On the surface, Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez couldn't be more different. As Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok, and Charlotte Hale in Westworld, Thompson has built her Hollywood career around portrayals of badass women who take what they want, when they want it, consequences be damned. Rodriguez, on the other hand, is best known for the more quiet strength of her Jane the Virgin character, Jane Villanueva. But in their own ways, both have been groundbreaking in their contributions to the way women — and more specifically women of color — are portrayed onscreen: While Thompson has perfected the art of the female swagger, Rodriguez recently directed her first Jane episode, and is vocal in the struggle to ensure better Latinx representation in Hollywood.
In Annihilation, those roles are reversed. Rodriguez plays tough-as-nails paramedic Anya Thorensen, and underwent a physical transformation to get into character that involved weightlifting, cutting her hair short, and shaving the side of her head. As physicist Josie Radeck, Thompson is most fragile of the group, soft-spoken and whip smart where Thorensen is impulsive and brash.
This willingness to put actors, and in turn the characters they play, out of their comfort zones, is part of what makes Annihilation such a striking film. The science fiction thriller centers around Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist and Army veteran who, in an attempt to save her husband, joins a dangerous expedition into the Florida swamps to discover the cause of an expanding phenomenon known as "The Shimmer," that some suspect has extraterrestrial origins. Joining her are a physicist (Thompson), a paramedic (Gina Rodriguez), a psychologist (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and an anthropologist (Tuva Novotny), all of whom bring their own secrets and baggage into the mix, to sometimes explosive results.
The importance of having five women lead a film in a genre traditionally dominated by men isn't lost on its cast. In the video above, watch Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson interview each other about what it was like to take on these unusual roles, their most memorable moments on set, and why they had nightmares before filming.
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