story / Anton Handel
photography / Shelby Duncan
makeup / Samuel Paul
Hair / Candice Birns
styling / Annie Castaldi
Best known for her role as Jackie Cooke on Veronica Mars, Tessa has also made appearances on shows like Cold Case, Heroes, and Grey’s Anatomy. Born in Cape Town, this lovely lady is of African-American, Mexican, Caucasian, and Central American descent, which explains her striking appearance. It’s not the only thing, however, that’s striking about her though! Ladygunn got the privilege of getting to know what makes Miss Thompson tick.
Tell me something crazy about yourself. I’ve never eaten an egg.
My parents allowed me to be really rigid with the couple things I wanted to be rigid about, as a kid. I didn’t want to eat eggs. I didn’t want to eat meat. I didn’t want to drink milk—I pretty much had a hard time with all animal products as a kid. I also didn’t eat eggplants because I thought they were somehow connected.
So you’re still a vegetarian? You know, not really. I just eat what appeals to me. I’ve never had a steak. I’ve never had a hamburger, but I’ve had the thalamus gland of a calf. I’ve had sweetbreads and calf brains, just certain exotic morsels of animal products. But a steak – I have no interest in that.
I also have a sort of pugnacious attitude, so I love saying that I’ve never done something that’s so pedestrian that everyone’s done…like eating an egg!
How long have you been an actress? Six years, doing film.
What was your first auditioning experience like? My first ever? The first audition that I really remember vividly would probably be the very first job I ever booked. I suppose it’s not the first one I remember, but it’s the first one I chose to remember because it was a positive experience!
I was auditioning to play a teenage, bootlegger, cross-dresser in 1930, and I was really excited because it was finally a character I could sink my teeth into – not just the typical girl-next-door that I had been reading for. This was a real character. I remember I stuffed all my hair in a little hat, and I came in posturing. The director, Mark Pellington, took one look at me and said, “Let’s read it.” It was really comfortable. We read it, and he told me in the room that the part was mine, and that was my first job! It was a great experience.
He had me stick around, and I even got to read with the actresses that would play my love interest. It was amazing seeing the other end of it, sitting in the room, waiting for the other actors to come in to read with me, and seeing how nervous they were. It made me realize how ephemeral the experience is. There is nothing you can do or say to prepare that makes you right for the part. So, the mind games that you play with yourself can be so inane. You just walk in, and no matter what, you are who you are. It was a great thing to realize so early on.
What was it like the first time you were recognized on the street? I was on Franklin Boulevard with my mother, and we were having lunch. I had just finished a season of Veronica Mars, but I didn’t watch the show when it was on. At the time the show was shooting, I was doing a play at one of the bigger stages in town. I hadn’t made the connection that there would be this whole new group of people that would know my work. I was walking on Franklin Boulevard with my mom; we were having lunch, and we passed by this group of girls who were sitting, eating outside. They started whispering, and someone laughed. They were clearly talking about me. I remember saying to my mom, “How rude!” because I thought they were talking shit. She said, “Maybe they saw you on television.” It was the first time that it ever occurred to me that it would be the case. I turned around and just looked at them. That’s when somebody yelled, “Jackie!”
Did it make you feel good? No, it was awful!
You’re involved in a lot of theater. How long have you been doing plays? Professionally, I did my first real play nine or ten years ago.
What are your favorite plays? I have a revolving interest in plays. It depends on the season. I love pretty much anything by Tennessee Williams, and The Tempest is right up there. It’s just a beautiful play.
Who are your favorite actors? Who inspires you? It’s funny. I have a couple of actors that I really admire of course – my Meryl Streeps—however, I tend to be more focused on certain performances I’ve seen. I’ll get obsessed with an actor in a particular role. Like right now to me, Bryan Cranston, on Breaking Bad is just astounding. I think he’s just so talented. I can’t stop watching Bryan Cranston. I have one more episode before I finish this forth season, and then I’ll be Cranston-less for a while! I won’t know what to do. I really dig him, and I really like Eartha Kitt. I really love Mae West. I love her work as an actress, but I also really love her as an icon. She was way ahead of her time. She had ownership over her branding, and she was writing plays that were banned! I’m really taken by her, presently. When I was little, I was inspired by Lucille Ball. She’s awesome. She once said, “I’m not funny; what I am is brave.” And it is reflected in her work. She was such a fearless actress.
There are so many people who are doing great work. I’m the same way about actors that I am about music.
What music are you listening to now? Right now I can’t stop listening to Little Dragon’s new record, Ritual Union.
Do you like working in television? Television is hard. The structure of television is very tidy, and I am not a tidy actor. I find it a little constricting, but I do like it. The main thing I’ve come to realize as an actor is that you’re dead in the water if you judge the material. You have to find a way to work with everything and get on with it.
When did you know that you wanted to become an actress? I think I knew as a child, but I think it also came from a fear of commitment! I didn’t like the idea of deciding to become just one thing. I can’t think of a deliberate moment that I decided to do it. I just started working professionally, and it became clear that this is what I enjoyed doing the most. Also, just living in LA, going into acting made sense. It’s like growing up in Michigan and going into the automotive industry. When I was young, I had this sense of wanting to see the world. The truth is, I get to do that with my work in a really beautiful way.
Talk to me about your part in “For Colored Girls”. I read the play when I was a little girl. I loved it so much, I remember taking it out of the library on Dekalb in Brooklyn. I don’t think I ever returned it! There are passages in that play that are so beautiful. Then the opportunity came up one afternoon on a lark. I was asked to send tape to audition for the movie. It was an amazing experience. It was challenging for sure. I think that I knew that part so well, and Tyler [Perry] is a master at getting a lot of material in a short amount of time. He is incredible. He works 10-hour days and answers to no one. I was lucky to be around those actors as well. Thandie Newton is incredible and generous, and it was fantastic working with so many talented women that I had connected to. I mean, when I was a kid, I was Janet Jackson circa Rhythm Nation for Halloween…twice! I even learned all the choreography.
The theme of this issue is nostalgia. What are you nostalgic for? I am nostalgic for a lot of things! I’m nostalgic for films that were shot on film, for pictures that you have to wait to develop. I’m nostalgic for when women wore hats and gloves and for when people dressed up to travel. I’m nostalgic for when people took trains! I’m so deeply nostalgic. Most of the music I listen to is from a bygone era. I’m wildly nostalgic. What am I not nostalgic about? I can’t even think!
We’re all inspired by people who have come before us. That seems to be its’ own type of nostalgia. You’re also trying to immortalize yourself in a certain way – hoping the future will be nostalgic for you.
Any words of wisdom to leave with us? Actually, yes! Something my dad used to tell me that I still think about. “Take a look at your breakfast plate. The chicken was involved, but the pig was committed.”