Zendaya on Struggling to Find Her Identity Outside of Acting: 'Who Am I Without This?'

The last year has brought on some heavy soul-searching for Zendaya.

While gracing the February cover of GQ, the 24-year-old Euphoria star spoke candidly about her time amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, opening up about the new uneasiness she felt about her identity when the subsequent lockdown forced much of Hollywood to postpone productions and shoots.

"It was my first time just being like, 'Okay, who am I without this?'" she recalled thinking. "Which is a very scary thing to confront and work through, because I don't really know Zendaya outside of the Zendaya who works. I didn't realize how much my job and my art were a part of my identity as a human."

She later added, "I feel most like myself when I'm working. I felt like, when I wasn't working, my powers had gone away, and I was like, 'Who the f—' I didn't really know who I was and what makes me happy. What do I like to do? What else do I do? What is my value? What is my purpose now?"

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While the answers to those questions are undoubtedly complex, Zendaya said only she can learn to answer them for herself. She said she's also continually learning to accept that she won't always be able to control how other people perceive her.

"I think…that me wanting to control everything is just not wanting to f— up. Not wanting to let anybody down," Zendaya said.

However, Zendaya is far from letting anyone down. Last year, she made history when she became the youngest person to ever win the Emmy for best lead actress in a drama for her role as Rue on HBO's Euphoria — humble as she may be about the accolade.

"In a lot of ways it feels like proving something to myself personally, yeah, but I feel like, I feel good about it for all of us," she said about the Emmy. "It feels like recognition that maybe we aren't just like that little crazy show with the crazy kids, you know what I mean? To me, it's like Mean Girls, when [Lindsay Lohan] breaks the crown. She's like, 'This is for you.'"

To help get through the stifling lockdown, Zenday turned to close friend and colleague Sam Levinson, creator of Euphoria, who told GQ she is unlike most artists in the industry.

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"What I appreciate the most about working with Z is that there's no ego and no bullshit," Levinson said. "It's about the work and how to make the work better. She's also not myopic or unaware, and I think we share a similar degree of self-criticism, where we look at the work we've done and we discuss in brutal, painful f—— detail what we could have done better. I feel like that's the key to longevity and growth as an artist: to keep learning, keep searching, and keep trying to do better. F— a victory lap."

While unable to continue shooting their hit HBO drama, the pair did manage to come up with the upcoming film, Malcolm & Marie, while in quarantine. The romantic drama was shot in two weeks and stars Zendaya alongside John David Washington in a stunning black-and-white film about a couple facing the skeletons of their relationship.

RELATED: Euphoria Sets January Debut Date for Second Special Episode

Zendaya said she loved that her character Marie was not the typical female lead, explaining she's been offered several scripts in the past where she felt the character wouldn't help her grow as an actress.

"It's not necessarily that any of [the scripts] were bad or something like that," she said. "I just felt like a lot of the roles that I was reading, specifically female roles, were just like, I could have played them all as the same person and it wouldn't have mattered, if that makes sense." 

"The best way to describe it is just like, they'd usually serve the purpose of helping the male character get to where they need to go, do what they need to do. They don't really have an arc of their own," Zendaya added. "And they usually feel very one-dimensional in the sense that there's not a lot of layers to them, meaning they all seem very kind of like the same person over and over and over again. It would have been great and it would have been fine, but I wouldn't have grown at all."

Moreover, Zendaya said that Marie allowed her to dig deep and learn how to better convey her own emotions

"[Marie] gave me an opportunity to use these words in a way," Zendaya said. "I don't yell. I'm not a very argumentative person, but it's nice to just release s— and be able to— I don't know… I guess emote would be the word? To just use her as this vessel to just get shit out that maybe I had pent up or hadn't said."

For fans wondering when they'll get to see Zendaya as Rue once again, HBO announced last month that the second of two special episodes, titled "F— Anyone Who's Not a Sea Blob," will debut on Jan. 24. It will be the last of the standalone episodes shot during the pandemic, meant to hold fans over until the cast and crew can complete season 2 as originally planned before the COVID-19 lockdown.

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