Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman does not play Peter Parker's love interest in the new Spider-Man: Homecoming superhero flick (which is released today!), but she is fine with that.

The rising US actress is instead making her feature film debut as Michelle, a classmate in Spidey's high school.

On her character, Zendaya said: "Weird, but cool, because she is constantly in a book. She is smart but not much of a people person.

"You know, when you see a character and you are like, 'Oh, that is my spirit animal? Like, that is who I am on the inside?' She is who I am on the inside."

 

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Thrilled by his experience with the Avengers, Peter returns home, where he lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), under the watchful eye of his new mentor Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.).

When the Vulture (Michael Keaton) emerges as a villain, everything Peter holds most important will be threatened.

At our meeting with Zendaya at the Fogo de Chao restaurant in Los Angeles, the 20-year-old singer, dancer, clothing designer and Disney Channel star of shows such as K.C. Undercover is dressed down.

She is also without the pink hair she sported at our last meeting in New York City on the set of the Hugh Jackman-starring movie musical The Greatest Showman.

 

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Zendaya described herself as a nerd but not a comic book fan.

But when she saw the 2002 Spider-Man film, she identified with the protagonist.

She said: "Peter Parker does not come from money, and he was not born into a successful life. Neither was he born into his powers. It is something that happens to him."

Growing up in a tough neighbourhood in Oakland, California, Zendaya can relate.

She said: "He has this dual life. He is a superhero, and he is a normal kid. For me, I have been this normal person, but I am also like this super person for kids out there.

"I cannot save lives, but I do it in a different way. That kind of dynamic has always been to me what makes (Spider-Man) the realest and coolest. There are a lot more nerds out there than cool people, so we can all connect to them."

 

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Zendaya has come a long way from inner city Oakland, which she described as a melting pot for creative people.

She said: "My dad stopped teaching to take me back and forth between Oakland and Los Angeles. I would get a call for an audition, and we would get in the car. My mum says she became the queen of Craigslist, because she was looking for deals for cheap hotels if we had to stay the night.

"It was tough, because until I got my first Disney show (Shake It Up in 2010), my mum, who was still a teacher, was working two jobs... It took a while for me to get financially to a point where I could have all my family members together, the three of us, and have a house."

On her biracial heritage - her father is African-American and her mother Caucasian - and unusual name, Zendaya said: "One thing my dad wanted me to have growing up was a strong sense of pride of where I am from. He wanted my name to be an African-inspired name.

"He took an African word and kind of changed it and made it into something, so my name is kind of half-real and half-made-up, but it definitely has those roots. It is supposed to mean 'to give thanks', and I was hard for my parents to have, so they were thankful."

She has two older brothers, two older sisters and a gaggle of young nieces and nephews.

 

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When she is not working, Zendaya - whose role model is US media maven Oprah Winfrey - says her life is normal.

"People think my life is a lot more exciting than it actually is. When I am not working, I am at home. I am just chilling. I am very, very boring.

"I live close to my little nieces. I pick them up sometimes and just hang out with them, try to force them to talk to me. I have a little niece who is a baby, and I get to babysit. That is my life, and that is what I enjoy.

"I do not have a lot of friends, to be honest. I keep to myself, and I like to be in my little box. I get called grandma all the time... because that is what I act like. Everybody says 'Oh, we want to go out.' I am good. I will be in the house.

"But that is how I like it. I think that has helped me in my career, being a young person in this industry. Having that maturity has helped me stay out of trouble."

 

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She does not have a boyfriend now, and the right one would have to understand her life.

"It is a pretty crazy life. I cannot have somebody who is intimidated by me. I have to have somebody who is motivated by me or proud of me," she said with a laugh.

For someone so young, her career is flying high, especially with another high-profile movie - The Greatest Showman, about P. T. Barnum's circus - in which she plays a trapeze artist. It opens at the end of the year.

Zendaya is justly proud of herself, especially about her outspoken views that started when she stood up to criticism for wearing dreadlocks to the Oscars in 2015.

The incident spurred the makers of Barbie to create a doll in Zendaya's image, complete with the "locs".

Zendaya said: "At the end of the day, all this could go at any time. I could wake up in a year and not have a job.

"When fans come up to me, the things they say are never, 'Oh wow, that last thing you did,' or 'I love your clothes and I love your selfies.' More like, 'Thank you for saying this publicly. My daughter really needed to hear that,' or 'Thank you for speaking up about this or what you do for women.' That is what I would much rather be known for anyway."

 

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Article first published on TheNewPaper