Zendaya names her biggest challengers in Vogue

Posing for Vogue’s May cover, Zendaya talks about being self-driven, establishing boundaries and more.

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Zendaya on the May 2024 cover of Vogue (Photo credits: Vogue)

Leading up to the release of her new film, “Challengers,” on April 26 and this year’s Met Gala on May 6, which she is co-chairing, Zendaya posed for the cover of Vogue’s May issue — for both the American and British editions. According to an Instagram post by the outlet, the Zendaya double fantasy is “only the third time in recent history” that a single celebrity has simultaneously covered both Vogue’s U.S. and the U.K. publications. Modeling a series of couture looks styled by her personal “image architect,” Law Roach, the actress, who has long maintained “It girl” status, opened up about the “creature” she taps into when appearing on red carpets and photoshoots. 

“She’s a different being that comes into me — my own Sasha Fierce,” she told Vogue, comparing the transition to Beyoncé’s famed alter ego. “She takes over, and she does the carpet.”

Both fiercely youthful and meticulously referential, Zendaya’s style has not only earned her social media praise but also a coveted spot on the 2024 Met Gala co-chairing committee, an announcement that thrilled fans and fashion lovers alike. While the actress has built a name for herself as a style icon off-screen, she tells Vogue she remains her own biggest critic and competitor onscreen. Since her debut on Disney as a preteen, Zendaya has starred in hit shows like “Euphoria,” which earned her two Emmy Awards, and blockbuster film franchises like “Spider-Man” and “Dune.” Now, the 27-year-old star is showcasing her ability to take on more mature roles in “Challengers,” where she plays Tashi Duncan, a hyper-competitive, 30-year-old tennis star-turned-coach. 

“I mean, listen, [Tashi] takes the shit to a whole new level,” Zendaya said when asked about her own competitive tendencies. “[But] I’d say, yeah, I’m competitive, in the sense that I want to work hard, and I try to not be competitive with anyone else. I try to just be like, ‘I already did that, okay, so now I got to do better.’” 

While admitting the self-inflicted pressure can “sometimes it’s a bit crippling,” the actress leans into the freedom, security, and creative engagement that comes with being on set, so much so that she is already an accomplished producer and is exploring other behind-the-scenes roles like potentially directing. With hopes to one day also start a family, Zendaya, who poses in a bridal ensemble by Schiaparelli Haute Couture for the issue, grapples with what her future might look like and whether she’ll be a “public-facing person forever.”  

“I just gotta be totally cool with it and just live my life,” she said, reflecting on the attention that comes with stardom. “Because I don’t necessarily want my kids to have to deal with this.” 

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Zendaya on the May 2024 cover of British Vogue (Photo credit: Vogue)

In addition to learning how to set polite boundaries with fans, Zendaya says her dream scenario for the future would be to “make things and pop out when I need to pop out, and then have a safe and protected life with my family, and not be worried that if I’m not delivering something all the time, or not giving all the time, that everything’s going to go away.” 

As part of Zendaya’s interview with Vogue, Serena Williams — who, like Zendaya, began her career while still a preteen — entered the chat. In an intimate conversation via Zoom, the actress and tennis star empathized about their demanding careers and opened up about feeling that, early on, there “were no other options,” than those that led them to fame. 

“It’s funny, because [the other option besides acting is] something that I’m figuring out now,” Zendaya told Williams when asked what her alternative career would be. “I don’t know how much of a choice I had. I have complicated feelings about kids and fame and being in the public eye or being a child actor. … And I think only now, as an adult, am I starting to go, ‘Oh, OK, wait a minute: I’ve only ever done what I’ve known, and this is all I’ve known.’ I’m almost going through my angsty teenager phase now because I didn’t really have the time to do it before. I felt like I was thrust into a very adult position.” 

As the women continued to commiserate about their experiences, the tennis legend shared her secret to balancing work, life, family and personal passions: “[surrounding yourself with] people you trust to lighten your load — and with boundaries.”

Updated: Tuesday, 04/09/2024 at 4:00 p.m., ET: An earlier version of this article failed to mention Zendaya’s concurrent appearance on the cover of British Vogue; the article has been updated to reflect that development.