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Zendaya Talks Challengers, Talks to Serena Williams, and Considers Her Future


It’s an amazing, almost inspiring thing, what happens when Zendaya gets in front of a camera.


Before visiting the set of her British Vogue cover shoot in late January, I imagined her regarding the whole ordeal with gracious indifference. (The model in my mind was Ingrid Bergman at the 1975 Academy Awards, dryly telling the audience after her third career win that it was “always very nice to get an Oscar.”) Zendaya has, after all, been working in Hollywood since she was 13; she’s served as an ambassador for Louis Vuitton, Valentino, Tommy Hilfiger, Bulgari, and Lancôme; and, at 27, she’s already won the Emmy for best lead actress in a drama twice. Surely, posing for a magazine would be, dare I say it, kind of boring to her by now? (Actually, two magazines: This month, she becomes one of the rare stars to cover British Vogue and Vogue US simultaneously—with two separate shoots and covers, by Carlijn Jacobs and Annie Leibovitz, respectively.)


But at a nondescript studio space in Aubervilliers, a northern suburb of Paris, what I discover instead is a woman possessed. Endlessly leaping and twirling in youthful silhouettes from Vuitton, Erdem, Marni, and Wales Bonner, Zendaya is, as they say, giving: face, movement, angles, legs. (Five foot ten in bare feet, she gets them from her mother, who stands a staggering six foot four.) From moment to moment, she morphs into Veruschka, Twiggy, Naomi, Linda. She even has Linda’s hair: After appearing that morning in micro-bangs and pin-straight lengths for Schiaparelli’s spring 2024 haute couture show at the Petit Palais, she now sports a swishy little pageboy cut. The cries of approval—from Jacobs; from Zendaya’s stylist (or “image architect,” as he would have it), Law Roach; from her assistant–​slash–hype man, Darnell (“You look beautiful!”)—are breathless, in part because they can barely keep up.


The scene is mesmerizing, total magic…but it all seems pretty exhausting too. This is work, full stop. Pausing to cool down, she intently reviews her results, scrolling through Jacobs’s images on a monitor. (Roach, hovering nearby in a bedazzled tracksuit, waist-length braids, and a cream knit cap, leans over to confer with her, while Darnell—tall and finely groomed, with big white teeth and thin, twisting locs—manages the playlist, bobbing along to “Hey Ya!” by OutKast.) At these junctures, Zendaya could be a scientist scrutinizing slides in a lab: Variously identifying some strange shape she’d made with her neck, or determining that her hair should flip this way rather than that, she is dutiful, present, utterly precise. A pro, in other words.


Truthfully, I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Zendaya had warned me about this, the kind of creature she turns into when she’s having her picture taken. The day before the shoot, I am led by her friendly security guy, Paul, into a sprawling hotel suite high above the Place de la Concorde, dampened that morning by freezing rain. I settle in a room where, from a small terrace, the Dôme des Invalides and the Eiffel Tower are plainly visible to the south and southwest. Casting an eye for personal effects, I find nothing, only a balled-up plastic bag in one of the matching armchairs.


When, after 10 minutes or so, Zendaya sidles in to meet me, Darnell trailing behind her, she cuts a fairly different figure from the whirling dervish in Aubervilliers. Fresh-faced, with her naturally curly hair—then an auburn-brown color—pulled back, she’s dressed in a dove gray cashmere pullover, pleated black trousers, black socks, and brown slippers, a yellow silk scarf slung about her neck and a silver watch hanging from her wrist. This is “Z” off-duty: cozy, quiet, immediately disarming. (She greets me, sweetly, with a hug.) Also jet-lagged—she’d arrived in Paris late the night before and been in fittings all day.


“She’s a different being that comes into me—my own Sasha Fierce,” she explains, referring to the alter ego famously assumed by one Beyoncé Knowles. (On set, she will briefly break her focus to trill along to “Heated” from Renaissance: “Yadda, yadda, yadda, bom, bom, kah, kah!”) “She takes over and she does the carpet.” The clothes, of course, play a role: For Zendaya, shoots and red carpets are like movie or television sets, in that they all demand commitment to a character. “I have to buy her,” she says. “I have to buy that this woman exists, or that this fantasy exists.”


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Weight 1 lbs
Dimensions 13 × 10 × 1 in


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