“We wanted to end this season or end that episode with the feeling of some things have been addressed, but not necessarily solved,” says Zazie Beetz of tonight’s very Parisian finale of Atlanta’s penultimate season. “I think in Season 4, there’s a continuation of identity searching,” says the actress who plays Van of the Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry and LaKeith Stansfield co-starring FX series.
“That is a lifelong journey I think, and it takes on a bit of another context.”
A delicate weave of whispers of 1960’s Breathless, 1993’s Killing Zoe, 2016’s Raw and more than a dollop or two of 2001’s Amélie, literally and figuratively, the Glover helmed and Stefani Robinson penned “Tarrare” was a feast of a finale for the March 24 premiering third season. With a paid “piss kink,” cooked human hands, a “local” POV of Paris, a debauched Alexander Skarsgård as Alexander Skarsgård and a battering baguette, the visceral and agonizing exercise in cloaked identities and vulnerability will certainly loom over Atlanta fans for a while, especially leading into the acclaimed series’ fourth and final season coming this fall.
Though some might get stuck on the ghostly post credits scene with Glover’s Earn, a returned bag, a Deftones t-shirt and a chilling photo, at the center of all of it is Beetz’s splintered Van on her own Grand Tour, internally and culturally. The Emmy nominated Joker and The Harder They Fall alum spoke with me about the enigmatic Season 3 ender and taking Van into a reality of her creation. Beetz also talked about what to expect for Season 4 and what it was like to say goodbye.
DEADLINE: So many things to ask, but first of all, what the f*ck was that all about? Van went so many places so hard, so fast – and I don’t just mean beating that guy into a pulp with very stale bread.
BEETZ: (LAUGHS) Well, I think it’s just about processing identity and anxiety, which is a trippy f*cking thing to do.
I think for me, throughout the whole season, Van is trying to adopt different characters, different versions of self, which is a little bit marked by sort of the kleptomania and kind of being in and out of what the main gang is doing, because I think she’s struggling a bit with motherhood and selfhood and who she is and who she wants to be.
DEADLINE: Certainly, that closing scene by the Seine with Adriyan Rae’s Candice reveals the crippling vulnerability that Van has been trying to mask in this European set season…
BEETZ: Yeah, I think also, often feeling the pressure to be the stable individual, in some ways, has a little bit been lifted because Earn can provide now. So, she has a little bit more room to have a breakdown, which not everybody has. So, I think she…to me, this Paris episode is the culmination of all of that and of really falling into a character that she thinks will allow her to run away from her life, but realizing everything catches up to you.
DEADLINE: Where does this leave her, and you, going into the final season later this year?
BEETZ: We wanted to end this season or end that episode with the feeling of some things have been addressed, but not necessarily solved. I think in Season 4, there’s a continuation of identity searching. That is a lifelong journey I think, and it takes on a bit of another context
DEADLINE: How do you mean?
BEETZ: The final season is really about homecoming and what that means. I also have to say, I’ve never actually been more attached to a character than I have been to Van. I think that’s partially because of what the show has meant to me just in my life.
DEADLINE: Which, without being too personal, what has that change been?
BEETZ: This show is what changed my life, just definitively.
In terms of my career and the connections with the cast mates and the producers that I have. I think for all of us, it became this sort of sacred show that transformed all of us together at the same time. So, I have that affinity for Van, and Van will always sort of hold that place, in some ways, of my first real character baby in a way that changed my life profile.
But then also, as we’ve all gotten older, and as we’ve gotten to know each other more, I think Van is more and more written for me specifically – which is what’s nice about TV. So, you know, a lot of the anxiety she deals with are things that I can really identify with, and maybe because I’ve been able to revisit her multiple times, I feel like I want to take care of her, I almost feel like she’s my child.
You know, it hasn’t all fully come to a final ending. Season 4 is still going to show. So, I still feel this story hasn’t totally wrapped up for me yet maybe until the final episode drops. But yeah, I feel connected to her. I do.
DEADLINE: There is so much pain and fear of who she is in her in “Tarrare,” so much pushed down to horrors internal and external …
BEETZ: Yes, and the escapism around that, and even the idea of French romanticism and all of these films, all of these stories, which she was romanticizing and able to view, in some ways, her experience through a foreign lens. By taking a step out, she was able to maybe experience all the things with less pain.
I know Donald, who directed it, was watching a lot of old French New Wave movies. That was sort of the energy of his directing and ideas and inspiration he was looking at for this episode.
DEADLINE: It is very French and very much our idea of Paris, real or not, with visits to the HLM and the dinner party cannibalism, which played out on many levels …
BEETZ: The title of the episode is “Tarrare,” which, if you Google it, is this fascinating man who lived, I don’t know, 19th century, 18th century maybe, who, he had an insatiable hunger. He must’ve had some type of disease, and ultimately, he had ended up becoming almost like an act. Like, he would eat inedible things. He was rumored to have eaten whole children, and eaten metal.
In some ways I feel like, again, this goes back to Van. The glutton of consuming all these different things to try to mask the pain or to be something else or to be someone else.
