When Zendaya’s name rang out as the winner of the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series award for her performance in HBO’s Euphoria during the Emmy Awards broadcast last September, audiences were treated to Zoom-like reaction shots from her fellow nominees before the camera landed on the 24-year-old actress—the youngest recipient of that award in the history of the Emmys. “This is pretty crazy—I don’t really cry,” the Lancôme ambassador said, brushing aside the bangs of her expertly tousled updo and dabbing a smoky-black-lined eye. Behind her sat her family and her team, screaming joyfully.
Later, when her friend Timothée Chalamet calls from France for an exclusive interview with ELLE, Zendaya recalls the moment fondly—although she laughingly admits she was worried that her family’s long celebration might cue the dreaded awards-show cut-off music.
Zendaya and Chalamet became close on the set of Dune, a feature-film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science-fiction novel about a feudal intergalactic empire in the distant future. (The movie, which was originally slated to be released in December 2020, was bumped to 2021 due to COVID-19.) In the film, Zendaya’s character, Chani, a warrior from the planet Arrakis, is initially wary of Chalamet’s Paul Atreides, the heir to an aristocratic family who has been tasked with taking over her home planet, but the two eventually form a tight bond. Even though the book was published in 1965 and the film was shot in pre-pandemic 2019, audiences may notice parallels to our current reality—Arrakis’ harsh climate and giant sandworms are perhaps reminiscent of our own smoke-clogged orange skies and “murder hornets.” Zendaya can’t predict what viewers will take away from the film, or even what the world will look like tomorrow, but she remains optimistic. She closed out her Emmy acceptance speech acknowledging that while Euphoria, with its gritty depictions of teen sex, drugs and trauma, might not always be a shining example, “there is hope in the young people.”
Read more about what makes Zendaya hopeful (and about the wild dance parties she hosted in her room for the cast of Dune) in her conversation with Chalamet.
Dress (Giambattista Valli Haute Couture) and earrings (Bulgari).
CHALAMET: “We haven’t talked since you won your Emmy. Congrats!”
ZENDAYA: “Thanks, man. I appreciate it. Pretty nuts. It was a crazy moment.”
CHALAMET: “Since the show was virtual, how did it work? Did you know in advance that you were going to win?”
CHALAMET: “You didn’t? So how did they get the award there so quickly?”
ZENDAYA: “There were these people in hazmat suits who went around to all the nominees’ houses with awards. So basically if you won, you’d grab it quickly from them and have it. If you didn’t win, they’d just take it with them and leave.”
CHALAMET: “Oh, shit. [Laughs] So you got to keep yours!”
ZENDAYA: “Yeah. Yeah. I got to keep mine. [My assistant] Darnell [Appling] was actually the one who handed it to me.”
CHALAMET: “Oh, so that’s it. Well, I’m so happy for you. I was screaming over here when I saw it! When you had just gotten the nomination, I remember us talking about what it was going to be like in this environment—not having an in-person ceremony. But you killed it!”
ZENDAYA: “Thanks, man. I was nervous about the possibility of having to get up and speak. So I was like, ‘Okay, let me just write down a few little bullet points.’ Usually I would just go up there and say what’s in my heart, but everybody was like, ‘No, I think you should definitely write something down.’ But then I was worried that maybe it’s bad luck to have something prepared because it’s like, I don’t know….”
CHALAMET: “You didn’t want to jinx it.”
ZENDAYA: “Yeah, exactly. So the day of, I wrote a little thing down to have just in case. And that was very helpful. I was very nervous, but I’m glad my family was there.”
CHALAMET: “It looked like a sweet moment, full of love.”
ZENDAYA: “It absolutely was. Everybody was there and screaming, as my family does! We are a very loud family, and I was worried that they were going to scream for too long. And the little clock would start ticking and I’d be like, ‘Ah, thank you.’ And then it would be over.”
CHALAMET: “And the guy in the hazmat suit would come in and take it away.”
Dress (Dior Haute Couture), earrings and rings (Bulgari) and sneakers (New Balance x Jaden Smith Vision Racer).
CHALAMET: “What was it like to get all glammed up and then not leave the house?”
