Photo by Nate Taylor: VERDAD jumpsuit; SEQUOIA SKY necklace. Styling: Tracie May-Wagner.

Photo by Nate Taylor: VERDAD jumpsuit; SEQUOIA SKY necklace. Styling: Tracie May-Wagner.

Rules were made to be broken. At least that’s the case for Karimah Westbrook. The Chicago born-and-bred actress/director got her first big break after crashing an audition for Save the Last Dance. Since then, she has appeared in 12 feature films and over 25 TV shows including American Violet, The Rum Diary, Mad Men and most recently, the Cohen brother’s film Suburbicon. Drawn to memorable characters and gritty roles, she’s never shied away from a challenge, remaining humble-yet-driven in the pursuit of her craft.

Based on a true story, Suburbicon—Westwood’s latest project—is set in 1957 in the small town of Levittown, PA. As Mrs Meyers (played by Westbrook) and her family settle into their new home, it becomes clear that all is not as it seems. The Meyer’s family faces increasing hostility and racial bias from their neighbors brought to a head when a home invitation rattles the town. Directed by George Clooney, the film features a stellar cast including Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Oscar Issac. So what’s it like to step on set with Hollywood heavyweights?

“They were already good friends, but they made me feel welcome from day one," says Westwood. Inspired by George Clooney’s “contagious energy” and a poignant script from the Cohen brothers, Westwood brings to life Meyer’s character to add yet another memorable role to her CV. “All the characters you betray, they are so far removed from anything you’ve understood,” she explains. “Playing an actual person, the world is completely different.”

While roles like these can be hard to come by, Westwood isn’t content to sit and wait. “As an actor, you have to create your own opportunities. Why sit around when you could be writing? Creating? It’s an exciting time in the industry, there are so many possibilities; so many outlets. You no longer need a million dollars to create something good.”

Referring to social media as “living out loud,” Westwood prefers to keep things old school—yes she sends hand written thank-you notes and even calls people on the phone. For her, it's about finding her tribe and concentrating on creation rather than validation. “We have a lot of noise in the world. For me, the best creation comes out of silence.”