• With roles in Euphoria and Spider-Man: Far From Home, it’s a big summer for Zendaya.
• The 22-year-old actress and singer has been on her grind for a while.
• She is really impressing as Rue on Euphoria.
It shouldn’t be a shock, but all of a sudden Zendaya—the 22-year-old actress, model, and occasional singer—has taken over our summer. While most of the headlines surrounding Euphoria have centered on the show’s provocative content and charged depiction of modern teens, it seems to have almost slipped under the radar just how good a performance the show’s leading actress is giving.
Zendaya is the headliner for Euphoria—in addition to narrating each episode of the show, and her character prominently figuring into every storyline, she’s also the only one whose name was featured in promotional materials for the show (outside of, well, Drake). She’s the unquestioned lead, and luckily for everyone, she’s giving a performance to match.
Rue—Zendaya’s character—could be unsympathetic, given that she constantly betrays the trust of her family and other people who care about her, like (ironically) her drug dealer, Fezco. But as Rue continues to abuse drugs, Zendaya’s nuanced performance makes it hard to root against her. She humanizes a person with serious issues.
The drug use also brings in a physical component to her performance. In episode two, Rue was forced into taking a dose of fentanyl, which left her in poor shape. Acting in this state must be incredibly difficult—when Leonardo DiCaprio acted under the influence of quaaludes in The Wolf of Wall Street, he played it for physical comedy; Zendaya takes her performance in the complete opposite direction, and you really worry and feel bad for her.
Her performance in Euphoria could definitely be called a breakthrough by some, but others might give that title to her role in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming as Michelle, revealed at the end of the movie to go by the name MJ; that, of course, makes her the Kirsten Dunst to Tom Holland’s Tobey Maguire.
Except just like in Euphoria, Zendaya makes her Spider-Man character her own. Outside of the name and character lore, there’s not a whole lot of similarities between her portrayal and Dunst’s in Sam Raimi’s films. Zendaya plays MJ with a distant, laid-back, coolness, and it matches in a contrasting, opposites-attract way with Holland’s almost hyperactive take on Peter Parker.
Zendaya will reprise that role in July’s Spider-Man: Far From Home, and her character will almost certainly will see increased screen time. While she was present in Homecoming, her character wasn’t in the movie a ton, and wasn’t the object of Peter Parker’s affection until the very end. As the promotional materials for Far From Home have showed, the two look to be spending a lot of time together. If Spider-Man becomes “the new Iron Man,” as a police officer in the movie’s trailer suggests, Zendaya could take on a Paltrow-esque role in the MCU.
Like Hilary Duff and Miley Cyrus before her, Zendaya got her start on a pair of Disney Channel comedies, Shake It Up and K.C. Undercover. Around the same time as Spider-Man: Homecoming, she also appeared alongside Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron in The Greatest Showman, and not long after, became a spectacular meme for her role in the animated Smallfoot.
Even earlier this year, Zendaya found a way to please audiences in a rather unexpected manner. Fans had no expectation whatsoever, but she surprised sci-fi fans with a brief-but-charming cameo in part two of Brit Marling’s The OA on Netflix.
But still, when someone has a whole bunch of good things that happen at once, we take notice. When Matthew McConaughey was coming for his Dallas Buyers Club Oscar while the original True Detective was making its run, we took notice. When Keanu Reeves is doing…whatever he’s been doing pretty much all of 2019, we took notice. Now, it’s looking like the summer is shaping up to be Zendaya’s time.
Her layered and intimate performance will certainly be noticed if Euphoria continues its steady buzz. The show debuted too late to be considered for this year’s Emmys, but the Golden Globes—a show that looooooves to celebrate big stars, along with new, and provocative work—could certainly be in the cards. And should she end up nominated for an Emmy, that would happen right around the time of her next film role after Spider-Man: Far From Home, one of the lead roles in the Dune remake, alongside some people you may have heard of: Timothee Chalamet, Jason Momoa, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, and Stellan Skarsgård from Chernobyl.
Much like the show she’s on, Zendaya has found a way to demand attention. And so far this summer, it’s been hard not to give in.
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