In nature, birth and decay are synchronized. We learn from nature, but what does nature learn from us? Actor and activist, Amelie Zilber, is continually questioning this, knocking you out with a dose of reality, all while wearing a Dior heel. Much like the hibiscus blooming in Los Angeles, Zilber is impossible to ignore. Whereas people shy away from the news cycle, the actor and activist magnifies it, insisting it’s never too late to look toward hope.
“I owe my dedication to a motto that I live by, which is, ‘Leave nothing to chance,’” Zilber says, “That was an idea that was instilled in me from a very young age—that success comes from your ability to work hard and I’m very fortunate to have grown up with that ideology. I don’t think I would have been as hardworking as I am had I not been exposed to that ideal when I was younger.”
On the eve of her 21st birthday, Zilber is calling in from Mexico, a cloudless escape from stormy LA. For most of her life, Zilber has leaped into researching topics that interest her. She never recalls sidestepping from her passions—she declares that learning is her purpose. Research is both a form of escapism and something that quenches her curiosity. Currently, she’s on a gap year from Georgetown University, a year in which she is seeking to educate an audience of over two million on Instagram, and star in Freeform’s Grown-ish.
Information is given to us in fragments—a tweet here, a brief glance at a paywalled article there. But Zilber connects the dots and translates bite-sized pieces into fullness for her audience. She has raised awareness about abortion rights to fractured policy issues. If Zilber is going to sit down with members of Congress or Vice President Kamala Harris, she pours in hours of research. She wants to deliver the questions her generation has and demand the answers. “I spend every moment researching because I never want to come in unprepared,” she shares. “I want to be respectful of the fact that my generation has a lot of questions. It’s about balancing the need to ask hard questions and allowing her [Kamala Harris] the grace to speak. She was so friendly and giggly—I think we forget to see politicians as real people, and she was especially lovely to speak to.”
One moment, Zilber is on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, and the next, she’s waking up at 3 AM for call time ahead of a sixteen-hour day. Zilber’s full-throttle pace follows her while on the Grown-ish set, quite visibly with a disciplined chaos of scripts, books, and clothes laid out in her trailer. If there’s growing curiosity for it, Zilber seeks it. “I never really believed that I could be an actress,” she says, “but I decided randomly one morning to take acting classes and pursued it intensely. I dove in headfirst and loved every second of it.”
Grown-ish served as futile ground to sharpen Zilber’s acting skills and she gained another family in the process. While filming the latest season, Zilber cherishes spending downtime with her cast members. “We just laugh a lot,” she shares. “There’s never a day on set that went by where we are not hysterically laughing on the floor. I’m extremely grateful to be surrounded by such lovely, considerate, thoughtful, hilarious people.” While most people are barely getting back home to water down the effects of an Old Fashioned, Zilber is working on night shoots. “Maybe I took sleep for granted, but I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. I’m so excited to be back filming.”
In every syllable, Zilber demands transparency. Most of all, she notes we should aim to be more compassionate. Instead of trying to salvage every aspect of the world, we can tend toward kindness. “I think we tend to take a lot of disagreements as personal attacks, myself included. I could learn to be more compassionate with people I don’t agree with. It’s all about having open discussions and conversations where the basis is compassion and listening.”
With fondness, Zilber shares childhood stories that replay in her head. Her constant hows and whys were a childhood habit that she has since carried with her. Zilber would visit the paternal side of her family in Paris where long mealtimes and shared laughs were customary. Her family is her North Star. “I used to play this made-up pool game called ‘Pedestrian’ where my dad was the taxi, while my brother and I were pedestrians, and he would always try to run us over,” she laughs. All this playfulness rooted in her father transferred to her. “We would also do movie nights in the summer and gather everyone around to eat popcorn and candy. I wish I could keep doing that,” she laments, “but I think I’m too old now.”
I remind her that thinking you’re too old for something means that you should reconnect with it again. She shares that the rebirth of spring has been inspiring her to learn something new. “I want to learn jiu-jitsu,” she says, her eyes lighting up. “I want to explore new sides of me that I never thought to develop, so I’ve been interested in taking a bunch of classes,” citing later an ambition to learn painting.
In an effort to find beauty amongst a brutal reality, Zilber has always chronicled her life, whether that be in writing or video. Where there was a phone camera or a blank page, Zilber used it as a means to document. She always had a pulse on where her generation was and her instinct led her to the right path. Her ascent on YouTube later transitioned into an even faster ascent on TikTok. Of course, an audience of millions doubles as a liability. In truth, she shrugs off any misconceptions people have about her. She’s not letting others’ echoes interrupt from her main goals. Instead, she wants to obliterate the label that women are only meek and accommodating.
In Eros, the Bittersweet by Anne Carson, the author writes, “You perceive what you are, what you lack, what you could be.” Zilber herself says she is not immune to the anxiety that comes with comparison. She liberates herself by letting out her frustrations online. “I grew up under the weight of comparison,” she compounds, “and I fueled this confusion and resentment into fire. I proved everybody wrong. I made it my goal to stand out. Follow your fire. Women are resilient, brave, and courageous.”
To many, TikTok is considered a trap of distractions. Zilber demands that you shift your perspective. To her, the platform is a tool where younger generations are broadening knowledge about fashion to state positions, topics that often remain in the chambers of academia. “I have to meet my generation where they are, which is on social media. My generation doesn’t consume the news via newspapers or TV or radio. We go to social media to follow current events. If I’m not doing my part, I’m contributing to this mass lack of awareness that plagues our democratic system.”
Indeed, today’s news comes from obtuse angles, making it difficult for anyone to want to partake. How can anyone reignite a willingness to enact change? Zilber answers,“Having conversations with friends because conversations beget more conversations.” Conversations that we hold so personal can shift into actions that are universal.
Recently, Zilber met with a Congresswoman to discuss the confusion that coursed through her about the censorship and overall ban of TikTok. She lets out a disgruntled sigh. It’s as if the information we are receiving never lines up in a parallel. TikTok as a vehicle for change lies in its brevity. 30 seconds is all you have to capture the attention of the right thumb and amplify. When discussing TikTok with the Congresswoman, Zilber shares, “She laid out the possibilities of what continued Chinese ownership of our data would mean. It was anxiety-inducing, especially because I had come from an uninformed perspective.”
Zilber does, however, take breaks from the internet, during which she hones in on her self-care practice. “I’m simultaneously proud of myself and under this disguise that I’m not doing enough. But I read. I meditate. I journal. I do it all. I also call my mom about 8 times a day,” she laughs. In the meanwhile, she is drumming up momentum towards becoming a film actor.
In Zilber’s world, hope is not short-sighted. Now, maybe more than ever, we need a little kick of serotonin in conjunction with all the caution signs. She agrees, stating, “My generation’s resolve to challenge the status quo and tear down broken institutions gives me hope.” Without each other, hope and despair would cease to exist. “Gratitude, without a doubt, will take anyone from a place of despair to the beauty that life offers.”
We turn our heads and a plant has grown a new leaf. It’s within that natural cadence that Zilber, too, transforms. Along the way, the actor has grown new leaves of hope, and scaled them to the reach of millions. If rebirth is intrinsic to spring, then Zilber is a marvelous candidate to lead the process.
Photographed by Sam Dameshek
Styled by Thomas Christos Kikis
Written by Jasmine Rodriguez
Hair: Kylie Fitzgerald
Makeup: Cherish Brooke
Flaunt Film: Annika Chavez
Photography Assistant: Carly Hildebrant
Video Assistant: Sophie Thomason