Malcolm & Marie, A Modern Love Story

Emerging out of the pandemic era as the first Hollywood feature to be written, financed and produced during COVID-19, Malcolm & Marie is an intense black-and-white romantic drama starring Zendaya Coleman and John David Washington, reminding us that even love conquers all.

One of the most daring films to emerge out of the pandemic era is MALCOLM & MARIE, an intense love story starring Zendaya and John David Washington. The Netflix production was born out of the forced shutdown of shooting last March on Euphoria, the sexually explicit HBO series that earned Zendaya a Best Actress Emmy Award in September. With Hollywood at a virtual halt, she asked Euphoria creator Sam Levinson whether they could make a film during the lockdown. Feeling restless and anxious, Zendaya found a willing partner in Levinson.

Malcolm & Marie is a movie that I essentially asked to be made while we were in quarantine,” Zendaya says. “I spoke to Sam about this and then he came up with this concept of Malcolm & Marie and began writing the script. He would be calling me every few days with another 10 pages that he would discuss with me …

“He wrote the character of Marie for me and in a way he was perfectly suited to do that since he’s watched me evolve as a woman while we’ve been working on Euphoria together. So it was a wonderful and beautiful challenge for me to have played this very mature kind of role.”

The resulting film, shot in black and white and on location at Zendaya’s actual L.A. home, sees Washington play Malcolm, an arrogant filmmaker who suffers a public meltdown at the premiere of his latest movie where he goes on a rant over a negative review while also failing to thank his partner, Marie (Zendaya). His self-absorbed outburst triggers long-simmering feelings of resentment and frustration within her and sets in motion an allnight session of domestic trench warfare between the couple.

Washington, who starred in Christopher Nolan’s Tenet last year, delivers an equally electrifying performance opposite Zendaya and was particularly interested in exploring the various levels of anger that inform the toxic exchanges between their characters.

“The intellectual aspect of the relationship is what I loved,” Washington explained. “It was messy, with some of the curse words … that are thrown out there because we’re different, we’re not just one thing. I loved how that was explored in both of these characters. That you could have an intelligent, passionate argument, that you can yell but be very clear about what you’re saying. And how you can be quiet and be the meanest.”

Over the course of the past three years, Zendaya has made the transition from Disney Channel princess on the K.C. Undercover series to rising young movie star. Having made her big screen breakthrough in 2019’s SPIDERMAN: FAR FROM HOME, Zendaya will soon be seen in the upcoming sci-fi blockbuster DUNE, the new screen adaptation of Frank Herbert’s cult 1965 sci-fi novel set for worldwide release in September.

Dune was incredible,” Zendaya said shortly after she saw the first trailer: “It’s fun to escape into another world … When I was watching the trailer, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ I called Timothee [Chalamet, who co-stars in the film] and said, ‘Dude! You should be proud.’ It is a big deal to even be a small part of something with such a massive cast. And I love sci-fi stuff too.”

Tall (5-10) and lithe, Zendaya (full name Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman) is an extraordinarily striking young woman. She grew up in Oakland, California, where her African American father and mother of German/Irish ancestry work as schoolteachers. She is currently single after her relationship with Euphoria co-star Jacob Elordi ended last year.

Recently, Zendaya revealed that she has struggled to overcome her chronic shyness in order to handle the demands of a burgeoning career: “In this industry, I had to learn how to do small talk and stuff, because I guess I would kind of come off cold to people because I didn’t really know how to start a conversation. I remember my stylist was like, ‘You come off kind of cold. People think you’re mean because you don’t talk,’ when really I just was too nervous.”


Q: Malcolm & Marie has attracted a lot of attention. Is this kind of indie project a major step forward for you given that you served as both actor and producer?
ZENDAYA: This will be the first time that audiences see me playing an adult. Up till now, people have seen me playing teenagers and this is the next step where I can show that I’ve matured and I’m no longer that younger self … It was important for me to play someone my own age.

