DOMINGO: Once I came of an age where I recognized my mother as a woman and not just my mother, I was able to have different conversations with her. Do you have conversations like that with your grandmother?
ZENDAYA: Yeah, absolutely. I asked her about my dad. I asked her about her siblings and what it was like growing up with them. She’s from Little Rock, Arkansas, and she met my grandfather when she was very young. They got married when she was 14 or 15 years old. It was a very different time. Eventually they were no longer together. They were separated. But she’s a little shady about it.
DOMINGO: She’ll throw some shade? Is your grandfather still living?
ZENDAYA: No, my grandfather’s no longer around. He passed when I was quite young as well. But she’s funny. She’s quick, sharp as a tack. And she’ll talk to anybody, if she likes you. And she really likes me.
DOMINGO: Is she still very active?
ZENDAYA: Unfortunately her body, that’s another thing. Her body has given out a bit over the past few years, so she can’t do what she used to. She says, “Your girl’s still kicking, just not too high.”
DOMINGO: I love that you are so connected to your grandmother, because I’ll tell you, I just came back from D.C. this past week, and I made a point to go to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Have you ever been there?
ZENDAYA: I went as soon as it opened.
DOMINGO: It’s still resonating with me, in particular this quote from Maya Angelou, which is, “Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave.” To see the experience of our people and how we’ve traversed and made culture, created, and survived—I think you’re a very deep person, and I’m sure you have thought about this, but do you recognize that you are the dream and the hope of the slave?
ZENDAYA: I have so much to be grateful for. Even talking to my grandmother, her world and her existence was so different from mine. I can be the manifestation of all of her prayers for me, and that’s really cool. I hope to continue to make our ancestors proud. Our existence, you being who you are, you doing what you do, is continuing to open doors and to be their wildest dream. We just have to exist in our most beautiful form to continue to do that.
DOMINGO: Absolutely. That goes back to what you were saying you hope to create, because that’s also my hope: to create those moments where we just exist, where we just are.
ZENDAYA: I always think, in what ways is my voice most potent or palpable? I’m not really active on social media like I used to be, but that’s for a reason. I love saying how I feel and speaking out about things, but I also don’t want to say that I just tweeted my life away. That I just tweeted about something, but what did I actually do about it? Hopefully my ability to be a storyteller, to make those stories that I haven’t seen, to showcase different forms of Black love and the different colors of our emotional experience—that will be my speaking out. That’s my action. Because we learn how to be a person not just through interactions, but by watching movies and TV. You want to be like your favorite character. So many people have built the personas that they take out into the world based on what they’ve seen in the media.
DOMINGO: Right. What do you say about the many young people who you can tell from a mile away, like, “Oh, they watched Euphoria.” Their makeup, their hoodies, things like that. My hope is always that they’re also interrogating a little further and not emulating.
ZENDAYA: Of course. It’s not a show to emulate. The show’s intention, for all of us who make it, is to open up the door to empathy for another person’s experience. Rue has helped me do that, tremendously. Before meeting Sam [Levinson, Euphoria creator], before playing Rue, I didn’t understand in grave detail the experience of what it means to be an addict. Nor did I feel I had enough—maybe some, but not enough—empathy for that experience and how it is, like your character Ali says, a degenerative disease. My hope is that the show makes somebody who has either gone through addiction, or knows somebody who has, feel they are less alone in their experiences, and that maybe it gives somebody the lexicon to communicate with their loved one who needs help, or it gives the ability for that loved one to say, “Listen, this is how I feel. I couldn’t explain it to you, but just watch this and you’ll understand where I’m coming from.” Because the cool thing about Rue is, she makes bad decisions and she hurts a lot of people, but we still love her and we still root for her, and that’s a feeling that I hope people will take on with their own loved ones or other people suffering from addiction.
ZENDAYA: When we did the diner episode, a lot of people were a bit thrown off. Like, “Wait a minute, y’all are just gonna stay in the diner and talk?” Some people didn’t quite understand it. Then I saw a tweet that was like, “If you’re just here for the glitter makeup, then you’re missing the point.” All of that is part of the fantasy of filmmaking, but then we really had a moment with building an episode out of the pandemic that just focuses on people and what was really happening with Rue throughout the season and leading up into this next season that we’re shooting now. People got to see what our show is really about. All those parts of Euphoria, they are Euphoria, but they aren’t the core of what it is. The core of Euphoria is these very raw and honest emotions, and these conversations that I hope help us gain empathy.
DOMINGO: You’re so right. I think these are conversations that we want people to have. That special episode we did is probably one of the things I’m most proud of in my career.
ZENDAYA: I would agree.
DOMINGO: Just like you said, it really did open up hearts to empathy. I don’t look at Twitter that much because I think it’s like going into the garbage can, and you’ve got to be careful what you’re going to pick out of it. But sometimes you find a gem. And this one dude, he sent me a DM saying, “Thank you so much for that episode. I didn’t feel so alone anymore. And I feel like I can go on another day.” It still makes me want to cry when I think about it. There was also a woman who said, “You helped me to understand my son, and not to judge him but to understand it’s a disease.” So, that’s the whole framework of Euphoria. If we can do that, man, we’re changing the world. Our art can really impact lives—that’s the purpose.
ZENDAYA: My parents were teachers. We need those people. So, sometimes as an actor, I’m like, “I’m just make-believing for a living. What am I doing?” And those are the moments where you’re like, “Okay, there’s a reason why I’m doing this.” I’m so grateful to have shared that episode with you. I learned so much from watching you. I was just sitting there taking a front-row–seat masterclass. So, if you ever see anything in my future performance that looks familiar, you know where it comes from.
DOMINGO: I’m going to say something that’s probably going to embarrass you, but as I walked around that museum, I thought that there will be more people in there someday that have made an impact on history and culture and moved the needle on who we are. I thought, “Who else is going to be up on these walls?” And I thought about you, to be honest. I think you’re going to be on there. I hope that I will be on there as well.
ZENDAYA: Oh, absolutely. I’ll be underneath you in small print.
Hair: Antoinette Hill at Mastermind Management Group.
Makeup: Raoul Alejandre at Opus Beauty.
Set Design: Nicholas Des Jardins at Streeters.
Production: Taylor Brown and Perris Cavalier at The Morrison Group.
Manicure: Miwa Kobayashi.
Photography Assistant: Sabrina Victoria.
Fashion Assistants: Hayley Kuniansky and Justin Ramirez.
Set Design Assistants: Joe Rubino and Gautam Sahi.
Lighting Assistant: Victor Grössling.
Makeup Assistant: Alisa Yasuda.
Tailor: Travis Thi.
Special Thanks: Freehand Hotel and Goya Studios.