Zendaya Coleman, at 21—soon to be 22—has purposely navigated her career to be one of Hollywood's barrier-breakers. The actress spoke to Janet Mock for 's September issue about her transition out of Disney and how she chooses the parts she goes to auditions for, regardless of the race they're originally written for.
"Most things I go out for" aren't written for black girls, she told Mock. "I always tell my theatrical manager, 'Anytime it says they’re looking for white girls, send me out. Let me get in the room. Maybe they’ll change their minds.' And, honestly, if there’s a part that I didn’t get or that I really wanted at the time, shit always ends up working out."
Zendaya explained that her role as Michelle in the Spider-Man movies wasn't originally written for an actress of color. She went for it anyway, thinking she'd have to push hard to change it. She was wrong: "At first I thought I would have to because you’re kind of used to the notion that, Okay, even though the character is fictional and could be anybody, they probably are going to go with the standard of what they want and what they’ve always had," she said. "I definitely went into it like, 'Hopefully they’ll'—as they call it in the industry—'go ethnic.' I remember making the decision to straighten my hair. I didn’t know that they were going to be more diverse in their casting. I didn’t know that I was walking into a situation where they were already breaking the rules. You get so used to having to break the rules for people."
Read Zendaya's full Marie Claire interview .