Zendaya on Child Actor Anxiety and Growing in Roles From ‘Euphoria’ to ‘Challengers’

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Zendaya is opening up about the stress that came with being a child actor and feeling anxious about always delivering out of fear that, if she doesn’t, people will lose interest in her.

The two-time Emmy winner sat down with Vogue for its May 2024 cover story, ahead of the release of her upcoming film, Challengers, which sees her portray a former tennis prodigy-turned-coach of a champion (Mike Faist) who’s on a losing streak. The Dune star is one of the few celebrities ever to cover Vogue and British Vogue in the same month.

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“I have complicated feelings about kids and fame and being in the public eye, or being a child actor. We’ve seen a lot of cases of it being detrimental,” she told the publication when reflecting on her acting career, which began when she was 13 with the Disney Channel series Shake It Up. “And I think only now, as an adult, am I starting to go, ‘Oh, OK, wait a minute: I’ve only ever done what I’ve known, and this is all I’ve known.'”

Zendaya explained that she feels like she’s going through her “angsty teenager phase” now, because she didn’t really have a chance to do so when she was younger. “I felt like I was thrust into a very adult position: I was becoming the breadwinner of my family very early, and there was a lot of role-reversal happening and just kind of becoming grown, really,” she added.

Challengers is the first time the Euphoria star is at the top of a call sheet for a major film that’s going to be in theaters and, because of her experience being thrust into adulthood at a young age, she explained she feels like she can’t relish in it as much as she would like to.

“I feel like I shrink, and I can’t enjoy all the things that are happening to me, because I’m like this,” she said, as she balled up her fist. “I’m very tense, and I think that I carry that from being a kid and never really having an opportunity to just try shit. And I wish I went to school.”

While Zendaya may not have gone to high school in real life, she’s spent a lot of her adult career portraying characters at that age, both in Euphoria and the Spider-Man films, where she stars alongside her now-boyfriend Tom Holland. The mega-popular HBO series recently released Zendaya and the Euphoria cast to pursue other projects amid the season three delay, as creator Sam Levinson and the network figure out the next stage after high school. (The cover story does not address the in flux status of Euphoria.)

Challengers is one of the first roles for the actress where she plays someone closer to her actual age, which she admitted she found “refreshing” but “kind of scary” as well. “I was like, I hope people buy me as my own age, or maybe a little bit older because I have friends that have kids or are having kids,” she said of portraying a mom in the Luca Guadagnino film.

Elsewhere in the profile, the Malcolm & Marie star noted that she would like to have a family one day, but isn’t in a rush to get there and is concerned about what her life in the public eye would mean for her children.

In an ideal world, Zendaya explained she would be able to “make things and pop out when I need to pop out, and then have a safe and protected life with my family, and not be worried that if I’m not delivering something all the time, or not giving all the time, that everything’s going to go away,” she said. “I think that’s always been a massive anxiety of mine: this idea that people will just be like, ‘Actually, I know I’ve been with you since you were 14, but I’m over you now because you’re boring.'”

Her anxiety about letting people down also results in her often putting “crippling” pressure on herself, similar to the way her Challengers character, Tashi, does. Though, she does think the tennis pro-turned-coach in the film “takes shit to a whole new level.”

Zendaya’s popularity may have been a somewhat steady increase, as she grew from being a Disney Channel star on two major shows for children — also, K.C. Undercover — to landing her major breakthrough role as Rue Bennett in Levinson’s Euphoria. But her Challengers co-star Mike Faist told Vogue he felt like her fame and influence really hit her after the second season of the popular HBO show aired.

The Dune: Part Two star pointed out that a similar situation happened with Holland after the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming, the first film in his Marvel franchise.

“We were both very, very young, but my career was already kind of going, and his changed overnight,” she said. “One day you’re a kid and you’re at the pub with your friends, and then the next day you’re Spider-Man. I definitely watched his life kind of change in front of him. But he handled it really beautifully.”

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