Tennis drama 'Challengers' showcases Zendaya's versatility

AFP

Zendaya relished the double duty of producing "Challengers", a tense drama set in the world of professional tennis, and starring in the film's leading role.

"I think every time that you do it, you learn something new about yourself. You get to learn from your peers and grow," said the Hollywood star, who previously produced Malcolm & Marie and her hit HBO series Euphoria.

"It allows for you to have a seat at the table to protect yourself and your fellow actors and community members," Zendaya, 27, said as she premiered the movie in London on Wednesday.

In Challengers, directed by Luca Guadagnino, Zendaya plays Tashi Duncan, a self-confident former tennis champion who, following an injury, now coaches her husband Art (Mike Faist). When Patrick (Josh O'Connor), Art's former best friend and Tashi's boyfriend during their teenage years, suddenly reappears after over a decade, problems from their intertwined past start seeping into their present.

"I just wanted to tackle a character that felt very multidimensional and had such depth to her," said Zendaya.

"I think there's a perception or an idea of who she is or that she's trying to portray to the world, but I think there's a lot of falling apart inside."

To ensure authenticity, the trio of actors immersed themselves into the world of tennis, creating a close bond in the process.

"We had a six weeks' rehearsal and that included tennis training and gym work," said O'Connor.

"I think the fact that we were on the same court for six weeks in the lead up meant that we were just sort of forced together. But we got on, we were really fortunate," the British actor, 33, said.

Challengers marks the feature film screenwriting debut for Justin Kuritzkes, who drew inspiration from watching Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Daniil Medvedev and Rafael Nadal in action.

"I became a really obsessive tennis fan a couple of years ago. And I started to think, what could I write that would be as exciting as tennis and what would make tennis even better? And for me, the answer of what would make tennis even better is to know what's at stake for everybody in a really, microscopic way," he said.

Audiences are in for an emotion-charged love triangle drama, said O'Connor.

"It's about the complications of relationships and love and desire and co-dependency," he said.

Challengers starts its global cinematic rollout on April 24.

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