Fashion icon and Emmy award-winning actress Zendaya has used the pandemic to find out who she really is when the cameras aren’t rolling.
“It was my first time just being like, ‘Okay, who am I without this?’ ” she tells GQ. “Which is a very scary thing to confront and work through, because I don’t really know Zendaya outside of the Zendaya who works. I didn’t realize how much my job and my art were a part of my identity as a human.”
The star quickly shot to fame while starring on Disney Channel before transitioning to HBO’s Euphoria.
“I feel most like myself when I’m working,” she explains. “I felt like, when I wasn’t working, my powers had gone away, and I was like, ‘Who the f**k [am I?]’ I didn’t really know who I was and what makes me happy. ‘What do I like to do? What else do I do? What is my value? What is my purpose now?'”
Back in March when the coronavirus pandemic held the world at a pause, the 24-year-old found herself searching for a creative outlet.
“This is some really corny sh*t,” Zendaya says while holding up her sketchbook. “It’s a journal or art-book thing that my friend Hunter [Schafer] from Euphoria got me, actually. My new thing for myself is to try not to be so damn controlling all the time and just paint. Just whatever the fuck comes out, that’s what comes out.”
Although certain that her soul searching is not over, Zendaya became starved for the love of her craft. She began to ponder the limitations of filming during quarantine.
While on the phone, Zendaya began throwing ideas around with her friend and director Sam Levinson.
“I was just on the pavement outside in my backyard because I didn’t have outdoor furniture yet, talking to Sam,” says Zendaya. “He’s like, ‘What if we did something almost like a horror movie where you’ve lost it because you still think you’re on K.C. Undercover? You could be in the house like dah, dah, dah, and you’re still stuck being this Disney Channel actress, and people are like, ‘No. You’re not K.C. [anymore].’ ”
Not originally moved by the first idea, Levinson began digging deeper.
“What if I stripped everything away?” Zendaya calls back the informal pitch. “There’s no gimmick, no anything. What does that look like? What if it’s just a relationship piece? What if it’s just two people, one’s upset because the other one didn’t thank them for something, and they’re in one place? And that’s all it is.’”
The idea fascinated Zendaya which fueled Levinson to began writing.
The informal pitch turned into the script for Malcom & Marie.
Malcolm & Marie is a black and white film that follows a couple stuck in the house as they battle with their relationship demons. Malcolm (played by John David Washington) is a promising upcoming director. On the night of his premiere film, Malcolm thanks everyone but his long-term girlfriend Marie (played by Zendaya). Marie’s life, addictions, and problems with men has been Malcolm’s muse for his debut film. Her entire world place on the screen for public scrutiny and judgment. While Malcolm receives praises and awards for her story.
Once home, the verbal argument ignites as Marie is preparing dinner. A night of celebration and happiness quickly turns to a night composed of tensions and revelations. This long night pushes the couple to unravel and began picking each other apart.
Zendaya has always found a deep connection to the characters she plays. Although Marie has been one of the most contrasting characters to Zendaya’s personality, she has also been one of the most rewarding.
When asked what drew her to the role, Zendaya explains,“[Marie] gave me an opportunity to use these words in a way.”
“I don’t yell. I’m not a very argumentative person,” She says. “But it’s nice to just release shit and be able to—” she pauses considering her word choice. “I don’t know… I guess emote would be the word? To just use her as this vessel to just get shit out that maybe I had pent up or hadn’t said.”
The movie showcases creative vulnerability as the characters discuss their insecurities as Black Creatives in a White Hollywood.
“Those conversations are definitely conversations that Sam and I have had,” Zendaya confesses. “Because a lot of it was inspired by feelings of limitation for Black creatives that are not put on other people. And what that looks like, and what that feels like as a creative, when you just want to make art.”
Be sure to watch the smoldering tensions and explosive revelations in the film Malcolm & Marie on Netflix on Feb. 5, 2021.