HBO’s Euphoria found Zendaya tapping into a much darker, grittier role than her Disney Channel beginnings on Shake It Up would have forecasted. But as she revealed in a new roundtable interview for The Hollywood Reporter, that evolution was only one piece of the other stress she felt in making her next acting move. “Being a young Disney actor, that’s one level, being a young Black woman is one level, and then being very hard on myself is another level,”she said.
The roundtable, which found her in conversation with Janelle Monáe, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Rose Byrne, and Helena Bonham Carter, also allowed Zendaya to explain how those fears about making the so-called “right” decision can dissipate in time. “It’s also just a personal fear. I want to do a good job, and sometimes that can cause you to be fearful of things. But I will say that there’s something that happens when a special character comes along, for me at least, and those fears melt away,” she said. “They don’t come back until it starts airing, which is when I started to get a little scared again.”
She also addressed that fear earlier in the discussion when she mentioned the sense of gnawing self-doubt that can accompany any work as a performer. “I think, like a lot of artists, I’m my biggest critic, so some of it was internal — not wanting to make a mistake or worrying that maybe I didn’t have the room to make a mistake and wanting to make the right next move,” Zendaya said. “But I also wanted to prove myself. When Euphoria came along, I was very grateful because all those fears melted away and I felt like it was something that I had to be a part of. So, the fear became just, like, push yourself. If you go to work and you’re scared, that’s a good thing. You should be worried about whether you can do it.”
Elsewhere in the piece, Monáe — who also tells Zendaya her Euphoria performance was “brilliant” — addresses what she views as the importance of making artistic choices that can display how Black characters are not “monolithic.”
“We can do the math that gets men into space [the basis for Hidden Figures] and we can also be in the ghettos in Moonlight, and it was super important that those were the first roles I took,” she said. “Even in music, I’ve tried my best to walk my truth as a queer Black woman growing up in America and what that means. Representation is important. Our voices onscreen, our presence onscreen, it’s all super important. I’m also at a point where I want the freedom like all of my favorite actors who get an opportunity to do fantasy, sci-fi, drama, all these things. I want to see more scripts where you’re writing for the human, you’re not pushing me to be a stereotype of what you think Blackness is.”
Zendaya also spoke about her decision to warn her fans and social-media followers about the mature content they were sure to see on Euphoria, which is still a teen drama: “I have a heavy responsibility on my shoulders, but I’m appreciative for that because with that there’s a lot of good that I can do and I know who is watching.” She linked that with the very weight of having a platform now and what she views as important to communicate with it. “Now, more than ever, specifically with Black Lives Matter and everything, I feel an obligation to make sure that I’m aware and putting out the right things and in line with organizers and people who are on the ground.”
Read the entire discussion and watch their group Zoom call here.