Seventeen-year-old triple-threat Zendaya is looking to “shake it up” with the new Disney Channel original movie Zapped, followed by her second turn headlining a series for the cable channel as well a Lifetime biopic that’s near and dear to her heart.
First up and premiering this Friday at 8/7c — where it leads into the Girl Meets World premiere — is Zapped, based off the book Boys Are Dogs and following a high school transfer student’s discovery that her new dog-training app can in fact control boys, as well.
“Zoey’s just a regular girl who’s mom has remarried, so she has three stepbrothers she just moved in with, her stepdad, a ‘stepdog,’ and she goes to new school where she has to figure out how to fit in,” Zendaya shares with TVLine. “But then something happens to her phone and next thing you know she can start controlling boys, so she starts telling them to do yoga, wax their eyebrows, be quiet, stop farting all the time…. She thinks it’s amazing at first!”
But, just as with Flubber and Now You See Him, Now You Don’t‘s invisibility spray, scientific marvels tend to turn out to be not entirely marvelous. The changes Zoey makes begin to backfire, jeopardizing her new romance (with Lab Rats‘ Spencer Boldman), putting a stepbro’s future at risk and, for good measure, drawing the wrath of the resident mean girl dance captain. “It gets to be a bit much,” Zendaya laughs. “She realizes that maybe her phone isn’t the answer to all her problems.”
Though Zendaya’s first Disney Channel series, Shake It Up, ended last summer after three seasons, she recently signed on to front a second comedy for the cabler, K.C. Undercover, in which she will play a socially awkward teenager who discovers that her boring “accountant” parents are actually spies — and now they need her help. “I feel like it’s a cool twist on a Disney series, that it has a way to be edgy and ‘older’ while still being young,” the actress offers. And since the titular K.C. boasts tournament-honed karate skills (this is where Zendaya’s dance background comes into play) as well as super smarts, “She can kick some major butt!”
That Zendaya — who released a self-titled album last fall and had a single (“Replay”) hit No. 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 — elected to re-up with Disney Channel versus break away and focus on her singing career could be seen as surprising. To anyone but her.
“I think you can do both,” she attests. “I want to be the person who shows that its completely possible to continue growing your young fan base as they’re growing up… and also try other things. That you can grow up in the ‘older space’ while still catering to another demographic. I think those things can coexist.” Besides, her style of music, she says, has none of the “craziness” that might run afoul of her Mickey Mouse-friendly fan base. One of her idols, Michael Jackson, “was the best at that,” she notes. “He had hit after hit that everyone loved, and he never cussed once.”
In addition to MJ, Zendaya lists among her musical inspirations Beyonce, Bob Marley and Aaliyah — the latter of whom she is set to portray in a Lifetime movie based on Aaliyah: More Than a Woman, a best-seller about the R&B artist’s life, which was cut short at age 22 by a tragic plane crash. In the barely two weeks since the project was announced, Zendaya has been prompted to defend her casting via a series of Twitter posts, while Aaliyah’s family has threatened to sue to silence the small-screen bio.
Explaining her interest to TVLine, she says, “I love Aaliyah — why wouldn’t I want to be a part of this? So I auditioned like anybody else, and I worked hard because I really wanted to showcase her in the best light.” And while the project’s producer has gone as record as saying the movie will not gloss over Aaliyah’s “personal and professional relationship with [singer] R. Kelly” (whom she first dated when she was 15, he 27), Zendaya promises a tale that’s by and large “inspiring and uplifting…. It’s about honoring her life and showing what she was able to accomplish in so short a time.”