Zendaya seems way too young to have been in the public eye for 10 years, but it really doesn’t feel long ago that she was one of those real-life Disney princesses known for shows such as “Shake It Up” and “K.C. Undercover.”
Now, at the ripe old age of 24, she’s the youngest performer to win the Emmy as lead actress in a drama, as recovering addict Rue Bennett in HBO’s “Euphoria.”
Surrounded by family for her excited acceptance speech at the virtual 72nd Emmy Awards on Sunday, she said: “I know this feels like a really, really weird time to be celebrating. I just want to say that there is hope in the young people out there. I know that our TV show doesn’t always feel like a great example of that, but there is hope in the young people.”
Having won over an impressive field of veteran actresses, including Sandra Oh (12 nominations) and Jodie Comer (the reigning champ) of “Killing Eve”; Oscar winner Olivia Colman of “The Crown”; Jennifer Aniston (seven nominations, one win) of “The Morning Show”; and four-time winner Laura Linney of “Ozark.”
“Every single woman in that category, I obviously admire immensely and their work and everything they continue to do,” she told those in the virtual pressroom when asked about the display of support her fellow nominees gave her when she won. “Just to be mentioned within a category at all was something, and then just to have their support, to have them smile and wave at me and stuff like that, meant a lot to me. That support really filled my heart, I guess you could say.”
“I got through it without letting it take over completely,” she added. “But it’s obviously a very emotional moment. Yeah, I still can’t believe it myself. Pretty crazy.”
Her character in “Euphoria” is a far cry from her Disney past, and even from her more recent, high-profile projects — the acrobat in a forbidden love affair in the musical “The Greatest Showman” and the completely reimagined “MJ” character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe “Spider-Man”. Rue has extreme mood swings and self-medicates; she’s in trouble, and it’s not clear that she’ll find her way. But in Zendaya’s hands, she remains sympathetic.
Zendaya at the 72nd Emmy Awards
“What’s so special to me about her is that she is a full, whole human being and she’s layered and she’s complicated,” the actress said . “I think, as the show goes on, we’re also able to empathize with addiction and what that looks like, and what that does to a family and be able to understand and still root for Rue. We understand what’s going on in her head. We understand how she views the world and how she views everything that happens to her.
“For me, I’ve always been very grateful for all the people who feel that they connect to Rue. Or feel that, through the show, they’ve been able to put or attach words, or find themselves within a scene or a moment where they otherwise felt alone or maybe they were the only person dealing with or having those thoughts … to have that clarity or to have that feeling that there [are] other people that feel what I feel, I think is huge, and it’s very important.”
After seeing the joy in the room when her family shared her win with her, Zendaya was asked how it was to “experience so much joy in a year filled with so much pain.”
“That’s a big question,” she said. “I’m just grateful for moments like this, moments when we can have joy and we can wrap our arms around our loved ones and tell each other we love each other and we’re proud of each other. I think it’s moments like this we have to all hold onto and cherish. I’m just grateful my whole family — who are all standing off to the side and trying to be quiet,” she said, pointing at them off-camera and laughing "— is all here to celebrate with me and be here. I felt this wrapping of love around me as I was sitting here.
“I’m just trying to take it all in and be grateful for all we do have of joy and happiness.”