Astaire and Rogers. Day and Hudson. Ryan and Hanks. Roberts and Gere. Once upon a time there were iconic actor duos, folks who would pair up time and again to bring audiences the tried and true teamwork and chemistry they'd come to love. That long-standing Hollywood tradition seems to have faded, but it might be finding its way back with the help of the Avengers and a little thing called Instagram.
Tessa Thompson & Chris Hemsworth's movie bond is one for the ages, born out of Thor: Ragnarok, cemented by Avengers: Endgame, and basically the main selling point for their new movie, MIB: International (their hilarious on-set Instagrams are a master class in organic marketing). But unlike just about every iconic male-female Hollywood pair before them, Hemsworth and Thompson are making audiences fall in love with their very platonic, very hilarious, and very equal friendship.
"Someone did say to me recently, which I hadn't really thought about, how rare it is. They were trying to recall another film in which, there's a male and a female protagonist in the film, particularly the action space, and they're equals," Thompson tells Refinery29 the morning after MIB's premiere in New York. While her character, M, is a rookie, she points out that both she and Hemsworth's H carry equal screen time, both have their own agency as they navigate the plot that involves an MIB mole, shape-shifting aliens, and a mega weapon from space. "I suppose there is something about teaming up again and it not being romantic at all that does buck convention."
Not that no one's tried to take Thompson and Hemsworth's characters somewhere, shall we say, sexier before. When Thor: Ragnarok was in development, their characters (Thor and Valkyrie) were supposed to be romantic. But screenwriter Eric Pearson explained to Yahoo! Movies in 2017 that eventually, the filmmakers decided they didn't want to sideline Thompson's character by making her all about a romance with Thor: "It was like, Let’s give Valkyrie her own story that connects with Thor … and if it makes sense for them to get together, then great. You’ve got two really good-looking people who can fight and who’d probably be [good together] if the story went there, but it just didn’t."
For MIB, Thompson describes a similar series of events, because, once again, the question of romance reared its head during production. "We were figuring out with the producers and the director and the studio what we wanted to do and there were moments where we thought, okay, do we want to take it there? Do [they] kiss and does it become romantic? And I think just collectively we thought the more interesting thing is no, it doesn't."
There might be some audience members that thereby think that it is romantic just because we're a man and a woman.
Thompson describes M and H's bond as more "brother and sister" than anything else — though a few scenes that may give rampant 'shippers all the ammunition they need to craft a different narrative.
"There's certainly a scene in the movie where we talk about love, and there might be some audience members that thereby think that it is romantic just because we're a man and a woman," she says. "But if you remember all of the previous films, Will Smith's character and Tommy Lee Jones [both] talk about love. It's one of the things that happens between these partners, because one of the mandates of the [Men in Black] is that you don't have a personal life; that you don't have love. I think that remains to be a curiosity between coworkers in this space because obviously that's something that's so sort of fundamentally human."
And while the reactions to MIB: International are less than stellar, it's only human to want to see more of these real-life friends buddy up on the big screen — as the platonic duo we've come to know and love. If Thompson gets her way, there's lots more where these last three movies came from.
"I just love working with Chris so much. He's so incredibly gifted and has such dexterity as an actor. Working with Chris was my introduction to making these sort of bigger, action, CGI movies, which I've been wanting to do just to see if I could," she says. "I sort of love that kind of iconic Hollywood thing of pairing two actors over the course of their career, and they get to do all sorts of things together. So I think of it like that with Chris and me. I hope that we get to make many more things together."
So does the internet, Tessa. So does the internet.