Zendaya Has 'Complicated Feelings' About Her Time as a Child Actor

Zendaya says she wishes she 'went to school.'

Zendaya is contemplating her upbringing as a child actor, a topic brought to the forefront as Investigation Discovery's documentary Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV scrutinizes the industry. During her interview for Vogue's May 2024 cover story, published April 9, the 23-year-old, who got her start in the industry at 14, was questioned about her upbringing by Serena Williams, who was being interviewed alongside her on a Zoom call.

Williams asked the Challengers star, "what was the other option for you?" and "your goals growing up?" "Hmm. It's funny," Zendaya said, "because it's something that I'm figuring out now. I don't know how much of a choice I had. I have complicated feelings about kids and fame and being in the public eye, or being a child actor. We've seen a lot of cases of it being detrimental.… And I think only now, as an adult, am I starting to go, Oh, okay, wait a minute: I've only ever done what I've known, and this is all I've known."

She continued, "I'm almost going through my angsty teenager phase now, because I didn't really have the time to do it before. I felt like I was thrust into a very adult position: I was becoming the breadwinner of my family very early, and there was a lot of role-reversal happening, and just kind of becoming grown, really." 

The Emmy-winning actress said she felt pressured to be "this perfect being, and be everything that everyone needs me to be, and live up to all these expectations." Consequently, her tunnel vision prevented her from seeing the big picture. 

"Now, when I have these moments in my career—like, my first time leading a film that's actually going to be in a theater—I feel like I shrink, and I can't enjoy all the things that are happening to me, because I'm like this" (it is explained that she is balling up her fists). "I'm very tense, and I think that I carry that from being a kid and never really having an opportunity to just try s—. And I wish I went to school."

The Quiet on Set docuseries exposes the toxic work environment and abuse that crew members and child stars endured while working on Nickelodeon in the late '90s and early '00s. The documentary is comprised of five episodes, which are available to stream on Max. It consists of stories from multiple child stars and former employees who share their own accounts about what happened to them, including The Amanda Show and Drake & Josh star Drake Bell, who revealed his experiences of sexual abuse.