For this installment of Path to the Emmy Awards, we’re featuring another first-time nominee who shares with Beyoncé the ability to be recognized with just one name: Zendaya. The young thespian cut her teeth on various Disney Channel series before taking on the role that earned her an Emmy nod for Best Actress in a Drama Series. Her work in HBO’s Euphoria as a high school junior battling addiction generated a lot of buzz before landing Zendaya on this year’s list of nominees. From starring in children’s series to playing the lead in a show decidedly not family-friendly, Zendaya’s had quite the journey to the Emmy Awards.
Before landing work on the Disney Channel, the Euphoria star was working in the industry at an early age as a model and a dancer. She even did a gig where she danced back-up for Selena Gomez in a Sears commercial before Zendaya’s own career took off. She landed a lead role opposite Bella Thorne in the Disney Channel series Shake it Up in 2010 at the tender age of 13, and from there has had steady work as an actor. In 2015, she started leading another series on the network, this time as the titular character in K.C. Undercover. As for her film work, Zendaya’s credits include the Tom Holland-starring Spider-Man: Homecoming, as well as Spider-Man: Far From Home. And she gave a colorful turn that put both her singing and dancing abilities on full display in the Hugh Jackman-starring musical The Greatest Showman.
Zendaya’s transition to starring in Euphoria was a stark 180 from the previous family-friendly projects she’d done. When asked about it during an interview with The New York Times, Zendaya shared that while she appreciated getting to work on shows like K.C. Undercover, she “wanted more.” That opportunity came with the role of Rue, a character whose experiences seem to have a close connection to those of Euphoria showrunner Sam Levinson. “Obviously, there’s not much in my own experience of being a teen that I could draw on, especially when it comes to struggling with addiction,” Zendaya shared during a Vogue interview. “My policy is, when in doubt: Ask Sam. Because Sam’s gone through all that, and, you know … basically, he’s Rue.”
Even though the actor had little from her own past to use for connecting to the character, Levinson still had Zendaya in mind for Rue when he was developing Euphoria. “There’s a way Z can vacillate between seeming extremely tough and extremely vulnerable, and it’s all in her face,” Levinson told Vogue about his instinct that Zendaya was the actor for the role. And their partnership goes past the HBO series. Levinson wrote and directed the upcoming drama feature Malcolm & Marie that Zendaya stars in opposite John David Washington; the movie was quietly filmed this summer according to COVID-19 protocols.
The upcoming project featuring Zendaya is still largely under wraps, but in the meantime, you can anticipate a potential milestone moment in her career. If the 24-year-old actor wins for Best Actress in a Drama Series at this year’s Emmy Awards, she’ll become the youngest woman to win in that category, beating out Jodie Comer’s record that was just set last year. And regardless of whether she receives the accolade or not, Zendaya’s path forward looks promising. We can’t help but see a similarity in her journey from family-friendly content to more mature material and the similar pattern displayed in Beyoncé’s career, albeit in a different industry. The two single-moniker stars even have a shared IMDb credit, thanks to Zendaya’s appearance in the singer’s “All Night” video. So whatever this year’s Emmy Awards have in store for the actor — whose full name is Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman for those still wondering — her journey to them suggests a destiny of great things ahead.