Ariana DeBose has an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a serious devotion to nature. “Whenever something gets overwhelming, my rule is just to find the water,” says the actress, singer, and dancer, who has starred in West Side Story on film, Hamilton on Broadway, and Schmigadoon on TV.
“I never thought I was a huge ‘outdoor person’—my identity growing up was always rooted in performing—but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how valuable nature can be for things like mental health and creativity.”
We spoke with the 32-year-old Aquarius at this week’s Alice + Olivia Camp Pride party… just before a giant tray of amazing veggie burgers and vegan mac + cheese went by, because designer Stacey Bendet knows plant-based snacks are always in style.
Here’s what Ariana had to say about secondhand shopping, the Broadway-to-nature pipeline, and the quest for vegan queso.
What’s one of your favorite places in nature?
Well, seeing as I'm spending time in New York City right now, I actually spend a lot of time in Central Park. I love to walk down the Jackie Onassis Reservoir. That's really lovely, and it’s right on the water. I also spend a lot of time in the fields that are surrounding the Alice in Wonderland statue—do you know about those?
Like, fields of flowers?
Yeah, actually! There are wildflowers in Central Park. You can find them, and walking through them is kind of magical. And then Bethesda Fountain is my favorite. I just love the idea that there's this gorgeous angel watching over us in the middle of nature that’s in the middle of a city. I love it. It’s really where I go when I find peace.
Is there a way that nature has influenced your creative process?
Oh yeah. I get my best ideas when I'm walking near water.
Ahhh, that’s a proven thing! It’s called “Blue Mind.”
It’s real. When I was first starting out in the city, if I couldn't figure something out in my career or was like hitting a wall with a role I was working on, I'd go walk by 44th and Twelfth Avenue. It’s not that far from the theater district and Broadway, but it’s a real riverside park, and it brought me such clarity. I had the time and space to think and get my best ideas.
Musical theater and film performers are working at the level of elite athletes. Do you have a favorite vegan protein that you like to eat on show days?
So to be honest—like, how honest would you like me to be?
I love vegan food, but I am not a vegan. My body functions best on a balanced diet, and because I’m so athletic, I often crave meat-based proteins. And you can’t get mad at your body for knowing it needs to be nourished, right? At the same time, of course I understand that because of the environment, it’s really great to explore plant-based alternatives. So I try to find vegan restaurants wherever I’m working to get inspired. Do you know Gracias Madre in Los Angeles?
Their vegan queso is insane.
Everything is! [Laughing.] I mean, the margaritas aren’t bad either! But the food is excellent. It’s amazing. It’s really an example of how we can evolve the food we love, and food that we grew up with.
You’ve had some stunning custom couture moments with Versace and Valentino. But what’s the last piece of vintage fashion you bought?
Oh my gosh, my favorite sweater is this cableknit fisherman’s turtleneck sweater. It’s so classic and so cool, and I bought it last Christmas at Goodwill. I love shopping at thrift stores, honestly, and this sweater is so good. I’m obsessed with it. Obviously it’s amazing to work with designers that believe clothes are a craft, like Stacey [Bendet]. Buying second hand lets you find older pieces that are built to last, too. And you’re giving them reuse!