It’s no wonder Zendaya won her very first Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series–her riveting performance as Rue, a recovering teen drug addict in HBO’s Euphoria tears your heart out. Last night, the former Disney star made Emmy history, becoming the youngest actress to ever win that award.
Zendaya is also the second-ever Black woman to win in that awards category, following Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder), who won in 2015.
“To the incredible cast of crew of Euphoria, I’m so lucky to go to work with you every day, and I’m inspired by everything you do,” she enthused during her virtual acceptance speech.
“And to (writer/creator) Sam Levinson, I appreciate you so much in my family. I’m so grateful for Rue. I’m so grateful that you trust me with your story, and I hope I can continue to make you proud. I know this feels like a really weird time to be celebrating, but I just want to say there is hope in the young people out there. I know that our TV show doesn’t always feel like a great example of that, but there is hope in the young people. And I just want to say to all my peers out there, doing the work in the streets, I see you, I admire you, I thank you, and, yeah, thank you so, so much.”
Executive produced by Drake and loosely based on an Israeli teen series, much of what is onscreen was created by Levinson’s personal experiences struggling with addiction.
Zendaya was in shock over the surprise win, beating out fellow nominees Jennifer Aniston, Olivia Colman, Laura Linney, Sandra Oh and last year’s winner, Jodie Comer.
“I don’t usually cry,” she acknowledged during virtual press room interviews. “But I got through it without letting it take over completely. It was obviously a very emotional moment and I still can’t believe it myself — it’s pretty crazy.”
She added: “It means so much to me. Every single woman in that category I obviously admire immensely….Just to be mentioned in the category at all was something — and just to have them support me really filled my heart.”
While this year’s Emmys are taking place during an enormously uncertain time, this has made the win all the more bittersweet.
“I’m just grateful for moments like this — where we can have joy and wrap our arms around loved ones and tell each other we love each other,” Zendaya said. “It’s moments like this we have to hold on to and cherish.”
Zendaya has loved playing Rue, who she describes as a “full, whole human being. “She is layered and she is complicated. As the show goes on, we are also able to empathize with addiction, what that looks like, what it does to a family.”
Despite her character’s many mistakes, viewers can’t help but root for Rue. “We understand what’s going on through her head; we understand how she views the world and everything that happens to her and we’re able to empathize with her as a character, which is a beautiful thing,” Zendaya said.
“For me, I’ve always been very grateful for all the people who connect to Rue or feel that, through the show, they have been able to attach words or find themselves within a scene or a moment where they otherwise felt alone…to have that feeling that there is other people that feel what [Rue] feels is huge …she’s very important to me.”
Zendaya was thrilled that producer Labrinth took home the Emmy for Outstanding Original Music And Lyrics.
“YOOOO!!! Huge congratulations to the brilliant, out of this universe genius that I have had the honor of working with, the one and only… @Labrinth,” she exclaimed gleefully on Twitter. “You deserve this and so much more brother.”
Zendaya was equally elated that Euphoria’s Doniella Davy, Kirsten Sage Coleman, and Tara Lang Shah, also received accolades for Outstanding Contemporary Makeup (Non-Prosthetic). “This is so so special!!! I’m so freaking proud of everyone!”
Back when the series’ premiere screening in Hollywood, Levinson talked about working with Zendaya.
“Z is one of the most empathic people I’ve met. So from Day 1, I’ve been incredibly open with her about my life, my struggles with addiction, anxiety, depression. I find that the more I talk to her about what I went through, the more emotional parallels we’re able to find — even though her experience is very different — and ultimately, everything bleeds together.
“So even though the character of Rue is based on my own experiences, she’s made it her own. She’s found the honesty, and every day on set, I feel so grateful she’s Rue.”
While fans have been dying for season 2 of Euphoria, production has been put on extended hiatus, ever since Covid-19 hit. A few scenes are currently being planned and hopefully, the series will be back next year.
Susan L. Hornik is an active contributor to Los Angeles Times, Grammy.com, Shondaland.com, InStyle, SFGate, LA Weekly, Irvine Weekly, MensHealth.com, AARP.org, Los Angeles Blade, Washington Blade, Industrym.com.com, Videoage, Alo, Discover Hollywood