John David Washington Addresses The 12-Year Age Gap In His Netflix Romance With Zendaya

Zendaya and John David Washington in Malcolm and Marie

Set to be released in theaters this Friday for a limited run before arriving on Netflix next month, Sam Levinson's Malcolm And Marie has earned a mostly warm reception from critics, though there has been some controversy surrounding the film. Namely, some have pointed at the film as the latest example of Hollywood pairing an older actor with a younger actress, as there is a 12-year age gap between the 36-year-old John David Washington and the 24-year-old Zendaya. It's a conversation that will likely continue to spark debate as the film gets closer to its streaming run, but adding his two cents to the mix, Washington has defended the choice primarily because of the maturity that he saw from his co-star.

The Tenet actor recently spoke with Variety about Malcolm And Marie, which was entirely conceptualized and created during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the trade reporter asked John David Washington for his opinion about the age gap criticism. In defense of Zendaya's casting, the actor explained that while she may be young, she very much demonstrates herself as a full adult in the new movie. Said Washington,

I wasn’t concerned about it because she is a woman. People are going to see in this film how much of a woman she is. She has far more experience than I do in the industry. I’ve only been in it for seven years. She’s been in it longer, so I’m learning from her. I’m the rookie. I was leaning on her for a lot. Some of the stories she’s shared about what she’s had to go through with Twitter and everything.

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What John David Washington points out is interesting, as it's notable that one of the reasons the audience sees Zendaya as being young is because of the roles that she plays. In both the Spider-Man movies and Euphoria she plays a teenager (not to mention of her many years as a "Disney Kid"), but in truth she is in her mid-20s. On a certain level, Hollywood has conditioned viewers to see her as being younger than she actually is.

It should also be noted that the age gap between the two stars does have a role to play in Malcolm & Marie and how the characters are presented. Malcolm (John David Washington) is a director who we meet as he and Marie (Zendaya) are coming home from his first successful movie premiere, and while the mood starts mostly positive in the movie, it turns sour quickly as she confronts him about not getting a "Thank you" in a speech he gave. It turns out that this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as conflict in their relationship, however, and more is uncovered as the drama unfolds.

It's the first time that John David Washington and Zendaya have had the opportunity to work together, and the former isn't wrong when he says that his co-star's experience in the industry outweighs his. Zendaya got her first starring role in 2010 at the age of 14 on the Disney Channel series Shake It Up, and her career has evolved tremendously over the last decade. Washington's experience technically goes back further, as he had bit appearances in movies with his father, Denzel Washington, early in his life (including Malcolm X and Devil In A Blue Dress), but his big acting break only came in 2015 playing Ricky Jerret on the HBO series Ballers.

Continuing, John David Washington expressed real admiration for the mature perspective that Zendaya brought to the table in the making of Malcolm & Marie, saying,

I appreciated her wisdom and discernment when it comes to this business. I admire that. What I’m really excited for people to see when the film is released – they’re going to see how mature she is in this role. We’re talking about versatility, and Sam and Zendaya brought both.

After starting its run on the big screen this Friday, Malcolm And Marie will be heading to Netflix on February 5. You can check out my review here, and check out our 2021 Netflix premiere schedule to find out what other originals are hitting the streaming service this year.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.