‘I’m definitely a Virgo,’ says Zendaya, flopping down on a plush sofa in a sun-drenched Beverly Hills hotel suite. ‘They’re perfectionists, controlling sometimes and very meticulous about things,’ she elaborates, counting out her sign’s characteristics on her fingers – elegantly manicured nails add to the dramatic effect. Those qualities irritated her classmates and teachers at school. ‘I’d be the person that would do all the work, like, “You guys don’t know what you’re doing. I’ll do it.”’ But the very same take-charge confidence proved to be currency on the film and television circuit, where auditions regularly expose all manner of insecurities, and helped power Zendaya’s rise through Hollywood’s crowded ranks of young actresses.
Zendaya became a household name at 14 as the star of the Disney Channel sitcom Shake It Up. By the time she turned 16, she’d followed the path of fellow network alumnus Britney (Spears) and Miley (Cyrus) to no-surname-needed levels of fame, releasing an album called – what else? – Zendaya, and later landing a lead role in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. But it was her performance as the pink-haired, no-bullshit trapeze artist Anne Wheeler in The Greatest Showman in 2O17 that sealed her status as that highly sought after kind of actor who can win over critics and mass audiences.
Ask most former Hollywood child stars about transitioning into adulthood and they might answer with stories of depression and addiction. Not Zendaya. ‘I knew everybody would be like, “This is going to be tough for you. It’s going to be hard.” And I was like, “No, you just chill and grow and it will be OK.” I’ve just been living without applying any pressure, just going step by step.’
Today, Zendaya, aged 22, remains relaxed, despite her near-flawless exterior. She’s poised, self-assured and immaculately dressed in a floral Aliétte bodycon dress with her hair styled in glamorous 192Os-style waves. Her occasional glances towards her agent tapping on his mobile in the corner of the room seem not to be a sign of uncertainty, but further proof of that perfectionist nature, wanting to answer every question I ask with precise accuracy.
Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman was born in Oakland, California, a child star with a relatively unstarry upbringing. Her father, Kazembe Ajamu, was a PE teacher before becoming Zendaya’s manager and bodyguard, while her mother Claire was a teacher at an inner-city school. Their only child, Zendaya grew up alongside her five older half-siblings from her father’s previous marriage. She attributes her own work ethic to both her parents. ‘They instilled that in me. For example, my mum was a teacher and would raise money every year so she could take her students to camp. They had high expectations and standards for me, which forced me to have that for myself.’
Her ‘do more, do better’ approach surfaces most clearly in her willingness to speak out about subjects that actors have historically steered clear of. In 2O17, she protested alongside more than 1OO,OOO people as part of the Women’s March in Washington and is also a vocal supporter of #BlackLivesMatter, regularly speaking out against discrimination. She epitomises the very modern phenomenon of the Hollywood activist, but is wary of being called one. ‘I would say I’m just a good person trying to do the right thing. A lot of other people are doing the hard work, going out on to the streets. Those people are the activists. I just want to support them,’ she adds with a warm smile. ‘I appreciate being called [an activist], but I can do better. Like everyone else. I can work harder and do more to earn that title.’
Along with her impressive CV, Zendaya joins a long list of Lancôme ambassadors whose powerful voice takes precedence over their beauty. She’s in the company of icons including Julia Roberts, Kate Winslet, Isabella Rossellini, Penelope Cruz and Lupita Nyong’o. Her first campaign is for the new fragrance, Idôle (£75 for 5Oml), targeted at a younger market and is a fresh, clean take on a rose-based scent (perked up with pink pepper and pear). The sustainable, refillable bottle is shaped like an iPhone, with rose-gold accents and barely there branding – all sure to be big ticks for Zendaya’s Gen-Z fan base. She makes it clear, though, that she views her work as moving beyond any generational box. ‘I’m coming into a new phase in my career, my adulthood, womanhood and maturity. I’m stepping on to a new level and it felt like working with Lancôme was the perfect way to show that.’
When it comes to her own beauty regime, Zendaya wears little to no make-up when off-duty – ‘but always SPF, you’ve gotta wear your SPF’ – and is a vocal critic of retouching. ‘I’m in a place in my life where I can say no. It’s one thing to get rid of a pimple, and another to completely change someone’s face. For me, it’s about how to be in control of that situation.’
Despite her power-woman persona, Zendaya insists that deep down she’s a ‘grandma’ who would rather be at home in LA watching TV with her Miniature Schnauzer, Noon. ‘Seriously. I’ve run out of things to watch,’ she says. Her current obsession? Umbrella Academy, which she says fuels the superhero obsession she formed when immersing herself in the Marvel Universe. Her fellow Spider-Man fans will see her take on an even bigger role in the sequel Far From Home this summer.
She will also star in HBO’s trippy high school series Euphoria, produced by Drake, in an effort to move out of her comfort zone. ‘I don’t want to live in a box,’ she says, on not being pigeon-holed into a specific genre. ‘I want to be able to push myself. I think before I was feeling too comfortable, so I want to prove to others – and myself – that I can do it.’ She adds that she wants to extend her career to writing and directing, too, exploring as many new challenges as she can.
For now, her agenda is clear: ‘I want to continue to do what I love, and that’s acting. It brings me joy, and as long as I can continue to do that and tell stories, I’ll be good.’ With that, our time is up and Zendaya whisks away to prep for an evening of photo calls and parties, each with an immaculate new look and a perfectly delivered speech. Classic Virgo.
Zendaya is the face of Lancôme Idôle, available from 14 August
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