Zazie Beetz pauses our interview to politely order a “London Fog” – a hot drink which consists of tea, steamed milk (oat milk in Beetz’s case) and vanilla syrup. Sipping her beverage intermittently, the 30-year-old German-born, American actress ponders each of my questions; her personality as warm as her cup of tea, and her responses considered and intelligent and interesting.

When we connect in late February, Beetz is still beaming from being awarded the inaugural Max Mara Women in Film Face Of The Future award last year, a title whose meaning the Atlanta actress has really thought about in great depth.

“I feel really moved and chosen,” she begins, her voice sweet. “I wasn’t expecting it at all, or thinking I should even be a candidate. It’s a pleasant surprise that people do see my work – or see how I engage with film to be inspiring, or sort of a depiction of what film could potentially be like in the future.”

Beetz’s appreciation for the Italian house is a mutual feeling. She earned her acting stripes when she was cast as Vanessa “Van” Keifer in Atlanta in 2015, a role which saw her get inside the head of a young mother finding herself and figuring out her relationship with her child’s father, Earn (Donald Glover).

You may have also seen Beetz as Sophie in Joker, Domino in Deadpool 2 or Mary in The Harder They Fall (the latter also starring Regina King who had all but wonderful things to say about the actress). Beetz also enlisted her husband to help her come up with Zazie Talks Climate, a series on her Instagram which addresses climate change and its impact on people of colour.

Beetz’s next big film role, however, is playing an assassin opposite Brad Pitt in Bullet Train (slated for release in Australia on July 21).

Ahead, we sit down with this intelligent mind and talk about fashion, her big film roles, and feeling insecure on set. Read on, I think you’ll enjoy it. Extra points if you have a London Fog in hand. 

Congratulations on being Max Mara’s 2021 WIF Face Of The Future Award recipient! Max Mara is run by a lot of really incredible women, and a beautiful family. What has your experience with the brand been like so far?

Oh my gosh. It’s been so wonderful. I loved getting to know the family when I went to Italy for the celebration. They were just honestly so welcoming and so warm. A lot of times, these types of experiences can feel corporate but this one felt quite intimate. It felt like they really cared, and it wasn’t just a publicity move.

“It honestly felt very real and [the family] have a genuine passion and interest in supporting women, and supporting women in film.”

What are your favourite Max Mara pieces?

I think for me it’s the coats. I love the silhouettes they do and they elevate almost every outfit. When I’m feeling like, ‘Oh, I need to dress this up a little bit’, I throw on a coat and it instantly makes me feel more together. I also really enjoy different fabrics and I like the richness of Max Mara’s suit textures.

Do you follow fashion trends? How do you put together an outfit in the morning?

I would say I do not follow fashion trends. I just follow whatever I’m feeling. I mean, I’m a rather emotional dresser, and I go by what I am needing to fulfil for the day. If I’m feeling rebellious, if I’m feeling sexy, if I’m feeling floral, that’s kind of what I follow. It’s very creative, and sometimes I think following trends doesn’t feel creative to me because it is dictating what you should be wearing.

We want to get to know you a little more. How would you describe your upbringing? What are your parents like?

My mum is Black, and my dad is German. I was born in Germany and when I was very young, we moved to New York City, which is where my mum is from. I basically grew up there and went back and forth between New York and Germany. But my formative upbringing was in New York. My dad’s a cabinet maker. My mom works in the social work field and I grew up in a very supportive, loving, wonderful environment. I have to say, I have the loveliest, most wonderful parents. They divorced when I was five, but they had joint custody.

How was living between two homes?

They lived in the same building so I would switch between their houses every day. When I was 13, mum moved 20 minutes downtown, which meant I would then switch every week.

What did they think of you wanting to become an actress?

I was really lucky that my parents fostered that creative part of me, and just followed my lead essentially. My dad to this day will be like, ‘You need to learn a trade’. But he also really honoured my creative expression which was multifaceted: I was acting and drawing and singing.

“My parents just let me grow my wings and do my thing.”

How did living in Berlin and New York influence your personality and passions?

I just love New York so much and the stimulation that it provides for my creativity. I think different things can provide stimulation. I also get a different kind of stimulation when I’m out in the country, and in the forest, or by the sea. It’s a different inspiration. But in New York, I’ve always felt like I could express myself fully. Growing up, I was very creative with my clothing choices – I was always sewing my own stuff and putting my own things together. New York really allowed me to lean into that side of myself. I wonder if I could have leaned into that side as much had I not been living in New York. I felt like I wasn’t judged in that city.

How did you get into acting? And what drew you to the craft?

I started in school. When I was seven, I was part of the class play and I loved it. And then I was going to after school programs because my parents were working, and one of them was a theatre program. I just landed there, honestly by accident. I had a friend who auditioned, and I was like, ‘What’s an audition?’ And she told me, ‘It’s where you try for a play’. I just rang up and was like, ‘Hey, can I try?’ I ended up loving the experience so much. I kept doing that program through elementary school, and then in middle school and high school, I kept pursuing theatre.

We want to talk about your acting roles! What was it like working alongside Brad Pitt in Bullet Train?

Oh, he was wonderful. I came in and had this sort of fun bit in the film, and he was super ready to just jump in and play, and was so kind and gentle. The whole team in Bullet Train is basically the team that shot and made Deadpool. I felt a little bit like it was at my homecoming. Deadpool was the first big film that I ever really did, and it was this huge, life changing experience. Coming into Bullet Train – where my life had changed so much since Deadpool – and to see the same people being like, ‘Hey, look at how we’ve all grown’ was really cool.

You’ve spoken about being an “introverted” person. What type of self-mining do you do to overcome this in order to play big characters on (some very big, star-studded) Hollywood sets?

I mean, it’s hard. It’s interesting. I talk a lot about this with my partner, because he’s actually the opposite of me. I find being on set is sometimes quite painful. It takes up so much of my energy and leaves me feeling… I can feel very insecure. Some people, after working 12, 14 hours a day, go hang out afterwards – and my partner is like that. He loves to hang out afterwards, and he’ll continue to bond with everybody. And I’m like, ‘Get me home as soon as possible. I need to recharge immediately’. I just find it fascinating when people really do have that extra social, kind of, juice, left in them.

“I have become very sacred about my alone time.”

Your alone time is essential to you, isn’t it…

I need my alone time, it’s imperative to me. Otherwise I feel incredibly drained. It takes me some time to feel comfortable [on set]. I’m just a little bit more shy, I think. When we shot Atlanta, I already knew so many people, and so it was much easier to let go, and to not feel as exhausted at the end of the day. If you already have a relationship with people, you already have a shorthand way [of communicating]. It doesn’t feel as much like the first day of school, because you’re returning to old relationships. So I will say, if you’re doing TV and you like the people you’re doing it with, that is a wonderful element of the experience.

Van is such a great character in Atlanta, she’s nuanced and complex. What do you love about playing her?

I just love that Van’s a bunch of different contradicting things. I think she wants many different things, and is trying to achieve them all. She wants to be independent, she wants to be supported, she wants to be loved, and she also doesn’t want to need to be loved. She is a mother, and wants that identity, but then also feels trapped by that identity too. To me, that’s what’s interesting about being human: juggling a lot of these juxtaposing identities. I hope you guys are enjoying watching it.