Zendaya on accepting ‘Challengers’ role: ‘It scared the s**t out of me’

“Tashi was a character that I feel like I had never read before,” Zendaya says.

Zendaya attends the UK premiere of "Challengers" at the Odeon Luxe Leicester Square on April 10, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

Zendaya is all about facing her fears. 

The 27-year-old actress revealed that she was terrified to accept her newest role in Luca Guadagnino’s “Challengers” while speaking at a press conference in Los Angeles on Saturday. 

In the drama film, Zendaya plays Tashi Duncan, a cutthroat tennis phenom who becomes a coach after a career-ending injury. A force on and off the court, Tashi finds herself in the middle of a fierce competition between two suitors and tennis players (Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist), who are playing for her heart and, most importantly, her respect. 

“I believe I was still shooting “Euphoria” at the time,” Zendaya said about her introduction to the film at the Maybourne Hotel in Beverly Hills. “Everybody knows that — especially when I’m working — it’s really hard to get me to do anything else than focus on what I’m going to do tomorrow on set. We kind of had a mock table read at my agent’s house, and I just fell in love with the script. I mean, it was brilliant.”

Zendaya went on to say how she was “very nervous to have something to tackle because of how complicated these characters are.” “Challengers” isn’t a movie that’s easily defined, according to the actress.

“[The film] was funny, but I wouldn’t say it was a comedy,” Zendaya explained. “There was drama, but I wouldn’t say it was just a drama. It had tennis, but it wasn’t a sports movie. I think that feeling that it was kind of everything at once and in this beautiful way, was terrifying but equally exhilarating and exciting.”

“[Tashi] was a character that I feel like I had never read before,” the actress added. “I’d never seen it before, and it scared the s**t out of me. So I was like, ‘Ah, maybe I need to do this.’”

Tashi is multi-dimensional in every sense of the word. She is powerful, talented, ambitious, self-centered, beautiful, loving, and cruel all at the same time. Zendaya feels Tashi is often “misunderstood” and wants audiences to give her a chance to impact them the way the character has impacted her. 

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“[Tashi] is a female character who doesn’t have to be likable, doesn’t care about you liking her, and doesn’t ask for forgiveness,” Zendaya said. “I think that that is probably refreshing to some people, and I understand that. That was refreshing to me when I read her. That was why I wanted to play her.”

“Honestly, I feel like it’s our natural instinct to judge people in general. It’s easy to judge these characters, and I understand that because we all do. I think the beauty of this film is that your mind will change because I know mine has every time I watch it.”

“Challengers” will be released in theaters nationwide on Friday, April 26.