In ‘Clipped,’ Cleopatra Coleman Spreads Her Wings

Cleopatra Coleman began with red, swirling it toward pink with a fine-tipped brush. An oval appeared on the paper, and then smaller marks joined it — ears, eyebrows, a line for a nose. “I always draw this woman,” Coleman said. “I don’t know why.”

This was on a bright May morning and Coleman, a star of the FX limited series “Clipped,” premiering Tuesday on Hulu, was at Happy Medium, an art cafe around the corner from her temporary apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. She had passed it on walks with her dog, George, a rescue Yorkiepoo, and had often felt jealous of the customers there at night, on dates. So this morning, on a day off from filming a new series, “Black Rabbit,” she had taken herself on a date. She had even dressed for the occasion, in a thrift-store T-shirt with a New York State Summer School for the Arts logo. Charcoal and pottery tempted her, but she settled on watercolor.

To the picture, Coleman, 36, added a long neck, small breasts, two teeth. More colors came — purple, sunset orange, hints of green — all representing different emotions. Then she took a fresh sheet and began again, painting the same figure in different shades. Since the early days of the pandemic, she has drawn and painted this woman hundreds of times.

“It’s always the same woman,” she said.

In her professional life, Coleman is almost never the same woman. An actress since her teens, she has bounded among genres and forms. Though her look is distinct — high forehead, full lips, limpid brown eyes — she is often nearly unrecognizable from one role (“The Last Man on Earth,” say, or “Dopesick”) to the next (“Infinity Pool,” “Rebel Moon”). It’s a versatility that has allowed her to stay relatively anonymous. But given her audacious performance in “Clipped,” as V. Stiviano, the personal assistant to Donald Sterling, the disgraced former owner of the N.B.A.’s Los Angeles Clippers, and the promise of “Black Rabbit,” a starry drama set in the world of Manhattan nightlife due out next year, Coleman’s name and face are about to become much better known.