Like many film fans, Tessa Thompson first noticed her “Creed III” co-star Jonathan Majors during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, when he co-starred in Joe Talbot’s luminous feature debut “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” alongside Jimmie Fails. (That year, Thompson was on the U.S. Dramatic Competition jury, which awarded Talbot the directing award and the film a special award for “creative collaboration.”) She was taken with him from the start, and eager to work with the rising star.
Four years later, she got her wish. The pair star (alongside director Michael B. Jordan) in “Creed III,” which returns Thompson to the role of Bianca Creed and introduces Majors as an old friend of Jordan’s Adonis Creed, the fierce former Golden Glove champ Dame Anderson. For Thompson, it’s a full circle moment.
“I’ve been a fan of his from afar. I was at Sundance the year that his film, ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco,’ premiered, and it was the first time I got to see his work and just thought he was so tremendous,” Thompson said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “He’s an actor that I’ve been tracking. So I’m a fan. … I get so excited when people that I’ve been tracking come and join projects that I’m in. Because for me, it’s a team sport, so I’m like, ‘Oh man, we gotta get this person on our team. That person’s an ace.'”
Working alongside Majors and Jordan was exciting for Thompson, who relished the chance to watch the two stars, quite literally, duke it out.
“There’s a very fun thing for me on these films, which is that there’s kind of an aspect of it that I get to really be the spectator,” Thompson said. “Because typically, and on this one, especially, all of the boxing scenes are front-loaded, so the guys can get those scenes done, and then the work of all the narrative stuff typically happens after. During those [early] period of weeks, the work that I do is cutaway shots to me, work I can do very quickly, but I’m typically there to watch and be a part of the energy, and I love watching. I really enjoyed also coming when I wasn’t working, just to check out what it was like.”
For Thompson, who hopes to direct her own films soon, watching Majors work was especially thrilling. “I’m so fascinated, maybe also because of my interest in directing, with an actor’s process, because everyone comes at it in such wildly different ways,” she said. “I will say that Jonathan’s approach is very colorful. There is its own theatricality to the way that he approaches the work, and especially when the cameras are not rolling. I’m a lady of the theater! I very much enjoyed getting to watch that.”
Before the release of “Creed III,” however, Thompson was able to return to Sundance, which has often debuted films featuring the star, from Rebecca Hall’s “Passing” to Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You.” At this year’s festival, the actress was seemingly everywhere, presumably checking out other potential co-stars.
“First of all, I love going to film festivals when I don’t have a film, that’s not something I’ve done a ton,” Thompson said. “I’ve done it at Sundance now twice, once on the jury. This time, it was just casually.”
Asked to name her favorite films from this year’s Sundance, Thompson had her picks ready to go. “So, things I loved at Sundance: I’m slightly biased because I’m currently working with him, but this is really amazing because I have been a fan of his since he made his debut,” Thompson said. “Will Oldroyd, who made a film called ‘Lady Macbeth,’ which introduced us to the incredible Florence Pugh and the incredible Naomi Ackie. I love that film. I remember seeing a matinee and it shook me. You see those certain movies and they stay with you for a while, for the rest of your day. I’ve been tracking him for a long time.”
The duo are working on a hush-hush television project, so Thompson made the time to check out his latest, the Anne Hathaway- and Thomasin McKenzie-starring “Eileen.” “We’re working on something for television together, but I had this anxiety because I hadn’t seen ‘Eileen,’ and I was like, ‘Please let it be good. Please let it be, please let it be good,'” she said. “And it’s so good. I really, really loved ‘Eileen.'”
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Also on Thompson’s list? “I really, really, really loved the documentary ‘Invisible Beauty’ on Bethann Hardison,” Thompson said. “What I really like [when I’m] seeing films, obviously [I like a] film that I enjoy, but a film that also changes my mind about filmmaking. That’s something that I thought that film did so well, because the film itself is also in a way about filmmaking and authorship over stories, because Bethann, who is the subject of the documentary, is also one of the filmmakers. They talk about the process of making the film while making the film, and there’s something very like meta and just beautiful about it.”
She also went crazy for Sebastian Silva’s wild “Rotting in the Sun,” featuring social media star Jordan Firstman and Silva himself in a tale of disconnection (and lots more) in Mexico. “I really loved the batshit crazy film, ‘Rotting in the Sun.’ It’s so good and weird and the twist is so good,” Thompson said. “Recently, funnily, I was in Japan and something funky was happening with my eyes, so I went to a doctor and we were using the Google Translate apps back and forth. That device in the film was so funny, but then actually being in a semi-stressful situation and having to use that myself, I was like, ‘It’s so smart. It’s such an honest thing.'”
Final pick? Thompson added with a gasp, bringing it all back around: “And ‘Magazine Dreams,’ obviously Jonathan’s incredible in that!“
An MGM release, “Creed III” is now in theaters.
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