ZENDAYA: “That was all right with me. I got to feel all fancy and put on this beautiful custom [Armani Privé] gown and do my hair and makeup and then just be with my family in the living room, which was actually quite nice.”
CHALAMET: “Very wholesome.”
ZENDAYA: “Yeah, it was great. And we got to take pictures in the house, so I knew I would be happy with them.”
CHALAMET: “You got photo approval.”
ZENDAYA: “Yeah, there was none of the usual ‘Ah, I hate that picture’ that suddenly circulates everywhere. So it wasn’t bad. It actually worked really smoothly, the way they virtually transitioned people over to different media outlets. They really had it all figured out.”
CHALAMET: “Maybe we’ll end up having Zoom ceremonies forever.”
ZENDAYA: “Yeah. I mean, it’s a new world.”
Top and skirt (Alexandre Vauthier Haute Couture), earrings and rings (Bulgari) and sneakers (Nike x Sacai VaporWaffle).
“I experience moments of joy when I'm able to create art and be involved in projects that I connect with deeply.”
CHALAMET: “In your speech, you said that there’s hope in the young people, and it seemed as if hope was a big part of the message you were trying to get across. What in the past year has given you hope? And what does hope mean to you?”
ZENDAYA: “Well, my intention was really just to be honest, because it feels like a very hopeless time, specifically in this country. I know a lot of my peers feel enraged and exhausted and tired of living and growing up in a system that feels like it wasn’t built for us. At this moment in time, it is hard to find joy and beauty in things, and I really think that is important. Right now, we as Black people need to embrace joy and not let it be taken away from us.”
CHALAMET: “How do you embrace joy in your own life?”
ZENDAYA: “I experience moments of joy when I’m able to create art and be involved in projects that I connect with deeply, whether it be Euphoria or Malcolm & Marie, the movie I shot during quarantine with [Euphoria creator] Sam Levinson. Another thing that gives me joy is seeing people’s responses to my work. With Euphoria, it’s incredibly moving to see how people have connected with what Sam has written. I’ve heard so many beautiful stories about addiction and recovery, and that brings me hope.”
CHALAMET: “What else brings you hope these days?”
ZENDAYA: “I find hope in my peers, the people who are out there on the streets doing the work—people I admire and go to for advice and information on what’s happening so that I can make sure I’m using my platform to help in the most strategic way I can. There is so much hope in young people, and when I say ‘young people,’ I do mean myself—people my own age—but I also mean younger. These really young kids are so smart and have such a clear understanding and plan for how they want this world to change. Even my little nieces! They are so aware, and I mean, I can take credit for some of that because I’ve been schooling them. But they also have their own point of view. We have discussions about [the world]. They know what’s up, and they want to be part of that change.”
CHALAMET: “Over the course of your career, you’ve given a lot of people hope and joy. I saw some montages on Instagram of all the work you have done over the past decade, and it was really moving. Rue, the character you play in Euphoria, has connected with so many people. And we’ve talked a lot about engagement, putting that voice forward. Speaking of which, you spoke to Michelle Obama, didn’t you?”
CHALAMET: “And you were all over trying to get people registered to vote.”
ZENDAYA: “Yeah, yeah. Shit, I mean, all you can do is encourage people and help share information.”
CHALAMET: “Absolutely. So in Dune, our characters are up against horrible odds in a cruel sci-fi world set in the distant future. What was shooting this film like for you?”
ZENDAYA: “Oh, man. I had a fricking great time. I felt like such a badass, just wearing that suit and walking around on these beautiful rock formations. It was so cool and exciting to be part of the magic.”
CHALAMET: “What was your favourite thing we did during breaks from shooting?”
ZENDAYA: “I guess it was the dance parties that I hosted in my room.”
CHALAMET: “There was a super-legit fucking wrap party at the end there. We were with some of the cast, and then Javier [Bardem] came in and we were all dancing.”
ZENDAYA: “Javier popped in, yeah.”
Read the full interview in the February-March issue of ELLE Canada — out on newsstands and on Apple News+ Feb. 1 You can also subscribe for the latest in fashion.
Photographer: Micaiah Carter; stylist: Law Roach; makeup: Sheika Daley (SIX K); hair: Kim Kimble (Kim Kimble Haircare); set Design: David Browne; producer, Ben Bonnet (Westy Productions).
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