Atlanta’s season three finale puts Van, played by Zazie Beetz, in an incredibly French spotlight. Once the responsible mother to Lottie and ex-girlfriend to Donald Glover’s Earn, Van is almost completely unrecognizable in the Paris-set episode: She’s speaking in an accent, wearing a striped shirt, carrying a baguette, and sporting a very distinct, iconically Gallic haircut. “I love Amélie,” Beetz tells Vanity Fair over Zoom. “That was fun to touch into that vibe. And I always love a wig.”
The episode leaves Earn, Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry), and Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) behind and follows Van and her new Parisian life. Along the way, she has a psychosexual dalliance with Alexander Skarsgård, wields a baguette as a weapon, and serves as a sous chef for an absolutely shocking meal. Filming in Paris was emotional for Beetz, who recently got engaged to actor David Rysdahl there. “Just seeing the skyline could make me cry,” Beetz says. “I felt like, in some ways, I literally was Van being like, Wow. My alternative life would have been living here.”
Beetz chats with V.F. about Van’s big episode, her urge to run away, and the Avett Brothers song that continues to strike an emotional chord.
Vanity Fair: What was it like coming back to the show after a few years away?
Zazie Beetz: I think we were all a little bit nervous on how we would feel about our characters, and if we felt like we still connected. But it really feels a little bit like a family. We came together and the energy immediately picked up. It was really lovely and fun. I remember the first day back to set, we were almost misbehaving, just talking way too much. Excited, almost kid energy.
So it felt really lovely and sacred to come back to the show. We ’d all grown up a little bit, experienced different things; having children or experiencing losses. And so I think it was interesting to reflect on who we are now and how that shapes our characters. [It was] kind of like a family reunion in a way
And to do it in Europe too, which is such a completely different landscape.
I think we did a lot of bonding in that time because it was during COVID. We came to London a week before their lockdown ended. And every other city we traveled to, we got there the day their lockdown ended. In some ways, the world was a little weird. Also we couldn’t really have our spouses or our family come because of COVID. Usually, you can have visitors. But we were much more isolated. And so we just really had each other. And so I think we really just had an opportunity to take each other in and to bond with each other.
What was your initial reaction when you read the script for the season finale?
Initially, actually, it wasn’t supposed to be the last episode of the season. As they were editing it, they reworked the order of some of the episodes. Because it felt in some ways that the end of the episode was a little bit about homecoming, they felt that that one should be the one to finish it off.
I thought I would be more intimidated than I was because I have this emotional bond with Paris, and France in general. I lived in Paris for a year. I’m not fluent anymore, but I used to be fully fluent. I just felt like, Ah, this is mine. And then at the end…when I was shooting it, there was a moment that got really big and emotional in a way that wasn’t expected. And that was, for me, honestly, I think, one of my most profound moments in acting. I don’t know what ended up making it in the episode, but [the] experience was really incredibly cathartic and also validating to me: Oh, I can bring myself to places if I put myself there.
How did Van end up in Paris? What was she searching for over the course of the season?
I think Van was really searching for identity. Throughout the season, she was trying on different people because she wasn’t really satisfied with herself. What is this partnership with her and Earn? Or who is Van outside of that?
I think [she wants to] not be the responsible one all the time—which is really interesting because I find even on Instagram comments or something like that, people are very angry that Van isn’t with her daughter. And I’m like, Oh, it’s interesting, I don’t see that as much with Earn. And you’re like, Oh wow. Those expectations are real. Even though it’s been clarified she’s with my parents and blah, blah, blah, it’s interesting that people are like, “You need to go home. What are you doing?” And I think Van is trapped by that, and was generally the one that had to be grounded and be the provider. Even that identity shifts because Earn is, in some ways, a provider now. And so who is she?