The Shape-Shifting Zazie Beetz

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Brittany Spanos
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‘I still feel young and small in a big, big world,” says Zazie Beetz. “My inner self sometimes feels in danger of being exposed.” Exposure is certainly a risk if your career moves as quickly as Beetz’s has. As Van, the on-off girlfriend of Donald Glover’s Earn on Atlanta, Beetz, 27, is a grounding presence in a sea of surreal turns. Her performance, infused with intelligence and vulnerability, has earned her an Emmy nomination — even though the role was initially designed to be more limited. Beetz has pushed behind the scenes to shape Van’s story-lines and expand her world beyond her life with Earn.

“I don’t just want to be the girlfriend,” Beetz says. “I feel very driven to making decisions that allow people to see me beyond one type.” To that end, Beetz has lined up a roster of roles that showcase her range. She kicked ass on the big screen last year as superhero Domino in Deadpool 2. This year, she’s flexed her muscles in Steven Soderbergh’s Netflix sports drama, High Flying Bird, and the psychological horror flick Wounds. She has five more films set for 2019, including Todd Phillips’ Joker adaptation, starring Joaquin Phoenix, in October.

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It’s hard to believe Beetz graduated from college just six years ago, not totally sure what path to pursue. Born in her father’s home country of Germany but raised in Upper Manhattan, Beetz was a creative child who enjoyed painting and visual arts so much she considered a career as a graphic artist. She studied theater at New York’s famed LaGuardia High School but shifted gears at Skidmore College, majoring in French. (Beetz is also fluent in German.) Let’s just say she likes to keep her options open. “I’m always questioning what I want,” she says. In the meantime, she’s living out as many lives as possible onscreen. “I don’t want to just be pretty,” Beetz says. “I want to be ugly, and I want to be bad, and I want to be good, and I want to be sexy, and I want to be asexual. I want to be able to transform as I transform in my life.”

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