One paragraph stood out to me in Nate Jones’s always informative and most recent Oscar Futures column for Vulture. This is the feature where Nate gauges momentum for Oscar contenders and, right now, with Pieces of a Woman streaming on Netflix, Vanessa Kirby, after being named Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival a few months ago, is gaining ground. In a year where so many Oscar frontrunners are on Netflix and Prime and etc, because of the pandemic, Netflix – and they’ve been trying to break through in the Best Picture category – has a lot to manage. Here’s where that paragraph comes in…with respect to Zendaya:
“Do we have another potential late-season spoiler? Sam Levinson’s film [Malcolm & Marie] was written and shot in secret during quarantine, and, on Friday, Netflix gave it the awards-friendly release date of February 5, as well as a trailer that promises plenty of meaty romantic drama (plus mac and cheese!) for the recent Emmy winner. Still, Netflix already has two strong competitors in Kirby and [Viola] Davis; how the streamer prioritizes its leading ladies will be one of this race’s intriguing subplots.”
It’s kinda like a trainer running multiple horses in the Kentucky Derby. Ultimately whatever happens happens, of course, but there really are only so many resources, so many outlets, so it will be interesting to see the maneuvering as we get deeper into award season – and remember, this is a season without the parties and the screenings, the usual campaign stops. So everyone is relying heavily on creative media, digital media. Which is where Zendaya has the edge on the field, don’t you think?
As mentioned, the first trailer for Malcolm & Marie was released on Friday. Today it’s Zendaya’s GQ cover story, styled as usual by Law Roach, and written by Twitter superstar Hunter Harris who turns in one of most insightful pieces on one of Hollywood’s most exciting superstar talents. Here is Zendaya, after winning her Emmy, admitting that she doesn’t know who she is when she’s not working, when she’s not playing Rue in Euphoria, when she’s not going back to K.C. Undercover. Here is a 24 year old artist who actually sounds like a 24 year old young adult who’s been in the business for a long ass time who doesn’t have all the answers, who is still trying to figure it out. You know why it’s refreshing? Because we are so used to child actors sounding like grownups. And I know you know what I’m talking about. I know you’re just as jarred when a 15 year old in a hit series shows up on a red carpet and speaks with more life experience than you. This has never been Zendaya; Zendaya has always been of the moment, in no rush to get to the next moment. Even if that means telling a journalist that her worldview is narrow, that she is struggling with how to define herself – in other words: identity, the most elusive of self-pursuits, Zendaya’s in search of hers, and she may not be all that well-rounded. Who is at 24? Just because she’s been on private planes around the world doesn’t mean she knows about it. What I appreciate is that she’s not pretending to.
I also appreciate too that she reveals in this piece – via Hunter Harris – that she has to get over herself sometimes, particularly when she’s acting. That is, there are moments on set when she can’t access the vulnerability required to get into the emotional intimacy of a scene. It’s not like she’s the first actor who’s been frustrated by this. But the final detail is what makes this story feel fresh:
“The entire film [Malcolm & Marie] was made during night shoots with a nimble crew of Euphoria collaborators. They'd quarantined together in a bubble and rehearsed in parking lots, but there was one frustrating night on set when Zendaya couldn't get herself to where Marie required her to go. “Sam came in, and usually what he does is he sits with me,” she says. “He'll just come in. We have a groove and a process that we do, same from Euphoria, and we carry that over. He sits with me, and we just talk. Everybody knows the process, everybody's just quiet, and everybody's so supportive, which I appreciate. Because I feel like shit, just making people wait on me to get emotional.”
This is what I wish more people would talk about when it comes to acting: it requires a certain …selfishness. A specific kind of selfishness. Not the selfishness of assholes but a singlemindedness that sometimes can’t be summoned on command to be able to give yourself completely over to a moment, without caring what other people are doing. And most people on set understand this because they too are part of this weird, make-believe business that’s all about people pretending to be other people. But it’s not easy to turn off those social instincts that are hammered into us from childhood – being considerate, paying attention to others and their non-verbal cues, caring about what they think, how they feel – instincts that have to be dialed down in order to generate the actor’s creativity.
As much as I want that for Zendaya, so that she can deliver the kind of performances that win Emmys and possibly Oscars, I also don’t want her to lose that… awareness. Because that awareness also serves the craft, in that it protects her humanity over her celebrity. And this is the push-pull that’s very skillfully (thanks to Hunter Harris) illuminated in this conversation.
As for Malcolm & Marie – there was a lot of hype coming out of TIFF about this film, which of course is why Netflix has put it into Oscar contention, and the trailer, for me, totally lives up to expectation. This whole film is an argument between a couple after they come back from a big event. It is melodramatic, like so many lovers’ battles are. It is repetitive and theatrical, which fights can become. It is beautifully shot, which is how we might visualise our blowouts. It feels like an updated, stylised version of George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a stage play and a film at the same time. And, also, a music video?
Have you ever watched a music video featuring a sexy couple and wanted it to go beyond the three and a half standard minutes of a music video? Wished that the music video was a movie? That’s the vibe I’m getting from Malcom & Marie. Can’t wait to see this.
To read Hunter Harris’s full interview with Zendaya for GQ, click here. Obviously I’m obsessed with how she’s been styled here.