In ELLE’s May 2021 Rising Stars issue, on newsstands May 4, Zazie opens up about dealing with impostor syndrome, feeling uncomfortable on set and using her platform to help people to understand the significance of community and why people of color will be hit the hardest by climate change—and to extend an open hand to anyone who is interested in engaging with the movement: “The climate movement can feel very white,” Beetz says. “I wanted people to see that there are so many people who look like me already doing the work.”
On finding it difficult to feel comfortable on set and why she’s so excited to go back to shooting Atlanta: “I’m inherently an introverted person, so going on set can be hard for me,” she says. “It takes me months to really feel comfortable. And by the time I do, it’s over.” Which is why she’s so happy to soon be back with her Atlanta castmates, after wrapping the second season three years ago. “I’m really excited to be going back to shooting Atlanta because “I’m just like, I’ll be with a family,” she says.
As the daughter of a white German cabinetmaker and a Black American who works at a nonprofit, Beetz has been exploring her relation to race and identity since childhood. She was born in the Mitte district of Berlin, its centermost borough, about two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The year before she was born, her father, whom she describes as “very much a German man,” visited the United States for the first time and fell in love with Beetz’s mother. Once her mom became pregnant, they moved to Germany and got married. But they didn’t stay long—Beetz’s mother had a difficult time because she couldn’t find many others who looked like her, so they moved back to America, settling in New York City. When Beetz visited her German grandparents every summer, “I wouldn’t see another person of color for weeks, at all, no one…not any other color,” she says. “And if you did, you would wave at each other and be like, ‘Hi. I see you.’ ” Nevertheless, Beetz identifies very strongly as both Black and German, and constantly assesses the differences in her experiences in Europe and the U.S. She observes how much Berlin is changing after a century of political turmoil and upheaval. Even her mother, who didn’t return to the country until 2019, is finding new ways to process the transformation. “She was like, ‘Wow! I could live here now,’ ” Beetz says.
On wanting to play characters who are complicated, because they feel the most truthful: “I find characters who are really grappling with what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong—I feel like that’s such a reflection of life to me, always reevaluating based on context and on your experience.”
Beetz’s choice of roles has brought her much success—and also a touch of impostor syndrome. Her rise was fast. In 2014, just one year out of college, she booked her first gig. The following year, she booked Atlanta. “I think initially I just really felt like, Have I paid my dues? Do I deserve this?” she says. Throughout her career, Beetz has been vocal about her struggles with success, including a fear of failure and of being unable to meet the expectations of her audience, casting directors, and coworkers. But her Atlanta costar Brian Tyree Henry says her talent was apparent from the jump. “Zazie has such a power and presence about herself that is so undeniable,” he says. “She has this fantastic gift of being completely rooted, but light as air at the same time. Not many can give characters the grace and willingness that she does…. There is a simplicity to her pain, her joy, her struggle that makes it so seamless to follow any journey she is on.”
Beetz wants to use her platform to help people to understand the significance of community and why people of color will be hit the hardest by climate change—and to extend an open hand to anyone who is interested in engaging with the movement. “The climate movement can feel very white,” Beetz says. “I wanted people to see that there are so many people who look like me already doing the work.”
[Photo Credit: Adrienne Raquel For ELLE Magazine]