As she wins an Emmy Award, Zendaya looks back on her journey from Disney poppet to serious actor

In an exclusive interview, the star talks fame, her favourite red-carpet looks, and how she and Timothée Chalamet became 'homies'

In an interview published earlier this year, Luxury met the actor Zendaya, this weekend awarded an Emmy for her performance in 'Euphoria' 

Zendaya isn’t sure how to accurately describe the extraordinary outfit she’s sporting. Is it a coat? Is it a shirt? Is it a shrub? Whatever the word for it, the sheer white organza item – by Indian designer Rahul Mishra – floor-length, sleeved, and slashed to the navel, is festooned with delicately embroidered foliage, giving the 23-year-old actor the look of a well-tailored wood nymph. 

Few wood nymphs, of course, would accessorise with wristfuls of diamond bracelets, fingers bedecked with rings, and a multi-layer chain-link diamond choker, but such is the fortune of the new face of jewellery house Bulgari. "I have always wanted to do a high-end jewellery brand," says Zendaya, giving her right wrist a jangle.

Behind the scenes in Rome, while filming Bulgari’s Mai Troppo campaign

Borrowed bling for tonight’s lavish launch party in Brooklyn aside, however, she is most enthused by the Roman holiday she enjoyed while shooting Bulgari’s "dreamy" new Mai Troppo campaign ("in castles filled with frescoes, that were, like, someone’s living room once," she muses) along with model Lily Aldridge, actor Naomi Scott, and singer and actor Kris Wu. "Usually, when I go anywhere for work, I have just a day there, and no time to enjoy anything; in Rome, I got quite a few days off, so I hired a tour guide and went everywhere – the Forum, the Colosseum, all the sights."

It wasn’t, she says, her first time in the city. "But the first time I went, I did everything at night, so  I wasn’t…" She hesitates, clearly uncomfortable stating that her fame hampered her sightseeing. "…having problems, you know, getting around," she says, eventually. 

But however reticent she may be about it, among a certain generation – and, increasingly, among anyone with any interest in fashion – Zendaya is very famous indeed. 

Joan of Arc-themed in Versace at the 2018 Met Gala Credit: Getty

Growing up in Oakland, California, Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman began working as a child model for high-street names such as Macy’s and Sears, as well as performing in the California Shakespeare Theater, where her mother worked as house manager. At 14, Zendaya took on the role of Rocky Blue, the bookish, dance-crazy protagonist in the Disney Channel sitcom Shake It Up. She spent three years on the show, simultaneously launching a teen pop career, releasing singles and an album. 

But, unlike many former child stars, she appears to have managed the tricky transition to adult actor seamlessly, first with small but significant roles in films such as Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Greatest Showman, and then, last year, as the lead in the gritty, provocative HBO drama Euphoria, whose graphic depiction of teenage sex, drugs and social media  misuse would have any parent immediately fixing bolts on the outsides of bedroom doors. This month, she picked up the Best Actress in a Drama award at the Emmys for her role. 

Zendaya’s character, Rue, a 17-year-old drug user, is a far cry from Rocky Blue. "I was aware that people had only seen me do a certain thing, they only knew me as this Disney kid. I hadn’t proved to anyone that I could do this, and I doubted myself whether I could do it," she admits. "But once I got the script, all of that went out of the window – I had to be part of it."

Sexual violence, opioid overdoses and revenge porn, all of which feature in Euphoria, were  not her own high-school experience – she was schooled on set for the final few years of her education. "I was in the public eye, too, so I had to be aware that I was going to be held far more accountable than my friends," she says. "But I don’t feel like I missed out. I wouldn’t take anything back, because if I did, I wouldn’t be here, doing this."

But since playing Rue, a role she will reprise when the show begins filming season two this month, she says, "a lot of people have been able to really connect with it, and share their stories with me – I’m very grateful that I was able to affect somebody in some kind of way." 

It seems she’s also had a serious effect on her Euphoria co-star Jacob Elordi, who plays the manipulative footballer Nate, and with whom she’s been photographed in romantic clinches around New York City. Sadly, with a small army of Bulgari staff with us in the room – those diamonds are worth as much as a Manhattan mansion, after all – that topic is firmly off the table today. 

Zendaya as acrobat Anne Wheeer in The Greatest Showman, 2017

I ask about other men in her life, though, including everyone’s internet boyfriend Timothée Chalamet, with whom she stars in the forthcoming big-budget sci-fi film Dune. "Timothée is the best," she beams. "As soon as we met, I knew we were going to be homies." Next, she’ll appear alongside rising British star Tom Holland in an as-yet-unnamed Spider-Man sequel. 

She’s also become a staple on best-dressed lists, consistently gracing the red carpet with edgily elegant creations in collaboration with stylist Law Roach, previously a judge on America’s Next Top Model. How many options will they have in advance of a big event, I ask. "You’d think it would be a billion," she laughs. "But with Law and me, it’s really just two or three, because we know what we like. And sometimes, it’s only one. For the Emmys last September it was just that one dress that we created with Vera Wang," she says of the green corset-and-fishtail number. "And for the Critics’ Choice Awards, they [Tom Ford’s team] had to make that breast-plate specifically for me."  

Her all-time favourite, though, is the ‘Joan of Arc’ at the 2018 Met Gala, for which Versace draped her in chain mail. "I was definitely in character that night and I felt such a badass," she grins. "I felt like I should have an actual sword." That really would be a red-carpet moment to remember. 

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