Tessa Thompson has a quiet confidence that can sometimes be rare in the world of entertainment. Surrounded by boisterous personalities and larger-than-life stars on shows like HBO’s Westworld and as Valkyrie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thompson sets herself apart with a cool energy that flirts with nonchalance.
The 36-year-old actress sits down on the couch in front of me and allows the snuggly material to devour her petite frame, while adjusting her limbs to get even cozier. Thompson has a velvety tone to her voice that makes you want to sit back and listen as if you are old friends. Raised in Fort Greene in Brooklyn, Thompson grew up exploring charming bookstores and foraging for one-of-a-kind trinkets from local boutiques. “Shopping small was sort of a daily occurrence. And I think particularly when you’re a local—for example, one of my favorite stores in New York is McNally Jackson Books and I go in with my dog, and they know my dog Coltrane by name,” Thompson says, referencing the importance of Small Business Saturday and American Express. “I watched Cheers as a kid, so the idea of like, going to a place where everyone knows your name is nice,” she adds with a cheeky laugh, quickly recognizing her accidental mention of the show’s theme song. Thompson was showing her support at the American Express Platinum House along with author Elaine Welteroth.
It is clear that Thompson treasures relationships whether that be with her local community in Los Angeles or Brooklyn, or new cities she travels to, but she readily admits that she will always have a vested interest in certain places in New York City. “I just love the boutique Sincerely, Tommy. I feel like it’s an extension of what I remember growing up in Brooklyn and finding all of these cool stores with my parents.”
Thompson’s father was a musician in the collective Chocolate Genius, Inc. and bestowed onto Thompson a love for music. “I love vinyl and I collect it,” Thompson tells me. Her character in the upcoming film Sylvie’s Love works in her father’s record store and Thompson says that the role was a perfect fit since she already loves spending time in record stores. “So many things attracted me to the role. It is centered around a lot of music and young love.” Sylvie’s Love is set in both 1957 and 1963 and Thompson’s character meets a jazz player in her father’s record store which leads to a romance.
“The leads, Nnamdi Asomugha and I, are both people of color, so to get to tell a period love story that’s [of] two people of color that’s just about their love and not any external drama, except the interpersonal drama of being in love—those stories are so, so rare,” she adds of what really attracted her to the project.
The film’s storyline sounds nearly fantastical to me. I ask Thompson if she thinks that two people can realistically meet by chance in a local record store and fall in love. “I would really like to that that it’s not something from a bygone era,” she says with almost childlike optimism. “I do think maybe something that prevents us in the modern world from finding love or connections is the way we’re on our phones so much.”
Though Thompson admits she is also guilty of it, she believes that there is always a chance that someone interesting could be right in front of you if you lower your phone for a moment. “We don’t do that nearly enough but I think those things are still possible. I’ve heard about people meeting on a park bench,” Thompson tells me. Although I’m skeptical of this, as a native New Yorker, Thompson’s next statement secured my belief in park bench romance.
“I think if there is any city, particularly in the United States, where you could do that, it is New York City,” she decides. While Thompson might be a big-screen celebrity and an actual Avenger, New York City will always bring this starlet home, offering her and Coltrane solace in a local bookstore or a comfy couch in Union Square. “I love that you can alternately be in the middle of humanity in Manhattan but also because of that, you can feel like you’re invisible, which can be a nice thing,” she adds with a content smile.