Zendaya’s tennis movie, ‘Challengers,’ tests friendship bonds of complex trio

By Thomson Reuters Apr 25, 2024 | 5:05 AM

By Danielle Broadway and Rollo Ross

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – When Zendaya first read the script for director Luca Guadagnino’s romantic sports film “Challengers,” she immediately understood that the tennis player turned coach she would portray was unapologetic about her own power and how she wielded it.

“I also think that she isn’t immediately dislikable, and she isn’t perfect, and she isn’t trying to be and we’re not making any excuses for that either,” Zendaya said about her character, Tashi Duncan.

At the Los Angeles premiere of the film, Zendaya took to the stage in her neon green halter dress and urged audiences not to judge the characters in the movie too harshly.

For Zendaya, it is important to have complex characters like the ones in the movie, even if it means they are not necessarily likeable.

The film focuses on Duncan, a former tennis prodigy who becomes a coach following a career-shattering leg injury.

She coaches her husband, portrayed by Mike Faist, who is a tennis champion facing a losing streak. Her strategy to help him win is a surprise tournament against his ex-best friend, who is also Duncan’s ex-boyfriend.

The movie explores the often-unpredictable bond between the three main characters and how it intersects with their joint passion for professional tennis.

The Amazon MGM Studios film arrives in theaters on Friday.

“We all are kind of very quick to judge characters,” said Josh O’Connor, who plays Duncan’s ex-boyfriend.

“But I think ultimately, the three of them have got this very complicated situation thrown upon them where they all kind of love each other,” O’Connor said.

As Zendaya and her co-stars delved in to their characters and built chemistry over 12 weeks, they began to understand more of the psychology of tennis players.

“It seems incredibly lonely, and it’s just you out there,” Zendaya said. “I mean, there’s someone across from you, but really you feel very isolated on your own and there’s so much mental fortitude to stay focused and there’s so many people watching you and every point matters so much.”

Adding to the layers of her character, Zendaya worked to learn more about the sport while filming, garnering a compliment from former tennis star Serena Williams.

She sported outfits inspired by the movie while attending premieres.

“I want to try to make it feel like it’s still an extension of the creative process of the making of it (the film) too,” she said.

(Reporting by Danielle Broadway and Rollo Ross in Los Angeles; Editing by Mary Milliken and Matthew Lewis)