Zendaya graces the cover of the latest issue of Complex magazine.
In addition to landing the cover, she also earned the publication’s title of ‘Woman of Next Year.’
In the mag, Zendaya opens up and discusses a wide range of topics like growing up biracial, what it’s like being a role model, why she didn’t end up like Miley Cyrus and much, much more.
Check out a few excerpts from her cover story:
Growing up biracial, what was it like to find your identity?
You get the best and the worst of both worlds. I know there were a lot of times when you try to figure out where you fit in. I just realized that it worked to my advantage because I just got along with a lot of people. But to literally be two races, it’s really hard to see color because I’m the gray area. I had to learn about both sides of myself and be really proud of and educated in both. I think that’s why I’m comfortable with myself and can speak on certain issues because I’ve taken the time, or my parents have taken the time, to teach me who I am.
Has there been a moment when you felt really out of place?
Maybe a little bit. I went to a predominately white private school in the [Oakland] Hills where my dad was a teacher, and then I went to a school in downtown Oakland that was predominantly black. It was interesting to learn and see the differences, but I also realized how easy it was for me to adapt to both. I’m proud of both and I can fit into any kind of scenario or situation.
You wore dreadlocks to the Oscars and Giuliana Rancic said that you looked like you smell like patchouli oil or weed. You responded on Instagram, writing that Rancic’s remarks were “ignorant slurs” and “outrageously offensive.” What’s the response been since you called her out?
Honestly, only positive. It was a learning experience for myself and for everyone who read it. A lot of people don’t realize that hair is a big thing for a lot of people, not just African-American women. It’s something to be aware of and to be cautious of. So it was something that I really felt like I should speak on. There were so many women, of all races, that came up to me and were like, “I really love what you said,” or “I had my daughter read that.”
All my brothers and my dad at one point had dreadlocks. My little nieces have curly hair. And if they were to have someone say something demeaning about what they have and what they hold dear to them, then I would want them to at least have the pride within themselves to come up with a response that made sense and that they were proud of. Honestly, I think about my little nieces and my little nephews first. Because one day they’re going to have Twitter and they’re going to have Instagram, and I’m going to be like, “This is how you handle it, kids.”
Do you actively think about being a role model?
Of course. I think it’s a responsibility, but like Tupac Shakur, I’m a real model. Which means: I’m not pretending to be something that I’m not, because like he said, people are going to be disappointed when they find out who you are, because it’s not going to be what you presented to the world. So just keep it real. I’m a good kid and that’s all.
You seem so down-to-earth for having been on TV since you were little.
I think it’s being from Oakland. Oakland kids are always the best.
Do kids still say “hella”?
I say hella all the time. Hella’s like hecka.
When did you move to L.A.?
Seventh grade, so I was 12 or 13. For [the Disney sitcom] Shake It Up.
How did your parents feel about moving with you for your acting career?
Well, when I first started out in the industry I was 12 or whatever, and I wanted to be on something so bad and I didn’t know what I was going to be on. At the time I was in school and I was working on drama and theatrical stuff, so I never thought that I’d end up going to comedy. I never did that before. And I just happened to be a cute 12-year-old who worked perfectly for Disney. Me and my dad, we would drive back and forth from Oakland to L.A. multiple times.
At what age were you like, “I want to be on TV”?
I don’t know. I just watched Disney Channel a lot. I really liked it and had an attraction to it and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. It wasn’t like I was that kid that was like, “I want to be an astronaut.” I wanted to do this. I wanted to be an entertainer.
What are your thoughts on some of the Disney graduates, like Miley Cyrus? Because she went in completely the opposite direction.
I think again it’s that real model, role model thing. A lot of them were forced into being role models and they had to pretend to be something that they didn’t feel matched up with who they were. And that’s because they started really, really young. So you’ve got to realize when you’re really young you don’t know who you are yet. And as soon as you figure it out, you’ve already been forced to become something that you didn’t really know you signed up for. So it’s like, I get it. There’s a lot of pressure, so I completely understand. Everyone has their different ways of learning and growing and finding out who they are, and you can’t fault people for that. Again, I think with all the prior Disney stars, at least you can say they are themselves now.
Do you think you’ll have a Miley moment?
No. That’s why I said, in order to avoid those problems just be yourself from the beginning and be honest with the world, because that’s the only thing you can do. There will be no surprises.
