In Deadpool 2, Zazie Beetz makes her superhero debut as Domino in a flourish of luscious afro and nonchalance. A reluctant member of Wade Wilson’s newly formed X-Force, Domino has a dark and twisted past, but from her unbothered attitude, you’d never know it. Beetz was determined to make the character, originally created by Rob Liefeld, her own. The second she learned she was in the running for the role, the Atlanta actress set off on an adventure to figure out who Domino was in the Marvel comics and who she would become on the big screen. “As soon as the conversation began that I would potentially be engaging in and working with Ryan Reynolds and Dave Leitch on this movie, I began researching a bunch online," she revealed. "I went to a comic book store here in New York, where I live, and I told one of the employees, ‘I need to do some research on Domino.' Obviously, I had to ask without revealing what it was for. I was hoping to find comics that would encapsulate her spirit — not necessarily following a specific storyline trajectory or even sticking with one artist. So this man collected a bunch of different books that he thought would be good for me to look through, and I got the original comic where Deadpool, Domino and Gideon were introduced."
After getting some context from the comics, Beetz moved on to the cartoon versions of Domino to get a sense of the character’s movements, cadence and tone. “I bounced around, and I watched one of the X-Men," the German native said. “There used to be this cartoon and Domino had a role in it. I watched that. For the audition, I felt it was important for me to understand her spirit and her character, and I did the best that I could. As we kept going, I continued. After booking the role, I deepened my research and deepened my involvement with the character and the universe."
Understanding Domino at her core was one thing, but getting physically prepared to play the mutant mercenary was another challenge. “The training ends up becoming this mental and emotional experience as well," Beetz reflected. “I was doing about four hours a day for many months. I was doing two hours in the morning of fight training, and boxing and choreography. It's kind of like learning a dance, martial arts, mixed martial arts, and then in the afternoon I did a bunch of weight training. I found the fight training to be actually a lot more fun for me because you're using your mind when you're sparring, and it's a whole body experience, and it's sort of this cardio mixed with knowledge and you're learning how to kick and you're learning how to punch and you have to adjust your body. With weight training, it felt very monotonous, and it felt like a challenge just all the way through and it didn't feel as mentally engaging."
And yet, it was this level of complete transformation, counting her macros, training and learning to fight that truly immersed Beetz into Deadpool’s right-hand woman. “I had to do a bunch of rethinking and re-adjusting of my sleep schedule and my eating schedule, and that takes your whole day," she said. “You have to change how you eat, and it also takes away your energy. I really empathized with kids doing sports and school at the same time because it's hard to focus because you're exhausted. Doing that alongside shooting and prepping and all that stuff, it's a lot of work, but it was also really cool. On the first day where I did action things, all of it truly paid off. I wouldn't have been able to do what I did do in the movie without all the practice. It is really empowering even if it's fake to do the combat scenes. You're using your body physically, and you're learning your body, so it is a cool element, as well. But it definitely was very challenging for me."
Beetz bringing the live-action Domino to life means so much more than just seeing another superhero onscreen. As a black woman, she joins the cannon that includes Eartha Kitt and Halle Berry’s Catwoman, Berry’s Storm, Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie and the iconic Dora Milaje from Black Panther. The weight of it all, and what it means to black women and girls in particular, isn’t lost on Beetz. “It’s so special," she expressed wistfully. “I'm so happy that this is also coming out on the heels of Black Panther because that was really this huge movement. It's a statement about what the media thinks people want versus what the people actually want. It's also not just the African-American community that's interested in seeing black people on screen. We’re all a part of this society, and I think it makes sense for all of us to also be included in the same way and for us to also have depictions of each other. This movie hasn't even come out yet and seeing women do cosplay as Domino is amazing. Black women have options beyond just Storm. I know that I don't necessarily look exactly like the comic book character, but the creator has so graciously been so supportive and also confirms that he never assigned a race to (Domino). I think it is a wonderful opportunity to introduce people who are in our society and in our community and don't just follow the standard mold. Julian (Dennison), who plays Firefist in the movie, it was the same for him, too, because he looks different than the character in the comic books."
As a woman who dons a gorgeously fluffy fro, hair was something else Beetz anticipated she would have to deal with when it came time to put together Domino’s look. “When I received the role I was mentally preparing to chop my hair and straighten it because that was the expectation," she recalled. “That was what I thought was gonna happen. I didn't even think, really, that an alternative was gonna be really an option. People sometimes ask me do I insist on having my hair natural for things; my insistence is what's true to the story--what is true for the character. Not every character would wear a large afro, but I think Domino definitely would, and I think it was really beautiful to have Ryan and Dave support that. They were so supportive, and they really wanted this for her and wanted this for me. I think that was a really special thing that it was something that was really advocated for from all sides and supported from all sides and was also never really a question. I was so happy to do that and happy to completely jump on that. Thank goodness I didn't have to straighten it."
Since Domino doesn’t stand quite at the center of Deadpool 2, there is so much about the bold and carefree badass, that still remains a mystery. After getting her feet wet as the mutant with the eye patch tattoo, Beetz is ready to take Domino on full throttle -- with her own origin story. “I would like to do an origin story," she said firmly. “I think her past is super dark and interesting and complex, and I think it would relate. We touch on it very briefly in Deadpool 2, but I think it would be a lot of fun to dive in. I don't quite know what holds in store, it depends on how audiences react to Domino and how audiences react to Deadpool 2. So far it seems like people are enjoying it and really responding to it, and so I'm super excited for Friday to come around and have the rest of the world experience it, as well."
Deadpool 2 premieres Friday, May 18.
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami.