How upcoming tennis drama ‘Challengers’ showcases Zendaya’s versatility

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 played by Mike Faist

Updated - April 11, 2024 11:48 am IST

Published - April 11, 2024 11:47 am IST

Zendaya attends the ‘Challengers’ UK Premiere at Odeon Luxe Leicester Square on April 10, 2024 in London, England

Zendaya attends the ‘Challengers’ UK Premiere at Odeon Luxe Leicester Square on April 10, 2024 in London, England | Photo Credit: EAMONN M. MCCORMACK

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 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 decade, problems from their intertwined past start seeping into their present.

Zendaya poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film ‘Challengers’ on Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in London

Zendaya poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film ‘Challengers’ on Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in London | Photo Credit: Vianney Le Caer

"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 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.

Josh O’Connor, Zendaya and Mike Faist attend the ‘Challengers’ UK Premiere at Odeon Luxe Leicester Square

Josh O’Connor, Zendaya and Mike Faist attend the ‘Challengers’ UK Premiere at Odeon Luxe Leicester Square | Photo Credit: JEFF SPICER

"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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