“I’m from New York City. I grew up in Washington Heights, and I don’t think uptown really gets the credit it should. I went to Skidmore for college, and majored in French. I love languages. I find that in different languages you can have different personalities. I’m fluent in German and English, and after I took French 101 I just couldn’t get enough of it. My name is from a book, Zazie dans le Metro, and I had a little fantasy of reading my namesake in its original language. I haven’t done it, but I still adore French. I also did theater in college. Acting was kind of the hobby that stuck—I find it to be incredibly cathartic. Sometimes people say, ‘I’m a good liar, I can act,’ and I always feel like that’s insulting, to be frank. I think acting is all about truth. I love that you have permission to feel full anger or full sadness—there are very few times in your life where you can push it that far.
After I graduated [from Skidmore], I came back home to New York and tried to pursue acting. It’s a convoluted story. I was working, serving tables and babysitting, and I also had this unpaid internship at a casting agency. Another intern was at the MFA program at Columbia for directing, and she needed an actress for a scene. I ended up doing a bunch of work with MFA student directors—one of the professors referred me to his agent, who is my agent today. My first movie was in 2014, and it was called Applesauce—I had maybe eight minutes of screentime. After that I booked another movie, where I had maybe two minutes of screentime. Significant Wolves was the first time I had to quit my job to do a movie, and I fully expected to go back [to serving tables]. While I was shooting I auditioned for Atlanta, and then we shot the pilot, and then it got picked up. That was in 2015, so, quick. It was very emotionally jarring for everyone involved—even for Donald [Glover], who already had a public name. It was a huge shift in our lives and careers. When we were shooting, I remember thinking about how only one hundred people knew about the show, and how we would soon have to give it away. But when we came back for season two, it felt like a homecoming. I felt like I was coming back to people who knew me, which makes the process of working so much more joyful.
TV has had a really large shift in even the last five years, and it’s attracted all these incredible writers. You can tell an extended story without being attached to it forever, which is great. But what I love about film is just having a bite, and leaving it there. You come into a story and you leave it—there’s not a cliffhanger to keep me coming back. I have a film called Seberg coming out in the fall. There are elements of the Black Panther movement and Hollywood in it, and it explores how that affected culture in the United States. I’m also in the Joker movie, which I’m very excited about. I think it’s going to be a wonderfully real look at humanity.
In my own personal life, I have a strong sense of what I like and what I don’t like—in terms of clothing, in terms of my hair. But for events, it’s hard to really clearly communicate what I like without feeling like I’m going to hurt people’s feelings. I actually think I am more conservative on the red carpet than I am in my personal life. It feels like something for other people, where I have to fulfill certain expectations. I’m trying to lean more into trying new things, even if I’m not totally comfortable—I have more events to go to now, so it doesn’t matter if I look bad at one of them. [Laughs] I’m loosening up—it’s new.
In my own personal life, I have a strong sense of what I like and what I don’t like—in terms of clothing, in terms of my hair.
I am absolutely not a morning person. No—I am a night owl for sure. I love the night, and its length, and its silence. I wake up at 11AM or 12, and then venture to the bathroom to pee and wash my face. I usually use the Fresh Soy Cleanser, and then the True Botanicals Cellular Repair Serum on my face and neck. At night, I’ll mix that serum with the Vitamin C Booster. In the past two years, I’ve been noticing some sun spots and fine lines, and I find that the booster brightens my skin, almost like an exfoliant. After the vitamin C, I’ll use True Botanicals’ Pure Radiance Oil, which is really thick and decadent, and feels really yummy. Lotions often leave a residue, and I find oil to feel more like something my body would naturally create. It feels more comfortable on my skin, and I think it absorbs better.
I’m not a toner lady, but I use all kinds of masks—whatever I can get my hands on. I like the sheet masks from Sephora, and I love an exfoliating mask. I have had to wash things off that are too strong, but the one from True Botanicals is a gentle sting—a gentle reminder. I put that on at night, before bed, and leave it on. I also sometimes use Sugar Polish from Fresh. I think physical exfoliants are out of date, but it does provide immediate results. I don’t wear SPF every day, but if I know I’m going to have a lot of sun exposure I like Sun Bum. I’ve always been afraid of SPF because I feel like it always makes me break out, but the tradeoff is longevity and skin health and preventing cancer. So I make myself do it when I have to. I’m trying to find an SPF that just feels like a moisturizer. But that one works for now.
Am I a makeup person? Eh, yes and no. I like to play with it, but for the most part I feel very comfortable without makeup. Sometimes I don’t even put on foundation, and when I do it’s usually not on my whole face. I’ll put it in the center, and keep the outskirts of my face makeup-free. It just makes it look more organic. I used to use the Nars tinted moisturizer, but I think Marc Jacobs Shameless Foundation looks more like skin on me. It feels very sheer, even though the Nars is probably more sheer. If I have a pimple, I’ll tap Nars concealer on it and buff it out to the edges. Sometimes I’ll use a Beautyblender to taper it out, but beyond that everything is with my fingers.
