The Butterflication of Stephanie Beatriz

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Photos + Styling / KRISTY BENJAMIN

Hair  + makeup / MICHAEL GOYETTE@ THE CELESTINE AGENCY

story / COURTNEY KOCAK 

It’s official: the come up of Stephanie Beatriz, better known as tough cop Rosa Diaz on FOX’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, is in full effect. I’m pretty well-acquainted with this fact because she also happens to be my best friend. Though when I go over to her Silver Lake apartment to interview her, I feel more like a stranger. It used to be day or days between visits, but this time it’s been at least a month. Gate code lodged in my muscle memory, I have no trouble getting in, but I don’t think I could recite the actual numbers to save our lives, so we were lucky it didn’t come to that.

We sink into her couch very comfortably. It’s just like riding a bike. A large part of the reason for the long absence is simply because homegirl has been busy. Like, next level busy. Plus it’s been a hard year. “Yeah, I mean, I lost two of the biggest relationships that I have in my life – my dog and my partner – within six months of each other, which was really devastating,” she says, “I’ve been working so much I haven’t had time to breathe or think about it either. So I’m finally alone here in my apartment, and I’m, like, hibernating.”

The dog she speaks of is Banjo, the debonair long-haired chihuahua she adopted at the ripe old age of ten, who passed away right before Christmas after just shy of two blissful years together. The partner she speaks of is her ex-boyfriend, also an actor, whom she split from last June, marking the end of their eight-year relationship and erstwhile cohabitation. Banjo was an excellent companion and, as importantly, stood for a sort of comfort from a crumbling relationship. He gave her a paw to hold onto as she was letting her Ex go, and once he was gone too, she was forced to mourn the entirety of it. The fall of her Rome.

“It’s like a marriage,” she sighs, “So, I don’t know… I’m sad about it. I don’t want him back, but I’m just sad that it didn’t work. I’m just sad. It’s like fuck, I spent so long trying, hoping it would be like, ‘okay, that was the thing that turns it around for them and now they’re super happy!’ It just didn’t happen, and it’s like ugh, that is so… sad. I feel drained by it.”

“Let’s talk about a happier thing,” I offer, “like The Light of the Moon slayed at SXSW.”

She laughs and quickly retorts, “Let’s talk about a happier thing… like your rape movie.”

“Okay,” I concede, “but the success of the rape movie is a happy thing, right?”

Jokes aside, the drama, which Steph stars in, tells the story of Bonnie, a New York City woman who struggles to regain normalcy in her life after becoming the victim of a traumatic sexual assault, and has been very warmly received by critics and filmgoers alike. It went so far as to win the Audience Award in the Narrative Feature Competition at this year’s SXSW festival, where the film premiered in March.

“Yeah, it’s great,” she says, “It’s really great that people are having conversations about rape in way that’s about the act itself and what happens to a survivor of rape, instead of the ways it’s usually portrayed. It’s so refreshing to hear that side of the story, which is one of the reasons I was drawn to the script in the first place.”

I remember. It didn’t hurt that the project was led by a female filmmaker, writer/director Jessica M. Thompson either. “I’ve believed in it since Day 1, since the first time Jess and I skyped together and talked about the movie,” Steph recalls, “She just had such a strong point of view and wanted the movie to have a strong female eye too. She really wanted you to follow the protagonist’s story as if you were going along with her, but also not afraid to judge her at the same time – and, in turn, examine your own behavior and moral judgments, and proclivity to think ‘oh, this is what someone should do to avoid getting raped.’ She makes you examine your own preconceived notions about rape throughout the movie. I think the movie is successful because that’s what’s it’s doing, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Our conversation turns to female directors and then follows a tangent to theater, and doesn’t take long to establish that this is something else she is mourning. “Can you tell I miss it?” she asks point-blank, “I miss it a lot.” There might be an opportunity to rekindle her love affair with the stage next hiatus, but it will likely have other alluring offers to contend with. If she could have her druthers, she’d add a civil hero à la Erin Brockovich, the lead in a romantic comedy, an action hero, a dirty cop, and an animated character to her filmography over the next five years. As a witness to the previous five years, I can speculate with confidence that’ll be just the tip of the iceberg.

The elevator pitch for our friendship is that we went to the same school – Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri – but not at the same time. She’s a couple years older, but I saw her in several plays during my auditing process and I would have told you then, that girl is going to be a star. We finally met-met when we were both living in Los Angeles, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching Steph go from not being able to afford pad thai to buying a mini backpack appliqued with the word ‘baller,’ in her case unironically, while we were on holiday in London. Where will she be in five years? I’m not much of a gambler, but I would put my money, all couple hundred dollars of it, on a Chris Pratt-esque trajectory from sitcom standout to movie stardom. But she’s not ready quite yet…

“I feel a little like I’m in a cocoon phase right now because I did all this work, or leaving behind of things or people, or things leaving me,” she muses, “Now I feel like I’m incubating. I’ve literally been at my house for three days after coming back from SXSW because it was such a fucking whirlwind, and then I went to Santa Barbara and it was like friends friends friends! And I had a house guest and she just left–-”

“So you’re just waiting to become a butterfly again?” I ask.

“Yeah…. But it makes me tired. Like, I just want to take a nap.”

Steph bids me adieu and lays down to rest, nodding off on the edge of metamorphosis. I drive home wondering how many sleeps until she feels her big, beautiful wings again. I’m not a gambler, but if anyone wants to take on my wager, I think I’ll be rich very soon.

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