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Zendaya on what makes this Spider-Man movie different

Zendaya talks all about the diversity of the cast, not playing the traditional love interest, working with Tom Holland, plus a whole lot more.

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Columbia Pictures

Spider-Man: Homecoming has a lot of the traits of a classic superhero movie. There are incredible action sequences. There’s a charismatic villain. And there’s a hero intent on saving the day. But there are aspects of the new Sony–Marvel collaboration (swinging into theaters July 7) that differentiate it from the other costumed crusader films, and certainly from the other Spider-Man movies that came prior.

For one thing, the high school in Queens that Peter Parker attends actually feels like a high school in Queens, with the most diverse cast of students we’ve ever seen in a Spidey flick. Also, the smart kids are actually portrayed as the cool kids for once. And one of those smart/cool kids is played by Zendaya, who stopped by EW Morning Live (Entertainment Weekly Radio, SiriusXM 105) this week to chat about the new webcrawler story and her role of Michelle in it. She talked all about the diversity of the film, not playing the traditional love interest, working with Tom Holland, plus a whole lot more, and you can now hear the entire interview below on the EW Morning Live podcast. (Or you can download it for free on iTunes.) Here are a few highlights from our chat:

On the diversity of the high-school characters:
“That was one of my favorite parts about this movie is the diversity of the cast. It’s reflecting what New York looks like. It should be represented in that way, I think. I think everybody is also very distinct characters and it’s fun to see how everybody works with each other, and I love the awkwardness and the funny that comes out of those real moments in high school that we’ve all been through. The big difference with this movie is the fact that he’s 15 and you really get to see what it would be like if a 15-year-old guy had these powers. Of course, they’re not going to do everything right. They’re not going to be perfect. They’re going to mess up. They’re going to be a 15-year-old superhero. And I think they did a really great job of capturing that because that’s what makes Spider-Man so real for everybody is that he’s just a kid and just a kid from Queens.”

On her character of Michelle:
“She’s got an edge to her. She speaks her mind, says what she thinks, but for some reason it comes off likable. And it’s very dry. It’s very real.… She ‘s super smart, very intellectual, and because she’s so smart she doesn’t know how to interact with other kids. So she doesn’t have friends. And I think there are a lot of kids out there like that, including myself. So I relate to her in more ways than one.”

On smart kids being portrayed as the cool kids:
“Which is the truth now, I think. Even our bully, Flash, who is played by Tony, this is the new age bully. It’s different. It’s not necessarily one type of person. The dynamics in high school now are just different. It’s not like the old school, this is where people go and these are the groups that are cool and these are the groups that are not cool. It’s different. That’s how we reflected it.”

On working with star Tom Holland:
“He’s great. I think the most important thing to me is that he is a good person, and it’s good to know that the person who gets to play your favorite superhero is actually a nice dude. He loves doing this. When we were shooting in Atlanta, one of the things that was nice for me is it really felt like half of the movie, at least, it felt like we were just shooting this awkward teen coming-of-age story. It was like a comedy. And then you step back and you remember, oh my gosh, this is Spider-Man. And then just yesterday, Tom was just flipping off these buildings and swinging form things in a harness. I was so much in the high school part that I didn’t even realize until things started coming out and I actually got to see trailers that ‘You did so much, Tom! Like, wow! You were everywhere!’ He was working every single day and quite literally going from being Peter Parker to Spider-Man in an outfit change. So he killed it, and I’m definitely proud to be a part of this experience.”

On not playing a “damsel in distress”:
“I think it’s just a nice change of pace, especially for a superhero movie. It changes the typical female character in a superhero movie which is usually like the damsel in distress, not super independent, doesn’t really have her own thing going on, her perspective constantly revolves around the superhero, right? So it’s nice that I’m not the love interest, which means I’m not that girl. And it’s nice to have that relationship that’s not romantic. And I also would say that I like that she’s just different, and I think there’s so many different types of beautiful women out there, why not showcase different types of beautiful women? Because there’s going to be so many young people I think that can connect to that and need to see that it’s cool to be weird.”

To hear the rest of our Zendaya interview — including her comments on the auditioning process, her first reaction when watching the rough cut of the film, and dealing with the heat of Atlanta in the summertime — listen to the Soundcloud above or download the podcast for free. Plus, as a bonus, you’ll get to hear our chat with Alison Brie and Marc Maron (the stars of your next favorite show, Netflix’s GLOW) and our discussion with The Beguiled director Sofia Coppola and star Kirsten Dunst. It’s all there! And for more EW Morning Live podcast news, follow us on Twitter @EWMLPodcast.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is out July 7.