Whether she’s working her natural strands into Bantu knots before bed as Van on the FX series Atlanta or deftly combating villains as Domino in the superhero franchise Deadpool, Zazie Beetz is magnetic—the type of actor who reels you in a little closer to the screen. Her performances feel so visceral that when you meet Beetz in person, there’s already a sense of intimacy, like she’s revealed part of her true self on screen.

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“Acting allows this wonderful privilege of being able to feel all of your feelings at 100%,” says Beetz, who has played a range of characters in everything from comedy to drama. “It’s a way to unapologetically tap into my anger or my sadness or my joy and explore myself, and it can be an amazing release to have that sort of cathartic experience. Every role is coming from me, so every role is a part of me.”

While Beetz broke out in the indie space, she is moving toward taking on larger projects with her latest role as working mother Sophie Dumond in Joker opposite Robert De Niro and Joaquin Phoenix. She describes the upcoming Warner Bros. production as a gritty take on the mainstream crime story, an aesthetic more reminiscent of the genre in which she got her start. It’s also a rare chance to be back home in NYC, and after a demanding year of filming various projects on location, the comfort of being able to end the day with her partner and cats “feels very healthy.”

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With these larger roles comes the pressure of a wider audience, a reality that is not lost on the burgeoning star. “It’s a lot to have the spotlight thrust onto you quite suddenly—my career took off pretty quickly, and I’ve become increasingly precious about my personal life,” she says. “But I’m aware that if you have the opportunity to use your voice in an effective way, you should. I’m not an authority on race or being a woman; I am an authority on my own experience, and that’s how I’ll engage.”

Beetz was born in Berlin—her father is German and mother American—before moving to New York and attending a performing arts high school. She got into acting through community theater, eventually landing TV roles on Netflix’s Easy in addition to Atlanta, for which she was nominated for the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Emmy this year. As her career evolves, Beetz has never lost sight of what drew her to this craft in the first place: “There’s an element of just loving dress-up and coming out of myself in that way—exploring myself through roles.”

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Her approach to fashion is equally intuitive. “I’ve always been very in touch with how to express myself through style,” she says. For her increasingly frequent red carpet appearances, Beetz only occasionally works with stylists—choosing her looks based on feeling rather than the sartorial politics of whether a piece has been worn before or how it will photograph.

On the set of her Barneys shoot, Beetz is quietly commanding as she embodies the varied looks, from the earthy ease of Pas de Calais to the bold spirit of Givenchy. “On a small scale, each outfit was like a different role or character that I got to play. It was so much fun.”

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