“I am being seen as a real actress, doing what makes me feel pushed and motivated.” – Zendaya on Her Career Growth
It seems that almost any performer who begins his or her career on a Disney Channel show has an uphill battle once they grow up — despite being popular with audiences, they are faced with the challenges of having to prove that they are both talented and committed to growing as actors and that their popularity isn’t fleeting. Actress Zendaya, who started her career on the show Shake It Off in her early teens, is the latest to face those career hurdles. In an interview with Marie Claire, Zendaya speaks about why she is continuing to pursue acting and the difficulties she has faced.
Zendaya explains that despite being known for many things, she is currently focusing on improving herself as an actress and expanding her range. She says, “Right now, acting has been a great outlet. It’s definitely been a process, especially because I’m coming from this very different world of Disney. Having been consistently on a television show, I felt stagnant. Not having that anymore, I am being seen as a real actress, doing what makes me feel pushed and motivated. I don’t necessarily think comfort is always the best place to live in. I’m kind of excited as I decide what projects I want to take on or if I want to produce. I’ve really found the power in just doing what makes me happy.”
Being that she is still such a young actress, Zendaya says that she’s received a lot of advice suggesting what directions she need to go in — but she’s committed to focusing on what she wants to do. She explains, “There’s going to be a lot of different opinions and a lot of people telling you what you should do and what you shouldn’t do, but I had to home in on what Zendaya wanted and drive straight toward that. There’s something liberating about making decisions for yourself. A huge part of it was to take my time. I wanted to create who I was as a person outside of my Disney character.”
Even though she is already famous, that didn’t mean that parts have come easy for her. After all, many already have a preconceived notion of who she is. Zendaya says, “There was a lot of not getting the audition that I wanted and often going out for parts that weren’t written for a girl who looks like me and just saying, ‘Hey, see me anyway,’ until the right thing stuck. Whenever I’ve been persuaded or trying to do something to please somebody else or because there’s pressure from people in general to make a decision, it always blows up in my face. So I have been in this zone of only doing shit because I want to do it and because it feels right all the way through.”
An example of Zendaya going out for a role that didn’t seem to fit her — and successfully getting it — was playing Michelle Jones in Spider-Man: Homecoming. She recalls, “I definitely went into it like, ‘Hopefully they’ll’—as they call it in the industry—’go ethnic.’ I remember making the decision to straighten my hair. I didn’t know that they were going to be more diverse in their casting. I didn’t know that I was walking into a situation where they were already breaking the rules. You get so used to having to break the rules for people.”
Of course, that hasn’t worked every time Zendaya has gone for a role. She continues, “I’m an actress. We’ve all experienced getting the no’s, and that’s okay. I always say, ‘If you don’t get cast, it wasn’t yours to begin with.’ But there’s been a few things. I always tell my theatrical manager, ‘Anytime it says they’re looking for white girls, send me out. Let me get in the room. Maybe they’ll change their minds.’ And, honestly, if there’s a part that I didn’t get or that I really wanted at the time, shit always ends up working out.”