EXCLUSIVE: Zendaya Talks ‘Zapped’ and Criticism Over Being Cast To Play Aaliyah
Michael Rowe

Imagine being back in high school and having the power to control how boys act. What would you make them do? That’s the premise of actress-singer Zendaya’s new Disney Channel movie, Zapped.

In it Zendaya plays a smartphone-addicted teen (Zoey) who finds out about her phone’s abilities haphazardly – at first she thinks it can only control dogs. Armed with her new powers, she starts zapping the boys around her to become more expressive about their feelings, to act more like gentlemen or even do yoga. But soon her powers start jeopardizing her relationships, and it all becomes too confusing for Zoey.

“She tries to fix everything with her phone, and realizes that sometimes that’s not the best answer to her problems,” Zendaya tells ESSENCE.com.

So what app would Zendaya create if she could? “A teleportation app to get me places fast,” she says.

Indeed. The 17-year-old’s current schedule needs her to be lightening fast. On top of Zapped and another Disney show she’s working on, Zendaya has also been tapped to play R&B singer Aaliyah in a new Lifetime biopic. The call for auditions came soon after she had wrapped the filming of her Janet Jackson and Aaliyah-inspired video, “Replay.”

“I was like if they’re doing an Aaliyah movie, why wouldn’t I try to be a part of it?” she says, adding that she was a lifelong fan who found similarities in hers and Aaliyah’s stories.

“She started so young. I started so young. People mispronounce her name. People mispronounce my name all the time,” she says. “Beyond that, I just feel like there are so many similarities between us.” 

The news of Zendaya’s casting hasn’t come without its fair share of criticism. Zendaya feels it comes with the territory. “I knew there was going to be negativity, because that comes with everything you do,” she said.  “People are entitled to their opinion, but I say, Angela Bassett played Tina Turner when she looked nothing like Tina Turner. And she killed it. Why? Because she became [Tina].”

And what does she make of all the criticism?

“At the end of the day I just want to make Aaliyah proud. That’s all I care about. And pressure makes diamonds. That’s what I’m using this experience as.”

Zapped premieres tomorrow, June 27, at 8pm ET on The Disney Channel.