Zawe Ashton Is Manifesting Her Future

Thrillist has coffee with the 'Mr. Malcolm's List' actress as she heads into Marvel stardom.

Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

When Zawe Ashton walks into La Bergamote, a small French caf√© in Chelsea with fruit pastries gleaming in a glass case, she’s bubbly and enthusiastic. “I was here in 2019,” she calls to the proprietor. The British actor and writer is feeling a bit overwhelmed by nostalgia. She lived up the street when she was starring in the acclaimed revival of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal opposite her now-fianc√©, Tom Hiddleston, and Charlie Cox which closed in December 2019, shortly before Broadway shut down due to COVID-19.

“I came here every single day, and this became part of my ritual of doing the show. The chocolate mice they do, I welled up just then when I saw them again because they felt like such an iconic part of my experience here,” she says, referencing a truffle-and-cookie delicacy. “And of course, what makes it all the more emotional is the fact that this is also the Before Times for me.”

Three years and a pandemic later, Ashton is back in New York, this time promoting Mr. Malcolm’s List, a Regency romance where she plays the scheming Julia Thistlewaite, a daft but conniving woman who plots to take down the titular Mr. Malcolm (Sope Dirisu), an eligible bachelor, with help from her goodhearted friend (Freida Pinto). She is delicious in the film, a delightful bit of Regency escapism directed by Emma Holly Jones. Ashton is open about the fact that she was third in line to play Julia: Gemma Chan starred in the short, a test run for the feature which got the go-ahead after the success of another diversely cast Austenian spin, Bridgerton. Constance Wu was initially slated for the role before Ashton was called to step in at the last minute on the suggestion of Pinto. “We’d worked together a couple of years ago, and so she was like, ‘Can we finally just try Zawe?'” she says. “The script came across my desk and I had about 24 hours to say yes or no.”

Ashton has been acting since she was a child and has fallen in and out of love with it, but she’s on the precipice of even greater fame. Next year she’ll appear in the Captain Marvel follow up The Marvel. She can’t say who she’s playing, but it’s been reported she’s a villain. For now, she’s a different sort of baddie in the charming romantic comedy, out in theatres now. “What is right on brand for me, which I keep realizing, is she is very much the antihero of the piece,” she says, digging into a shiny strawberry tart. “People are loving to hate Julia, which makes me feel really happy.”

Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

Ashton has thought critically about her work as an actor, even writing a semi-autobiographical novel called Character Breakdown, so she has been long conscious of the tradition of overbearing whiteness in British period adaptations. Even though she could read the novels and see herself as an Emma, for example-“Lizzy Bennet is not me,” she says-she was never cast in the endless parade of BBC adaptations.

“There’s been a lot of unpacking, having now sat down at the table,” she says. I ask her to elaborate: “Well, my first costume fitting, for example. I put on a corset and a bonnet and these little silky slippers, and I felt so soft and tender and aspirational and was transported to this world that peers of mine had been transported to millions of times. And I found myself thinking, ‘Why would anyone not think I was capable of this softness and sweetness?’ Because this is an aspirational genre. We weren’t there. We’re making it up.”

Coincidentally, Ashton had been seeking a break in reality. “Just before Malcolm’s List came in, I’d said to my manager, ‘Get me in a corset,’ after seeing Bridgerton,” she says. “It was a throwaway comment. And just before that, I’d had a frustrated rant about the industry and its expectations, and I was like, ‘I just feel like I should only play characters that are seriously fictional. I shouldn’t play real people, I think I should find a niche where I play people not from this realm.'” Then The Marvels came along.

After Betrayal, Ashton had her agent set up meetings with underrepresented directors. She was more interested in finding people to work with than projects to work on. One of those filmmakers was Nia DaCosta, whose indie Little Woods had yielded a gig directing the new Candyman. They bonded over their love of Austen’s Persuasion. And then DaCosta was tapped to direct the Captain Marvel sequel and called up Ashton.

Ashton, of course, had been adjacent to the MCU in Betrayal, given that Hiddleston is best known as Loki and Cox was Netflix’s Daredevil, but she wasn’t really versed in the material. “It sounds so disrespectful because you should always watch your costars’ work when you go to work with them,” she says, but she was a fan of their theatrical performances and Hiddleston’s work in The Souvenir auteur Joanna Hogg’s early films. For Halloween, Cox and Hiddleston decided to swap roles and dress as their respective characters. Ashton donned a blonde wig and went as Captain Marvel, but she had never seen the movie-or any of the movies outside of Black Panther.

“We all just sat down as a cast and looked at the costumes that were going to be available in time for Halloween,” she says. “I was like, ‘This outfit is cool, I’m definitely going to wear this.’ And obviously was a huge Brie Larson fan in her other work, but that was a random manifestation.” When her part in The Marvels was announced, the Halloween photo¬†spread across the internet. She’s since gotten caught up with the MCU, but still wasn’t fully aware of what she had gotten herself into. “I didn’t think it through,” she says. “I just knew that I wanted to serve Nia.”

Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

The clash of fantasy and reality is a theme in Ashton’s life right now. The night before we speak, she attended a special screening of¬†Malcolm’s List¬†wearing a stunning jewelled Sabina Bilenko Couture gown that gave her the aura of a goddess. Her getting ready process was featured in a Vogue¬†story that doubled as a pregnancy announcement. Some time into our conversation, I ask her about¬†feeling as if she had to reveal her pregnancy with the media attention around her relationship.

“Maybe me a few years ago would have said something different, but I don’t feel like I have to do anything,” she tells me. “And we’re having really important conversations that will help us out of very, very disturbing times about women and their own power and autonomy over their own bodies. That can also be a mindset. So I feel very autonomous in myself at this point in my life.” If she can make some kind of statement by appearing pregnant on a red carpet, she will.

As we wrap up, she gets a container for her fresh berries to-go and sweeps out into the Chelsea streets in the billowing dress with flowers growing out of its seam. It’s something out a fairytale, just like Mr. Malcolm’s List.

“We’ve had such a difficult, bleak couple of years, and there is just something extremely pure about [the Regency] era and peoples’ intentions, and also the tropes that run through these pieces,” she says. “There will be enemies becoming lovers. There will be romance, there will be someone who’s desperately trying to marry for love rather than position. It’s a bit like going to your favorite caf√© every day rather than switching it up.” Perhaps even a place like La Bergamote.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.


Editors: Kerensa Cadenas and Leanne Butkovic


Photography Director: Drew Swantak
Photographer: Cole Saladino
Stylist: Holly White
Hair and Makeup: Soo Park
Fashion Credits: Dress by Zimmermann


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef,¬†Cuong Nguyen¬†will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.


Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.