'Atlanta' Star Zazie Beetz On Acting Methods and Life Offscreen

'Atlanta' Star Zazie Beetz On Acting Methods and Life Offscreen

The Atlanta lead is all about life’s finer points.

The Atlanta lead is all about life’s finer points.

Photography: Bruno Staub

Styling: Julian Jesus

Text: Whitney Mallett

“I think what happens with a lot of writing and art is that specificity ends up being relatable while universality becomes vague,” contends Zazie Beetz, a star of the Donald Glover-helmed series Atlanta. One of 2016’s breakout shows, it chronicles the trials of an up-and-coming rapper, his cousin and manager Earnest, and the mother (played by Beetz) of Earnest’s young child. It’s a show grounded in the particulars of its namesake city, a fact Beetz cites as a reason for the show’s diverse appeal.

When it comes to developing characters, Beetz favors honing in on precise traits. “You can place that person much better than someone who has no specificity. No human has no specificity.”

For her part, Beetz’s own personal history has plenty of specificity. Born in Berlin, Beetz grew up mainly in Washington Heights, New York, though she returned to Germany each summer. In many ways, her acting career has been fated: she did community theater as a child, attended LaGuardia High School—known for its performing arts program and the alma mater of actors like Al Pacino and Jennifer Aniston—and later studied theater in college. However, she has questioned this career path. “I was having a huge crisis last year about whether or not I wanted to continue acting or if I wanted to be a midwife or engage in visual arts,” she reveals, adding that she strives to make room to pursue other interests besides acting, which include screenwriting and directing.

With her busy schedule, however, it can be tough to find the time. In addition to the demands of Atlanta—which got picked up for a second season—she had a recurring role in Joe Swanberg’s anthology-style TV series, Easy, and has shot several films due out this year, including Slice, a mystery with Chance the Rapper, and Geostorm, a global warming-themed thriller. She was also recently cast as Domino in the upcoming sequel to Marvel's Deadpool movie. Still, she’s bent on pursuing other passions. “I’ve had acting teachers say, ‘If you want to do anything else but act that means you’re not an actor,’ which I think is stupid!”

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