I’m not suddenly going to be like woo, crazy.
But you might and if you do…
And if I do, then hey. But I highly, highly doubt it.
You almost starred in the Aaliyah biopic on Lifetime but backed out.Why?
I just didn’t like the way things were going down. There were a lot of things that came to my attention that I didn’t know about, about the family and production value. You just assume that things are taken care of when you step onto a project. But when you realize that things are just falling apart, you’re like, “This is not what I signed up for, this is not what I thought it was. This is not what I think is worthy of her movie.” It really ate me up inside. A lot of people thought that I knew that the family wasn’t involved, and I didn’t. I just auditioned like anyone else and got the job.
So you thought it wasn’t honoring her in the right way?
Yeah, basically. I just thought that it was being rushed. I thought that there was nobody who really knew her on that project at all—literally no one. I can only know so much about someone from watching their interviews. I don’t know what she was like in her kitchen talking to her mom. That would be rude of me to try to figure that out without knowing. If god forbid something were to happen to me, I wouldn’t want my parents to have to deal with that. I just felt that it was inappropriate, so I didn’t want to do it.
You’ve got such a good head on your shoulders. The more I talk to you I’m like, I didn’t know shit at your age.
Everybody says that who talks to me. And honestly I don’t know why I’m so deep. I don’t know! Everybody says I’m like 19 going on 80, honest to god.
It’s kind of amazing. What is your dream role?
A small part is OK. [Like] I’m Denzel Washington’s daughter. I have one scene, I have four lines, but at least I got to interact with Denzel Washington and it’s an Oscar-nominated film. It’s OK. I don’t need a big role; I don’t need to be the lead; I don’t need to be the star. I don’t mind being the little side guy; I don’t mind being the janitor who’s like, “Hey.” It’s like, yeah, well, I said “Hey” to Johnny Depp, so suck it.
Who’s on your radar for 2016? Who do you think will be big?
Oh my god, there’s so many people! That’s a big question. I would say Kehlani. I’m biased because she’s like my sister, because she also went to Oakland School for the Arts with me and we met when I was in sixth grade and she was in eighth grade. She was one of the first people that was nice to me when I was new to middle school, which was obviously awkward and weird for me. And in school there’s this thing where everybody had families, like daughter, sister, brother, aunties, uncles, cousins, whatever. So I was her daughter. Then we were like, “OK, we’re grown now, now we’re sisters, alright.” But she had always been nice to me when I was little. We grew up in the same area but doing very different things and going on very different paths, but also being in the same circles and the same worlds. It’s cool to see her do her thing. I’m really happy for her.
Another girl who comes to mind, because I think you guys are pretty similar, is Amandla Stenberg. I know you’re friends.
Oh yeah, she’s the bomb. Freaking Amandla, who’s so smart and so wise. She’s just a great young person who’s trying to not only be aware of her surroundings, but also speak on it, which is really, really cool. There’s a lot of really good stuff happening. Yara Shahidi, who’s on Black-ish is so freaking cute and gorgeous.
Whose career would you want to have?
Oprah plus Beyoncé.
That’s a powerhouse.
That’s what I’m saying! Plus Jay Z. No, I’m kidding. But honestly, just because I feel like Oprah has that brand where it’s like, it’s trusted. If Oprah says she likes it, it must be good. She’s a very trusted figure. She’s like, “This is the chai latte to drink; you’re going to drink it.” She says at book club, “This is the book to read,” you read that book.
So you want to be the tastemaker?
Yeah! She’s been able to do so many things. She’s an amazing actress, she’s an amazing philanthropist, she has a TV channel! Great entrepreneur, but she just seems like a good person. She just seems cool. You never catch her having problems. There’s never anything super scandalous. It’s Oprah.
Everybody loves Beyoncé! Like if Oprah did music.
By the way, how did you end up in Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” video?
Just a text message. She literally texted through someone and was like, “Hey, I think you’re dope, I want you to perform in my video.” I was like, “Thanks, that’s dope.” Boom, that was it. Thanks bro. And here we were, and she was just really nice to me. She’s one of those people who make you feel very comfortable and made sure my family was taken care of and everyone was comfortable.
To read more from Zendaya (and there’s quite a bit more!), head on over to Complex.