VG: Is there a film that inspired you to be an actress?

    TT: If I look back at films that had a profound affect on me, I think of Amelie – I remember the tagline was “she’ll change your life.” And I felt really changed! I remember leaving that theatre, and I was not a French girl with a perfect bob, but there was something about the story. It was so thoughtful and alive, and it spoke to something honest. A longing for and a simultaneous fear of a great love which alters you. And if you could be a part of making something like that, that feels so classic. And the Sally Potter film Orlando [which deals with] ideas of gender and identity. I loved Bowie and Prince from a young age, so seeing experiences that capture that [same perspective]. As a kid I was always really interested in identity and how arbitrary it can seem, what a performance it was.

  • 09

    VG: I was going to ask who your beauty icon is, but it seems like it might be Prince?

    TT: It’s Prince! It really is. But honestly, for the red carpet thing we were looking at lots of images of Diane Kruger! I just thought, she looks good all the time [laughs]! But I hear she dresses herself, she does her own makeup sometimes, and she always makes it look easy. But yes, Prince, he’s my number one.

tessa thompson

We started off by blowdrying the hair so that it was completely smooth. Then we used a really small curling iron on tiny sections to do a really tight curl. We kept brushing it out and brushing it out until it formed those old-school waves. And then we just used a serum and shine spray to give it some extra reflection in the light. I used a tail comb to shape the front into an ‘S’ and secured it with little sectional clips. You leave that for an hour and it just forms that Old Hollywood wave when you brush it out.


tessa thompson
tessa thompson

What’s Tessa wearing on her lips?
An Hourglass lipstick. I mixed two: I’ve Been and I’m Addicted.

Did you prime her skin? What foundation is she wearing? 
Just with moisturizer, and she’s wearing Armani.

What’s your go-to product at the moment?
I love the Tom Ford cream shadows—they’re my favorite.

Tessa’s known for her directional fashion on the red carpet. What made you want to go more classic tonight?
I think the last two premieres we’ve done were very directional and “fashion”. This is the first time where there was a really simple dress, and she’s just had her hair cut into a short bob, so I had this overwhelming desire for an Old Hollywood moment. But it’s only sort of an Old Hollywood moment because her hair is short and fresh—it’s not long Hollywood hair.

You gave it that 1940s aspect with the waves.
Exactly. The cut is kind of modern but the wave is old school. Somehow the combination of the two with the dress has a little bit of an edge to it, but it’s still very romantic.

I’m pleased there’s a new hair trend that isn’t “wet look”.
Remember when wet look hair was the number one look at the Emmys? Tessa and I did wet hair once, but I think it was nice to do something completely different. And glamorous! Everything’s about being undone, which is so great, but I think it’s important to remember that it’s Hollywood! You can be any character you want.

tessa thomspon