I'll let you in on a secret: Tessa Thompson is one of the celebrities that always get beauty newsrooms excited during awards season. I've sat through countless premier nights and Met Galas where my peers collectively gasp when Thompson arrives. Simply put—she's stunning. Still, much more than that, Thompson is a talented, multifaceted force with numerous accomplishments under her belt like the recent film, Passing, alongside Ruth Nega, which tells the complex story of race and friendship. Behind the scenes, Thompson plays, perhaps one of her most beloved roles, as the head lady in charge of Viva Maude, her very own production company.
Still, the actress has a particular excitement and grace as our cameras joined a video call to discuss her newest assignment as the new face of Armani Beauty. Thompson was glowing in a silky white blouse to match her white floral backdrop, and I immediately noted her stunning yet subtle makeup. It's something the actress has mastered, the art of style that's equal parts daring and delicate. It's why becoming the new face of Armani Beauty, a brand as innovative as it is timeless, is highly fitting for Thompson.
Ahead, the actress talks to us about the importance of her new beauty deal, how she juggles her career on and off the screen, and how she practices self-care in her downtime.
When you were announced as the new face of Armani Beauty we felt like the partnership made so much sense. How do you connect to the brand personally?
"It's so funny that you say it makes sense because that's how I felt. A few years ago, I felt like I've always wanted to do something like this to enter the beauty space. First and foremost, I would have these experiences of flipping through magazines and seeing beauty campaigns and not enough women of color represented. I started to understand how impactful that was, how early imagery that I looked at in magazines as a child might have shaped my idea of beauty and personhood.
"So I was already interested in the beauty space, but I've been using Armani products for so long. On one of my first jobs, I remember that the makeup artist there—bless her— didn't have the right shades for my skin. I was painted in something way too dark, and I didn't feel comfortable in my skin. Then, at one of my first big movie premieres, I worked with a professional artist on the red carpet for the first time, and he took out Armani foundation and put it on me. I instantly felt so beautiful, and that moment was so impactful. So, I got the product for myself, and I would take it to set. I love that there was such a great range at that time, especially for Black women.
"I can go to an Armani display and see that wide range. And for me, as a woman of color, I realize women aren't always going to look at me and feel seen because I am not encompassing of all shades. But it's important that when they walk into a department store, they feel seen by the brand. Being aligned with a brand that I have always felt seen by—and good in—feels incredible."
What are some of your go-to Armani Beauty products?
"I've loved Lip Maestro for a long time, and I love the texture and the neutral range. One has an earthy pink undertone that I love—one makeup artist mistook it for my natural lip color one time. I also love the Armani Fluid Sheer Glow enhancer, and there's a golden shade I use with my foundation, sometimes mixed in my moisturizer, on my face and chest. It just gives you that glow like you just got a facial.
"I've been recently introduced to Lip Power, a super long-wear lip formula that comes with a fine tip that is ideal for lining. I love that when I'm doing a bold, bright pout. It's also buildable and pigmented sometimes, and I like to dab a little on my cheeks and eyelids."
I can tell you're really passionate about makeup and beauty. How do you ideate your red carpet looks?
"I feel fortunate that so many of the folks I get to work with are dear friends and fun to collaborate for example. Lacy Redway, my hairstylist, is also a great friend. It's fun to work with my team and invent and send references to each other. I think of the red carpet as an opportunity to construct a character we're playing. My team is full of people who understand the freedom of play and invention and how important makeup, hair, and costume are in that space.
"One of my first big carpets was for the film For Colored Girls, and I wore Armani Beauty. I don't remember the exact shade, but I wore a bright fuchsia lip. At that time, I was new in the industry. Still, it felt good to go to a big red carpet and wear a bold color to challenge myself to go out there and be confident despite being nervous. Many of my favorite moments are pretty simple, but I love incorporating a bold lip. Of course, all of the Met Gala looks are some of my favorites because they were so fun and playful."
We've seen you evolve as an actress on screen, but you've been building a name for yourself in the production world. How do you juggle this new part of your professional life?
"The production company has been such a joy and something that I've wanted to do for so long. I finally have the time to slow down and concentrate on that in a meaningful way. I wanted to start Viva Maude for several reasons.
"Some actors focus only on their contributions and role, which helps them have tunnel vision. It helps them to create a safe space to perform. For me, I've always been interested in different elements. I go on set, and I'm looking at what everyone's doing. Getting to step up as a producer allows me to contribute to stories in a way that feels holistic. It allows me to concentrate on the totality of the story instead of my sole individual contribution.
"I also have an interest in stories that I don't belong in. One of my biggest goals with the company is to tell varied stories and create opportunities—particularly for Black women—that I wish existed when I was coming up. Black women aren't monolithic, and I hope these opportunities speak to the beauty and breadth that we come in all shapes, sizes, and shades. For that reason, I think there are some narratives I don't belong in, but I want to shepherd them into existence which is a motivating factor for me. Selfishly, I also want to create the kind of work I like to watch because my interests are so varied.
"At Viva Maude, there are things you might come to expect, but there are also projects I think people might not expect. We want to venture into documentaries, and I am also interested in unscripted series and making good reality television."
When you aren't filming, working on Viva Maude, or working on other projects, how are you showing up for Tessa? What does a self-care day look like for you?
"Over the pandemic, I've gotten deep into baths. I try to take a lot of them. I like to read, which sometimes intersects with my work since much of our production is based on books. Reading feels like self-care. I also really love skincare, and I've gotten more experimental about it in the past year. I've had a few fumbles, you know, one-too-many at-home peels. So I've had to scale back and be a bit conservative because my skin is sensitive. Still, I like to curate at-home regimens and watch my dog while I sit at home and apply stuff. Those things are fun, and so is hanging out with friends and family."
What are you looking for most in the new year? Any personal goals or aspirations?
"With the reflection time we've all had, I think one opportunity—for me—is to reinvestigate the why? I love what I do, but what about my work is meaningful and important to me? I think that we've seen that across industries. There have been so many people who have decided not to return to work or change their work course.
"So I think that period of reevaluating what makes you happy and why was critical. I'm excited to reenter the world with that clarity, and I'm also excited to meet people with the same clarity. I think it's been transformative, and I'm optimistic about the personal growth that people—and even companies—have had. It's not that things are entirely over, but I think moving through this space with hopefulness even in the scary times helps us find the bright spots."