If I am doing an eye thing, I either like browns or a punch of glitter. For a long time I was using this Urban Decay Moondust palette, but I also like those Fenty Beauty eyeshadow sets. They have an orange and pink one, and a blue and lavender one. I’m down for almost any color—a bright green, or blue, or purple, or orange, or pink. Do you know when eyelashes kind of triangulate sometimes? I like that. I used to use Marc Jacobs Velvet Noir, and liked that for a long time, but now I use MAC Extended Play. I like having a flush on my cheeks, and I’ll use blush on the bridge of my nose, too—I like to look like the sun almost burned me. Sometimes I’ll use Glossier Cloud Paint, or a Tarte creamy contour stick instead. I love a wash of ‘70s brown. I’ll put that on my lips, too—I like things that take down the pink in my lips and make them more monochromatically brown. Chanel Deauville [Ed note: discontinued] is a little grayish, and I love that too, or there’s a brown Sephora lip gloss that I use. If I’m wearing a lip, it’s usually very neutral—I kind of can’t stand lipstick. I can’t kiss, I can’t eat, I can’t drink. On the rare occasion I do a red lip, it has to be a dark brick red, and I haven’t found anything like that. What I do is take Ruby Woo from MAC, put black eyeliner on, and blend it out with a little lip balm to make it less matte. Nothing on my brows.
BODY + FRAGRANCE
I actually think Americans shower too much. I like a cat wash—I do my face, my armpits, and my… intimates. I’ll use cocoa butter to moisturize. Nostalgic and functional—and it smells wonderful. Sometimes I use Sabon’s body scrub, but most of the time I just make my own with brown sugar and an oil, or brown sugar and honey. That’s quick and easy. I don’t use any perfumes… they’re so expensive. For years, I have been saying that I want a scent, because I love when you smell somebody and think, ‘Ah, you smell like you.’ But I kind of do have a scent—it’s just from the products I use, and not from perfume.
I have done acupuncture before. It’s so interesting… I did it for anxiety, and it really did work. I went to this place called Brooklyn Acupuncture Project, and they have a sliding scale where you pay based on an honor system of what you think you can afford. It’s a fantastic, beautiful establishment, and exactly what I needed at the time. I remember the first time I went, I came home and sobbed to my partner because I had relief. It was very strange and immediate.
NAILS + FITNESS
I used to love painting my nails, but now I like them natural. I always use a scissor—I hate the feeling of nail clipper. It’s a little violent. I had to take this nail file from my grandma in Germany, because it’s the only kind I like. I can’t find them anywhere else in the US.
When I was Domino in Deadpool, I was on this really intense workout regimen. In the morning I would do two hours of fight training, which was essentially mixed martial arts stunt work. Then, in the afternoon, I would do two hours of weightlifting. That was five days a week, four hours a day, for months. I didn’t have much of a workout routine before, and such an abrupt shift was traumatic for my body. I have to say, I prefer my body when I work out less. I missed my softness—I felt less feminine.
My hair is usually in a big bun on the top of my hair—messy, whimsical, with curls all over hanging out. The thing is, in my head I always look like Marie Antoinette. That’s not what I look like. Or I do a half-up-half-down, with a messy top and a braid out. I’m trying to be more comfortable with wash and go’s, but I love length, and my hair just doesn’t grow! I get my length in braid-outs. I had never gotten my hair cut before I met Lacy [Redway], who trims my hair.
My hair is usually in a big bun on the top of my hair—messy, whimsical, with curls all over hanging out. The thing is, in my head I always look like Marie Antoinette. That’s not what I look like.
When I was a kid, my mom never let me straighten it—she’d do my natural hair in braids and twists, with no extensions. But in high school, I was afraid I wouldn’t know what to do with my hair if I wanted to wear it out. I didn’t really see any other option than to try it and see. I had people constantly touching my hair. Strangers, people on the street… it’s really quite amazing, and very strange. This was before the big natural hair movement in the US, and there were very few girls in my high school who wore their hair out in their natural texture. A few actually told me that I inspired them to do it, too. The switch from straightening their hair to going natural was often very dramatic for them and their parents.
I wash like once every three weeks. I used to have a system about it, but nobody’s got time for that. In terms of shampoo, I sort of use whatever’s lying around in the house. I’m not too precious about it. I used to be, but I’m not anymore. Then I condition with Shea Moisture usually, or one from Miss Jessie’s. Shea Moisture’s lovely because it’s sulfate free, paraben free—Miss Jessie’s has a bunch of additives. But… you know. Sometimes it works. I’ll mix an oil from Koils by Nature into my conditioner, and then I detangle with a wide-tooth comb.
Almost every night before bed, I’ll pull up something to watch, usually Youtube, and spend an hour combing and braiding my hair. That’s my ritual. I usually put in an oil, or this Miss Jessie’s Baby Buttercreme, or a mask from Shea Moisture. You’re supposed to wash it out, but I leave it in. Maybe I do 15 braids. I’ve never liked the way it feels to sleep on silk—it feels sort of grimy. I don’t have the patience for a silk scarf, and I have a Slap cap, but a bonnet always falls off. I just sleep with my braids.”
—as told to ITG
Zazie Beetz photographed by Tom Newton in New York on July 17, 2019.