For their reinterpretation of Spider-Man, the MCU introduced the character of Peter Parker’s crush “MJ” differently that what fans would have expected. Instead of “Mary-Jane,” MJ is now Michelle Jones, played by Zendaya, who has been known for many pleasant surprises throughout her career.
Born Zendaya (pronounced "zen-day-a") Coleman, the 23-year-old actress rose to fame as a teenager aspiring to be a TV back-up dancer on the Disney Channel series Shake It Up before making her mark as one of Hollywood’s most recognizable and admirable young icons. She accomplished this by starring in two Spider-Man films, showing off her many talents in The Greatest Showman, and, most impressively, never resorting to shock to achieve success beyond her Disney stardom. Of course, on the contrary, her HBO drama Euphoria has certainly not been without its shocking moments so far.
You might also be surprised to find there is even more to learn about the star of Denis Villeneuve's upcoming remake of Dune. These are six interesting things you may not have known about Zendaya.
Zendaya Brought Her Dancing Skills To TV Commercials
It is no secret that dancing has been a huge influence on Zendaya's career, having began taking hip-hop lessons at 8 years-old before joining the California-based troupe Future Shock Oakland, landing her role on Shake It Up, performing at the White House, and coming in second place on Dancing with the Stars. However, less people know that one of the first professional gigs her moves earned her was a commercial for the department store Sears as a back-up dancer for the star of the ad, fellow Disney Channel veteran Selena Gomez.
Zendaya Took Control Of Her Second Disney Channel Show
When Shake It Up ended after three years on Disney Channel, Zendaya, then 16, was offered by the kid-friendly network to lead a new series, which would be known as K.C. Undercover, but not until after she made the suggestion to change its "whack" original title, Super Awesome Katy. In fact, as Zendaya recalled to Vogue, this was one of multiple demands the actress made before agreeing to star as teenage secret agent K.C. Cooper, including taking a role as a producer, making her character a martial arts-trained "brainiac," and doing away with any of the artistic talents every other girl on Disney Channel had. The nearly unprecedented move pulled off, earning Zendaya a Kids Choice Award for Favorite TV Actress in 2017 and other nominations for the series, which ran from 2015-2018, at the Emmys and NAACP Image Awards.
Zendaya Trusted Her "Olivia Pope Gut" To Break From Disney Stardom
Even before K.C. Undercover ended, Zendaya had already become a household name after successfully branching out from her Disney Channel actress roots with major roles in Spider-Man: Homecoming, the Oscar-nominated musical The Greatest Showman, and, of course, the wildly popular video for Taylor's Swift's "Bad Blood." The secret to her graceful transition can be traced back to one person: Olivia Pope. To better explain the relationship between the Zendaya's career trajectory and Kerry Washington's character on the Shonda Rhimes-created political drama Scandal is the following quote, which comes from her 2018 interview with Marie Claire when asked who she looked to for inspiration when breaking from the "Disney framework":
Zendaya Had No Idea She Was Auditioning For Spider-Man: Homecoming
When she was cast as Peter Parker's classmate, and later love interest, Michelle Jones, Zendaya was just as surprised as the majority of the fans were. For one, being an actress of color, she would have expected serious campaigning to be necessary; secondly, she has about two inches on Tom Holland in height; and, lastly, she did not even realize Spider-Man: Homecoming was the movie she was auditioning for. As she revealed to Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show in promotion of the comic book blockbuster, the part she read for was "girl in movie" with no other information given, which, in the end, makes sense considering the tight lid Marvel likes to keep on their movies.
Zendaya Performed Trapeze Without A Net Filming The Greatest Showman
Zendaya is not the one wearing a mask and leaping between rooftops in the MCU Spider-Man movies, yet, while filming the popular musical The Greatest Showman, she did get a pretty good idea of what that is like. As she told the Seattle Times, she would practice the art of trapeze with the aid of safety net while training to play circus performer Anne Wheeler, but when the time came to begin shooting, she could not rely on the net any longer. Fortunately, she found courage from being a called a badass by her co-star, the Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman.
Playing Rue On Euphoria Was A Cathartic Experience For Zendaya
One would expect that Zendaya probably has nothing in common with Rue Bennett, a drug-addicted high schooler whom she leads the cast of Euphoria as, but looks can be deceiving. When speaking about the heavy coming-of-age HBO drama, created by Assassination Nation director Sam Levinson, to Elle, she expressed how portraying the character's struggles with anxiety and depression was "cathartic" (and even "terrifying" in some ways) as she had never previously taken on a project that required her to show vulnerability like she does on the 2019 series. The challenge was, ultimately, a winning experience, allowing her to learn more about herself and feel more confident in her abilities.
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Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.