DEADLINE: Unearthing trauma has long been a core element of Atlanta, and in this season of success for Earn, Paper Boi and, in differing degrees, Darius, this episode, especially coming off last week’s “Rich Wigga, Poor Wigga” seemed to take an even deeper examination of the notion of passing, and a complete identity change and also a psychological change with what has all the hallmarks of a mother battling delayed postpartum depression?
BEETZ: I like that you bring that up in general. I think also, in terms of speaking of postpartum depression or the question of parenthood, in some ways, of course you’re the same person, but you do cast away certain identities and adopt new identities, and that’s a lot.
I think the reason why I loved the movie The Lost Daughter, I think it approaches parenthood — motherhood in this case specifically — in a way that presents the whole experience. I don’t think the movie judges it or the idea of what a good parent is and how parents are people first, and we kind of forget that. There’s this quote that I heard once, which I thought was really fucked up, that said “when you become a mother, you’re no longer the picture. You become the frame.”
DEADLINE: So pertinent here…
BEETZ: Yes, because it gets rid of the personhood of somebody.
Obviously, so much of your life will revolve around your child, but ultimately, we are just individuals and always will be individuals. So, I think with something like postpartum depression — and I hope this gets relayed in the episode — that yes, there’s anxiety around this experience; Fear and wanting to untether from something you can’t untether from.
But that there’s also an immense amount of love there and that those two things can exist in the same space, too. Van loves Lottie. I think she also loves being a mother, and I think she’s a good mother. But I also think she struggles with it. I think every parent does, and allowing that duality to live …I don’t think people really talk enough about.
Now, I’m saying this as a person who isn’t a parent, I know some parents have an experience, when they have children, initially, they don’t feel bonded or they resent the child. They’re angry at the child. They dislike the child and are like, what the f*ck have I done? And it can take time to really form a real bond. It could take months, and that’s, that’s okay, but you have to be able to have space to express that without others judging that.
DEADLINE: You mentioned it before, about the experience of making the show, the evolution and the closeness. So, in that, how were these last two seasons, which were shot in one run, for you and it ending?
BEETZ: What’s nice is that we all knew, as we were shooting Season 3 and Season 4, that these were going to be the final two seasons. So, we were really able to I think enjoy the experience, enjoy the characters, and enjoy just each other, people, and receive actual closure because of that.
When we finished shooting Season 4, and a lot of the crew — most of the crew have been on the show all four seasons — each individual person, as they wrapped up, everybody was able to give their little thoughts and their speech. Everybody had their cry. It was like a graduation ceremony almost.
DEADLINE: Atlanta debuted in September 2016, which almost feels like another lifetime in so many ways. How did the series and the experience itself change for, especially coming out of the pandemic and finishing production?
BEETZ: Well, in terms of just people as individuals, people have had children. People have had great loss too over the course of this time. We’ve all grown up a little bit, especially since there’s been so much space between each season. It’s a little bit weird to think, you know, it’s only four seasons, but I booked the pilot seven years ago.
I have to say, I feel it was an honor to be on the show and I love making it. It’s generally just a warm set, fun, easy people. That’s my big thing. Just, like, easy, nice people. Like, I just want to be on that set because it’s just fun.
DEADLINE: There was a lot of fun, a sense of boundless fun, in “Tarrare,” but it did seem like both the pointed ending to the season and something unexpected in a season of unexpected choices?
BEETZ: Oh, that makes me happy you say that.
You know, and honestly, even if people, don’t resonate with it or are mad that it’s not the whole gang as the final episode and it’s just Van, I think the ability to make that episode, to make it together with Donald, was a really profound process – cause I don’t think of myself as a comedienne.
To be kind of slapstick-y and to be in this really playful place which, in true clown format, is usually also a little bit of a tragedy. I think it was really freeing for me. It was really fun for me to be able to just play with that accent.
BEETZ: (LAUGHS) Hey! Also, Paris to me has great life significance. I lived there for a year. I think of a lot of my life as pre and post-Paris. I spoke French fluently, and I have a connection to that place. So, just being in that place, there’s a lot of nostalgia, memory, my own sort of ties to it,
Actually, the final thing with Candace, that’s the exact same spot that I got proposed to in my own life. I just feel like there’s a lot of, like, intercrossed things that were happening with that episode. There were just some emotional moments that I think only the muses can offer, and that doesn’t always happen. You’ve worked years and years to have little blips of moments like that where you’re in the flow, in the connection with the universe, you know? So, yeah, I feel very at peace, which is nice because I often don’t feel that way around my work.
DEADLINE: To talk about the work, what do you think about Atlanta ending as a conscious choice, which is rare in TV?
BEETZ: It’s the cool thing to end it. I think it’s the right thing to end it, you know? I think TV that drags on too long, it’s always tragic to me. It just dies.
I mean, who knows what people end up thinking about Season 4 or whatever, but I think, at least in the creators’ opinions, they finished it with power and move on. I think that’s right, and I think that’s healthy. So, I feel good about it, and now I’m just, like, excited to see how people are reacting to this season’s finale.