Carey Mulligan and Zendaya sat down for a chat in Variety’s Actors on Actors series, to discuss their recent roles in Promising Young Woman and Malcolm & Marie, how they stayed sane during the pandemic, and rage.


Zendaya kept her cool by acting at home: ‘I literally, while I was in quarantine, I would do this thing to keep me motivated. I live with my assistant, who’s also like a brother to me. I told him, ‘I’ll do some physical activity — I think it’s good for me.’ I have a whole bunch of wigs, from many years of being on red carpets, and I would put on a different wig and be a different character every day, and put on this performance for him for like an hour every day.”


Mulligan shared her thoughts on her role in Promising: “What does female rage look like, and what would you actually do if you were in that position? It was important that we looked at who she was before this event that derailed her life. She’s definitely got hate, she’s got anger, and this is also somebody who’s absolutely point-blank refusing to move on because of her friend who suffered. That felt like the starting place — that this is about sisterhood, and this is about what you do for the person you love.”


Mulligan also shared why she was upset by Variety’s critique of the film: “I think if women continually look on-screen and don’t see themselves, that’s not helpful for women or for anyone. So I think in criticizing or bemoaning a lack of attractiveness on my part in a character, it wasn’t a personal slight. It didn’t wound my ego, but it made me concerned that in such a big publication an actress’s appearance could be criticized and it could be accepted as completely reasonable criticism.”

Variety apologized.


Mulligan continued: “I think it’s these kind of everyday moments that add up. We start to edit the way that women appear on-screen, and we want them to look a certain way. We want to airbrush them, and we want to make them look perfect. Or we want to edit the way that they work, the way they move and the way that they think and behave. And I think we need to see real women portrayed on-screen in all of their complexity. I felt that it was one small thing to point out that could be helpful.”


Does Zendaya still think of herself as a Disney kid? Zendaya: “The thing is, I am. And to a degree, I am grateful for that. That’s where I started, and I learned so much from that experience. It’s just kind of been this slow progression, and I am happy that it’s all been to prove it to myself and not to anybody else, you know? I embrace it a little bit. It’s part of my heritage to a degree.”