Emmy nominees

Zazie Beetz feels she doesn't deserve accolade

Biracial actress Zazie Beetz, who plays a former teacher, Van, in the series Atlanta, is nominated for an episode called Helen, where she has a debate on choosing black or white.
Biracial actress Zazie Beetz, who plays a former teacher, Van, in the series Atlanta, is nominated for an episode called Helen, where she has a debate on choosing black or white.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Zazie Beetz has had quite the year.

The burgeoning actor returned for Season 2 of FX's critically acclaimed dramedy Atlanta, unpacking more layers of her character Van in some particularly memorable episodes.

This summer, she reached an even wider audience with Deadpool 2 (2018), receiving accolades for her performance as Domino, a mutant whose superpower is luck.

And last month Beetz received her first Emmy nomination, for best supporting actress in a comedy for Atlanta.

As someone who suffers from severe anxiety, however, the awards recognition and the increased visibility that comes with it have not been easy to process.

In a phone interview, Beetz discussed exploring new facets of Van, her own biracial identity and experiencing anxiety in Hollywood.

These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

We got to see a bit more of Van this season. One of the most fascinating moments was in the episode Helen, when you and your friend Christina have this debate about "choosing black" versus "choosing white". Did you have any input into that conversation?

We definitely improvised a bit in that scene.

I think there is a culture of people who choose culturally one or the other. But even in the context of the show, though, I also hesitate to enter into that conversation just in general, because I think it's really complex.

And I think that especially for people like me, I guess, who are biracial, there are elements of both in your life. I think the question of, "Are you choosing white or are you choosing black?" can also be sensitive.

I think that it's all context and perception of self. I think some people have a more fluid way of not choosing that and others do. I think there's a lot of layers to it, so it is a very, I don't know, touchy thing, which is why I'm having a hard time talking about it. I'm sorry. I'm literally all over the place.

No, that's okay. It sounds like you've had to consider it even before this episode.

Yeah, definitely. I think that's just the context of the country we live in, in terms of just the history and obviously slavery.

Just the nature of colonisation and what it means to have been culturally owned and erased for hundreds of years. There is a lot of complexity to that.

And being comfortable just with, who are you? But even within that context, what I look like: I will always be perceived and am perceived and perceive myself as a black woman in America.

But I still have within my culture, day to day, and how I interact with my family, also other elements and other parts of myself. So, it is an interesting dichotomy.

You've spoken publicly about your struggles with anxiety. Now that you have the Emmy nomination, how are you managing those feelings? Does some of the pressure come from being a black performer in a fickle industry?

It's interesting you bring that up. It almost makes me feel emotional.

I'm sorry.

No, no. It's okay. It's just a big part of my life.

I think this is actually a little bit weird - it's where my not resounding, complete excitement for receiving an Emmy nomination is coming from; a feeling of complete impostor syndrome, and feeling like I don't deserve it.

I don't know... I hesitate saying that publicly, because I don't want to come off like I don't appreciate it.


Sorry, I'm just - it's something really hard to deal with, being in an industry where your validation is only from the outside, especially if your confidence isn't high in your work.

I just really want to do good work. That's just important to me, and when something is really being publicly lauded, I just really want to feel like I did my best work, and I'm never sure if I do my best work. That's something I've always struggled with within my work and in this industry.

I've gotten much better at feeling like I have found my place, and like I deserve to be in a place. I've gotten much, much better at being able to deal with feeling very insecure or very anxious, or having panic attacks on set... But my anxiety isn't just rooted in work. I have anxiety as a whole, and that's just one way that it manifests itself. It's a part of who I am, and something I've dealt with since I was an adolescent.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2018, with the headline 'Zazie Beetz feels she doesn't deserve accolade'. Print Edition | Subscribe