Zendaya Got Candid About How Being A Child Actor Still Affects Her

In a new interview with Vogue, the Challengers star talked about the downsides of her Disney days.

Ahead of her new tennis movie, Zendaya talked to Vogue about being a child actor.
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Zendaya has some thoughts about her Disney Channel days. In a new interview with Vogue, the Dune actor opened up about the expectations she felt as a child star, particularly as she became her family’s “breadwinner.”

As part of the article, she spoke over Zoom with Serena Williams, and was asked by the tennis star if she’d had career backup plans had acting not worked out.

“I don’t know how much of a choice I had,” Zendaya answered, explaining that she has “complicated feelings” about being a child actor. “We’ve seen a lot of cases of it being detrimental,” she said. “Only now, as an adult, am I starting to go, Oh, okay, wait a minute: I’ve only ever done what I’ve known, and this is all I’ve known.”

She went on to explain how she’s “going through my angsty teenager phase” now, because of how quickly she had to grow up.

“I felt like I was thrust into a very adult position: I was becoming the breadwinner of my family very early, and there was a lot of role-​reversal happening,” said Zendaya, who’s 27, adding that she felt pressure to “be everything that everyone need[ed] me to be, and live up to all these expectations.”

Zendaya attends the April 2024 premiere of Challengers in Rome.Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Zendaya started acting at age 14 on Disney Channel’s Shake It Up! and stuck with the network through the Spider-Man films. Eventually she transitioned into more mature roles, winning two Emmys for Euphoria, but said her time as a child actor made it hard to enjoy the victories.

“Now, when I have these moments in my career — like, my first time leading a film that’s actually going to be in a theater — I feel like I shrink, and I can’t enjoy all the things that are happening to me,” she told Williams, referring to her new movie Challengers. “I’m very tense, and I think that I carry that from being a kid and never really having an opportunity to just try sh*t. And I wish I went to school.”

Those emotions have also affected how she’s treated fans. “I always felt like when someone asks for a picture, I have to do it, all the time... because you need to be grateful that you’re here,” she said. “And while I still feel that way, I also have learned that I can say no, and I can say kindly that I’m having a day off, or I’m just trying to be to myself today.”