This movie has in a huge way helped me re-tap into myself and find myself again. “[It’s reminded me] that this is what I’m here for. This is what brings me joy, this is what fulfills me … and shown me what I’m able to accomplish and realize some of my goals.

Q: How would you describe Marie’s antagonism towards Malcolm?
ZENDAYA: The movie is about acknowledgement of the people in our lives as creatives who make it possible for us to do what we do. All Marie wanted of Malcolm was a thank you — an appreciation and acknowledgement that this [movie he’s just shown at a premiere] came from somewhere.

Maybe if he was a different person she would have been appreciated and valued for what she brought. Not only to the relationship but to his work. Because at the end of the day, it is her story that his movie is telling. It might not be all her story, but Malcolm used a large portion of those moments between them and those things they shared together.

Q: Was there a particular goal or theme that you were anxious to dig into with this film?
ZENDAYA: We wanted to unpack the nature of a relationship and what it means to be responsible for your partner. There’s always a deeper meaning to why these characters are who they are and that’s why we tried to approach our characters with empathy. Marie is not just trying to control the situation to be manipulative, there’s a reason she has these insecurities and the same applies to Malcolm. The fear of not being loved, and all those similar kinds of issues that people can connect to. We tried to explore those things.

“This Movie Has In A Huge Way Helped Me Re-tap Into Myself And Find Myself Again”

Q: Did Malcolm & Marie represent a challenge for you in terms of the emotional intensity of that story?
ZENDAYA: Yes, but I had so much support from everyone on the set and especially from John David Washington who was such a beautiful scene partner to work with. He was so willing to be there and help make those very dark places we had to go to a safe space. That was very important, because when you’re going into things that may seem very personal and sometimes wondering whether you’re crossing certain lines you need to feel that it’s safe to go there. And I did. We all did.

Q: Malcolm & Marie was a project that came about very quickly and saw you collaborate with Euphoria creator Sam Levinson to get it off the ground?
ZENDAYA: We did it as a family. We started approaching financiers as producers and it was our baby in that way. It was such a collaborative experience and it was the first time that I had been part of the creation of something in such an in-depth way. That kind of closeness with Sam and the discussions we had during the creative process contributed to the film and especially to developing the chemistry I was able to have with John David Washington.

Q: You won the Emmy last September for your work in Euphoria, becoming the youngest woman ever to win in the lead actress drama category and only the second Black actress [Viola Davis is the other – ED] ever to do so. How do you feel about that accomplishment?
ZENDAYA: It’s a great honour. But I really want dedicate it to all the cast and crew who work with me on Euphoria. Winning while sitting together with my family and friends was a special moment although it was strange because of the pandemic and of course it wasn’t the usual kind of awards ceremony. But it was still beautiful to be surrounded by so many people I love and who love and support me. I also would like to believe that winning this award sends a message of solidarity to all the people who are helping young people on the streets and giving them hope.

Q: At 24, you’re fast becoming a major player in this industry. Do you feel a responsibility for laying the groundwork for other Black women?
ZENDAYA: Absolutely. Although a lot of progress has been made, but there’s a lot more work to do. I’m just coming into this new world of producing and figuring out how to make things that I would like to see. I’m hoping to be part of the process of change and make it easier for the next young woman who wants to be part of this industry. I’m very grateful for all the support I’ve been given and I hope to be able to make everybody proud and I would like to continue being able to do that.

“The Fear Of Not Being Loved, And All Those Similar Kinds Of Issues That People Can Connect To. We Tried To Explore Those Things”

Q: How did you get started in show business?
ZENDAYA: I started going to auditions with my father. He quit his teaching job to accompany me to Los Angeles whenever necessary and that was a significant financial burden for my family. As you know, teaching is one of the most important but least paid and least appreciated professions. My mama, who worked two jobs to keep us financially afloat, was very skilled in looking for low-cost hotels to spend the night before the audition.

And the next morning I would go back to school. Then, Dad and I found ourselves a small apartment in Los Angeles to make it easier. But it took quite some time before I became financially independent and could help my parents. I am so grateful and proud to have reached this point and I couldn’t have done it without the total support of my family.

