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Zendaya: 'Malcolm & Marie' was 'nerve-wracking,' also 'liberating'

Zendaya produced and stars in Malcolm & Marie. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Zendaya produced and stars in "Malcolm & Marie." File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Euphoria and Spider-Man star Zendaya produced the film Malcolm & Marie during the COVID-19 pandemic. She had produced her music videos, episodes of Euphoria and the series K.C. Undercover before but the 24-year-old multi-talent said she felt more pressure since she initiated Malcolm & Marie.

"It was obviously nerve wracking because it was my first time really believing in myself and investing in myself, putting my own money into something," Zendaya said on a Sundance Film Festival panel called Women Breaking Boundaries, hosteded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

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"At the end of the day, I had myself to answer to, which can be scary but also quite liberating creatively," Zendaya said.

Zendaya asked her Euphoria creator Sam Levinson to write something they could make under COVID-19 protocols in 2020. Levinson wrote the script about a director, Malcolm (John David Washington) and his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya), waiting for the reactions to his big movie premiere.

"I just want something that feels dynamic and feels layered and complicated," Zendaya said. "If the project's not there, then you do it. You find the right people and you make it. It is possible."

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The actor/producer said it was her idea to film in one of their houses. They ended up using the Caterpillar House in Carmel, Calif. as the location. A minimal crew quarantined together and got tested regularly.

"I'm doing my own hair and makeup," Zendaya said. "Everybody's doing five different jobs because it's a skeleton crew. I'm bringing my clothes and using them as set dressing. We're trying to remember our continuity because we don't have an AD or script [supervisor]."

The extraordinary methods were worth it to Zendaya because she wanted to give her colleagues a chance to work. Zendaya said she was confident she would have Euphoria and the third Spider-Man movie to go back to when the pandemic ended.

In fact, Euphoria released a special episode on Jan. 22, and Zendaya was in her trailer on the Spider-Man set while Zooming into the panel.

"[I] also want to get part of my Euphoria crew back to work as well," Zendaya said. "If there's a way that we can get our small group of people from our crew paid as well and taken care of, that will be ideal too."

Levinson and Zendaya workshopped the script as they geared up for production. Levinson would read completed pages to his collaborator over Zoom.

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"He'd write maybe 10 pages at a time," Zendaya said. "He called me and we'd talk about it for hours and then he'd go back and write more based off those conversations, come back, talk some more."

As a producer, Zendaya also gave her costar and crew members a financial share when they sold Malcolm & Marie to Netflix

"Hopefully that'll be a system that can continue," Zendaya said. "I think it's important that we take care of our people."

Malcolm & Marie allowed Zendaya to join the Producers Guild of America. She has more behind-the-scenes ambitions, as well.

Directing may be in her future, but Zendaya said she is more passionate about cinematography. She said Levinson encourages her to become a cinematographer.

"Sam's like, 'I give you a year,'" Zendaya said. "I was like, 'Well, you've got a year to teach me then."

And, she continues to learn, using her days off from the third Spider-Man film to shadow director Jon Watts.

"I have the opportunity, when I'm off work, to be able to go to set and learn and get some insight from a completely different perspective," Zendaya said. "I want to take it all in and really be grateful for this experience."

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Netflix will release Malcolm & Marie on Feb. 5.

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