It’s worth noting, however, that “Challengers” is told in flashback, and at the beginning of the film, the three characters are 17 or 18, so Zendaya wasn’t wholly free of playing a high schooler. The flashbacks also trace the three lead characters as they traverse the rockier parts of their 20s, and they each play teens, 20-somethings, and dejected 31-year-olds with equal aplomb. Zendaya found playing a slightly older character refreshing, saying to Vogue, “I’m always in a high school somewhere. […] And, mind you, I never went to high school.” That’s something of an odd statement, as Zendaya did indeed graduate from Oak Parks High School in 2015. Perhaps she’s referring to the fact that her performing, acting, and modeling careers probably kept her away from regular classroom attendance, and it’s likely her education was completed remotely via on-set tutors and home-schooling.

Zendaya was happy to get away from lockers and desks, though. “[It] was refreshing,” she said. “And it was also kind of scary because I was like, ‘I hope people buy me as my own age, or maybe a little bit older,’ because I have friends that have kids or are having kids.”

Those who have been following Zendaya since her days at Disney might still see the actor as the precocious teenager she so often played, although she has been transitioning away from that studio’s squeaky-clean image for many years, proven by her presence in the sex- and drug-soaked “Euphoria.” Her ubiquity on billboards, on magazine covers, and now in a Luca Guadagnino film proves that she’s well past the need to play high schoolers.

“Challengers” opens in theaters on April 26, 2024.



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