Q: What was it like for you being raised by two teachers?
ZENDAYA: It was the best kind of upbringing that you can have. My parents educated me in a very open and honest way and I am convinced that this is the best way to raise children. Whenever I asked them a question — no matter what subject — I was always given an honest answer.

If you mask reality too much, you prevent your children from knowing and understanding the real world that they have to live in. Being overprotective as parents is counterproductive, I believe, and inevitably it leads young people to be unable to deal with what the world throws at them.

Q: You’ve essentially been a star since you were 13 and working on Shake It Up for Disney. And you were instrumental in getting Disney to develop your K.C. Undercover series that turned out to be a massive hit with younger audiences?
ZENDAYA: I wanted to be able to be part of a series that represented a Black family and could speak to Black kids who need to be able to connect with characters who resemble them and reflect their reality in some way. Young people need to be able to identify with characters on TV or film and my attitude was that if I was going to do another series [for Disney] it would be something that would speak to my community.

Q: You’re noted for appearing to be very self-assured and confident?
ZENDAYA: I don’t know where this comes from but I think I owe a lot of the credit to my parents. Their honesty and frankness has been a big help to me, especially earlier in my career. I always heard those tragic stories of successful young actors whose lives fall apart later in life, but my parents gave me a very good education in life and everything else. From the beginning, they also involved me in all the decisions regarding my work and which roles I would be taking because they knew those decisions would affect my future life. But maybe I have an ancient soul guiding me … who knows?

The above comments by Zendaya were made during the course of a Jan. 25th Zoom chat where she was promoting her recent film, Malcolm & Marie. With additional quotes from a previous Zoom interview that took place on July 28th, 2020, while she was promoting Euphoria.


In addition to Malcolm & Marie, the 36-year-old John David Washington will be appearing in two other Netflix films this year: Monster, the adaptation of Walter Dean Myers’ award-winning book; and Beckett, a thriller set in Greece. Next year he will be seen in the as yet untitled new film from David O. Russell.

Washington is the son of legendary screen actor Denzel Washington and his wife of 38 years, Pauletta. His father was recently named by the New York Times as the greatest actor of the 20th century.

“I think he is one of the greatest to ever do it, so it was a very proud moment for our entire family,” said John David.

At one point during the height of the lockdown in California last year, Washington briefly moved back into his parents’ home. With respect to his mother, a classically trained pianist as well as an actor, John David described her as the “most consistent person” in his life who “gives me inspiration.”

Q: What was it like playing opposite Zendaya and being part of this project despite all the nasty things her character says to you in the film?
WASHINGTON: It speaks to her incredible God-given gift of performing that even though she’s such a beautiful person she was able to step so naturally into the role of Marie and saying hurtful things. That motivated me to say my lines in response and I was basically in the passenger seat where I was just watching her work.

On several occasions I caught myself watching her rather than participating in the scene — something that you shouldn’t do because that can break [interrupt] her performance — she was that good.

Q: How did COVID restrictions impact the making of the movie?
WASHINGTON: We were confined to our Carmel Valley estate where we were shooting. It was like being in a resort, a ranch, where we each had our own cabins. The only people there were the people working on the project. We were tested before we arrived at the property and basically never left the property for the two weeks it took us to finish the movie. It was pretty intense, but we all felt very close like a family so there was a lot of warmth and sense of common purpose.

Q: Did you ever find yourself crossing the line between the reactions and emotions of your character, Malcolm, and your own personal feelings from your own relationships? And was it cathartic in some way?
WASHINGTON: I’m very different from Malcolm in the way I handle situations. I almost never raise my voice and I really dislike getting into nasty arguments or being aggressive or confrontational. There were a few times though when I did find myself getting caught up in the moment in certain scenes where my own emotions were spilling over into my character’s feelings. So it was cathartic at times …

I was surprised in a way when that happened and it was revealing in a way of things that I didn’t know were buried inside me. But I managed to harness that process and make it work for me and be true to what Malcolm was feeling.

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Jan Janssen

Jan Janssen