Zendaya covers the December/January 2021 issue of ELLE and opens up to her friend Timothée Chalamet in an exclusive interview about her historic Emmy win, what it was like making “Malcolm & Marie” in quarantine, shooting “Dune” and the importance of joy.
On her historic Emmy win: “I was nervous about the possibility of having to get up and speak. So, I was like, “Okay, let me just write down a few little bullet points.” Usually I would just go up there and say what’s in my heart, but everybody was like, “No, I think you should definitely write something down.” So, the day of, I just wrote a little thing down to have just in case. And that was very helpful. I was very nervous, but I’m glad my family was there. Everybody was there and screaming, as my family does! We are a very loud family, and I was worried that they were going to be screaming for too long. And the little clock would start ticking, and I’d be like, “Ah, thank you.” And then it would be over. I got to feel all fancy and put on this beautiful custom [Armani Privé] gown and do my hair and makeup and then just be with my family in the living room, which was actually quite nice. And we got to take pictures in the house, so I knew I would be happy with them.”
Timothée Chalamet: “You got photo approval.”
Zendaya: “Yeah, there was none of the usual “Ah, I hate that picture” that is suddenly circulating everywhere. So, it wasn’t bad. It actually worked really smoothly the way they virtually transitioned people over to different media outlets. They really had it all figured out.”
Timothée Chalamet: In your speech, you said that there’s hope in the young people, and it seemed as if hope was a big part of the message you were trying to get across. What in the past year has given you hope? And what does hope mean to you?
Zendaya: “Well, my intention there was really just to be honest, because it feels like a very hopeless time, specifically in this country. I know a lot of my peers feel enraged and exhausted and tired of living and growing up in a system that feels like it wasn’t built for us. At this moment in time, it is hard to find joy and beauty in things, and I really think that is important. Right now, we as Black people need to embrace joy and not let it be taken away from us.”
On how she embraces joy in her own life: “I experience moments of joy when I’m able to create art and be involved in projects that I connect to deeply, whether it be Euphoria or Malcolm & Marie, the movie I shot during quarantine with [Euphoria creator] Sam Levinson. Another thing that gives me joy is seeing people’s responses to my work. With Euphoria, it’s been incredibly moving to see how people connected to what Sam has written. I’ve heard so many beautiful stories about addiction and recovery, and that brings me hope.”
On what else brings her hope these days: “I find hope in my peers, the people who are out there on the streets doing the work—people I admire and I go to for advice and information on what’s happening, so that I can make sure I’m using my platform in the most strategic way I can to help. There is so much hope in young people, and when I say young people, I do mean myself—people my own age—but I also mean younger. These really young kids are so smart and have such a clear understanding and plan for how they want this world to change. Even my little nieces! They are so aware, and I mean, I can take credit for some of that, because I’ve been schooling them. But they also have their own point of view. We have discussions about [the world]. They know what’s up, and they want to be part of that change.”
On what shooting Dune was like for her: “Oh, man. I had a great fricking time. I felt like such a bada**, just wearing that suit and walking around on these beautiful rock formations. It felt cool and so exciting to be part of the magic.”
Timothée Chalamet: Tell me about shooting Malcolm & Marie in quarantine with Sam Levinson. To my understanding, before anybody was really shooting anything in quarantine, you guys did it very safely. You obviously have an amazing creative relationship with him.
Zendaya: “Sam is like family to me. I talk to him almost every day and night, every other day. Sometimes we talk about Euphoria, and sometimes we just talk about life or current events or whatever. So, we got this idea that we could do a movie in quarantine safely with a very small number of people. We used some crew members from Euphoria who obviously didn’t have a job because filming had stopped. I was fascinated with this idea of shooting a film with just two characters [John David Washington and Zendaya play the titular roles]. It was like a play. It was challenging for all of us, because it was shot in just one space. Being quarantined together was great in some ways, because it allowed us to workshop and really dig into the material while we were there.”
“It was an actor’s dream. But it was also a little nerve-racking. When you have an idea, and you’re putting your own money into it—I mean, I was literally using my own clothes on set and doing my own hair and makeup—it’s hard not to get a little bit insecure. Like, “Oh my gosh, am I really doing this?” It was one of the first times I just went for something, and I’m so grateful and proud of it. Working with Sam, obviously, and Marcell [Rév, Euphoria’s cinematographer] was really special, but then John David Washington is just so brilliant and such a wonderful person.”
Timothée Chalamet: Well, it sounds like you’re staying busy, but what are you most looking forward to when things get back to normal? What’s the one thing you haven’t been able to do in the past six months that’s number one on your to-do list once it’s deemed safe?
Zendaya: “I don’t know—I think that things are going to stay different for quite a long time. We’re probably going to have a new normal to keep people safe and healthy, which I’m totally down for. I mean, I love traveling. I don’t feel super-safe traveling all over the place quite yet, but I can’t wait to get back to it. I love being able to visit different places. I think that’s one of the beautiful parts of our job. Anytime I go on either a press tour or travel for work, which is really the main reason why I travel, I try to find as many museums and educational tours as I can. Some people think it’s boring, but I absolutely love it. You get all this information, and you go home and you start telling people random things like, “Did you know that this was built and….” I just love having random facts. So, yeah, I miss traveling for sure. Luckily, I’ve been able to work, so I’m grateful for that, being able to work safely. I do miss being able to actually go to the movies. But you know what? All of that can wait.”
[Photo Credit: Micaiah Carter for ELLE Magazine]