Meta: Zendaya as Rue Bennet in Euphoria.
Source: HBO

Zendaya has become a household name over the last few years. If you’ve turned on a television, looked at a magazine, or been on the internet at all since 2015, chances are you’ve seen her modeling, starring in friends’ music videos, or acting as the face of a marketing campaign. But it’s been her role as Rue Bennet on HBO’s hit show Euphoria that has attracted major attention. A dramatic shift from her previous work, Zendaya’s portrayal of Rue is raw, gritty, and by all standards, impeccably done. Let’s take a look at how the child actor was able to successfully break out of the Disney-Kid mold and land such a serious dramatic role. 

Zendaya’s Disney Path Was Different Than Most

Meta: Zendaya (center) with the cast of K.C. Undercover.
Source: Teen Vogue

Like a lot of celebrities, Zendaya got her start on the Disney channel. However, it was clear from the get-go that Zendaya’s maturity and down-to-earth personality would set her apart from other Disney stars, particularly those whose paths were a little more… troubled (Miley Cyrus, Bella Thorne, Zac Efron, Lee Thompson Young, Demi Lovato to name just a few). 

Zendaya’s Disney show, K.C. Undercover, aired from 2015 to 2018 and follows kid-genius K.C. Cooper as her parents recruit her into being a spy alongside them. Zendaya was only 18 years old when filming began, but unlike many of her Disney colleagues, she took an active role in the show’s production. Before she accepted the role of K.C., she advocated for the family to be one of color. In an interview with The New York Times, Zendaya stated that she believed that Disney needed to take more responsibility for featuring diverse female characters. She also urged the show’s creator’s to give the show a more grown-up title (it was originally called Super Awesome Katy, so we’re glad she did. Yikes.), and wanted to be named a producer; She got her wish — she has production credits on 53 of the 76 total episodes.

Transitioning to the Graphic World of Euphoria

Before you can understand just how impressive Zendaya’s transition to serious acting is, you need to understand the subject matter behind Euphoria. Euphoria follows Rue Bennett, a 17-year-old drug addict, who is fresh out of rehab with no intentions of staying clean. The show explores the relationships between Rue and her circle of equally-troubled friends, and all the things that come with them: violence, drugs, trauma, sex, and love.

Meta: Zendaya (right) with Hunter Schafer (left), who plays Rue’s best friend Jules in Euphoria.
Source: Harper’s Bazaar

Zendaya has publicly expressed her nerves over portraying Rue, as her real life draws almost no parallels to Rue’s, and she had only wrapped filming K.C. Undercover less than two years prior. She feared that with her unfamiliarity with the subject matter, she would not be able to do the role justice. But Sam Levison, the show’s showrunner and creator, never had a doubt, and it was his faith in her that gave her the confidence to throw herself into the role headfirst.

In fact, Levison revealed that he had Zendaya in mind for Rue since the early days of the show’s conception. He tells Entertainment Weekly that, “To be honest, I had had this mood board that I brought into HBO and I had her face on it. There’s just something that I couldn’t get over. She had this real vulnerability to her at times, and then a real toughness to her.” Zendaya later said how she was shocked when he told her this, as she had never thought of herself as being ‘perfect’ for a role like Rue’s. Nevertheless, Zendaya completely nails the character, and has helped make the show such a powerful narrative about the scary reality of today’s high school life.

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