Fans will see Zendaya play a villain for the first time in her career in her next major movie, Challengers.
Along with her upcoming appearances in Euphoria Season 3 and Dune: Part Two, Zendaya will take the spotlight in the upcoming movie Challengers where she'll play the trainer and wife of a tennis star trying to get back to the top of his game.
She'll even portray a mother for the first time in her career as she looks to show the challenges of raising a child and working in professional sports, expanding her range even further in this highly-anticipated drama.
Zendaya Playing a Villain in Challengers
Speaking with Challengers co-star Josh O'Connor for VMagazine in an interview conducted before the actors' strike began, Zendaya described her and O'Connor's characters, along with that of Mike Faist, as "villain-esque."
Using words like "horrific" and "so terrible," Zendaya and O'Connor joked around about just how bad their characters are shown to be in the film as they portray a married couple:
O'Connor: "Yeah, exactly. We were just saying the other day that our characters in this film are horrific."
Zendaya: "They’re terrible."
O'Connor: "They are so terrible. And we just released the trailer this week, and a few of my friends were like, 'Oh my god, it’s so nice to see you smiling in a film.' And I was like, 'Oh god.' If they think they can see the real Josh with an American accent, this is not it. I am not like this, I promise [laughs]."
Zendaya even admitted that she and O'Connor's characters have "a villain-esque quality" to them, which both of them thought was fun to try out:
Zendaya: "But that’s what was so fun, right? I hate to say villain, but there’s a villain-esque quality there to all of the characters. And I think that was fun."
O'Connor: "When I first read the script, my immediate thoughts were, 'Patrick’s a villain, Tashi’s kind of a villain, and poor Art.' All I could think was, 'This poor guy.'"
Zendaya teased the idea of who exactly is the bad guy in the film between her Tashi Duncan, Faist's Art Donaldson, and O'Connor's Patrick, addressing how it "changes every time" they talk about it.
This also lends to the idea of making the characters feel more human, allowing fans to "see people from a different perspective" and get both the best and worst sides of everybody involved:
"Yeah, I’ve just enjoyed the conversations after the fact–Team Tash, Team Art, Team Pat. Who’s the bad guy? Who’s the good guy? And it changes every time. You can come back and see people from a different perspective, which I think is the point of what we do, you know? Hopefully, it makes people human. They’re messy, and they make bad decisions (or complicated decisions), and I think it’s our job to let people see different versions of themselves or people that they love in that way."
O'Connor saw the idea of accountability coming through in these roles as he and his co-stars looked at real-world instances where people have had situations that they could handle better with friends and family:
"And that’s the thing. How many times have we all said, 'Oh, they behaved badly in that situation.' And then a few years down the line been like, 'Actually, I didn’t behave perfectly in that situation. I could have dealt with that better.' This is kind of the journey we all went on in this movie. At different moments you think you’re in the right and they’re in the wrong, and then that should completely turn itself on its head. I think we’re all guilty of that, and I think people will really see that in the movie, which is great. That’s what our goal is."
Jokingly giving Challengers the title Codependency: The Movie, Zendaya and O'Connor pointed out "humanity" as one of the key themes that the film focuses on:
Zendaya: "I mean, humanity at the end of the day."
O'Connor: "Exactly, humanity."
Zendaya: "Love each other and don’t manipulate your friends or your spouses. I often call this movie 'Codependency: The Movie.'"
O'Connor: "I love that as a tag. I can already see that making its way around."
Zendaya: "Yeah, I love seeing peoples’ take on the characters when they’ve only seen the trailer. It’s like, just wait–you have no idea."
O'Connor also compared the film to some of William Shakespeare's works in which the villains "don't think of themselves as villains" in the grand scheme of the story:
O'Connor: "Just wait–you’re going to be really surprised. My dad, who was an English teacher, used to always talk about Shakespeare. And the thing he’d tell me about Shakespeare’s villains is that they don’t think of themselves as villains. That message has always stuck with me, but particularly as I took on the role of Patrick in 'Challengers.'"
Zendaya: "Yeah, they have to believe in their purpose and what they’re doing."
How Will Zendaya Adapt to Villain Role?
Although Zendaya has certainly been part of darker projects, as seen by her work on Euphoria, she's generally been seen in more heroic roles from her time with Disney and her role as MJ in the MCU's Spider-Man trilogy.
Challengers will give her a new opportunity to explore a darker side to her abilities as an actor, with her quotes hinting that there are plenty of uncomfortable aspects to her character and both of the men she works closely with in the story.
But with the new film facing some unfortunate delays due to the ongoing writers' and actors' strikes, those mysteries will remain hidden as fans wait to find out just how truly villainous Zendaya will get to be on the big and small screen.
Challengers hits theaters on April 26, 2024.