Zendaya talks voicing 'iconic' Lola Bunny, being surprised by controversy over new Space Jam look
Zendaya is ready to jam.
The Emmy-wining Euphoria actress voices the "badass" Lola Bunny in Space Jam: A New Legacy, which finds LeBron James pulled into the Warner Bros. "Server-verse" by Don Cheadle's rogue A.I., Al G Rhythm. In order to save himself and his computer-obsessed son Dom (Cedric Joe), LeBron must round up the Tunes for a basketball game against the formidable Goon Squad.
Lola is the most resistant to rejoin the Tune Squad, having branched out on her own and become a member of the Amazons, with Wonder Woman serving as one of the film's uses of the WB catalog. Upon taking the New Legacy gig, director Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip) immediately sought to "rework" Lola, thinking she was over-sexualized in the beloved 1996 original. What he didn't expect was that EW's first look cover for New Legacy would spark "super weird" dialogue about Lola's new appearance.
"I had no idea that people would be that up in arms about a bunny not having boobs," Lee tells EW. "Listen, I understand people don't want things to change, but I think we needed some evolution with her, not by objectifying her but by making her strong and still feminine. And, yes, we had all these other women who were like, 'Oh, you can't be strong and have big boobs?!' Sure you can, but we're talking about a cartoon bunny not women!"
Lee believes young girls, especially those with a love of basketball, will look up to Lola, and a huge reason for that is the strong woman behind her. "Zendaya's having a great moment right now," he says. "She's taking ownership of her image, her brand, her business. She's really the embodiment of Lola, to tell you the truth. That's the kind of projection of Lola that we wanted to have."
And EW wanted to have a conversation with the voice behind Lola, so we chatted with Zendaya about playing this "badass bunny," being surprised by the controversy surrounding the character's new look, and comparing her game to Lola's.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Fun fact: You are only two months older than the original Space Jam. I'm sure 2-month-old Zendaya wasn't there opening night, so what was your relationship to Space Jam as a kid?
ZENDAYA: I grew up with it, because I come from a basketball family. My mom is 6-foot-4, she was a basketball player in college, and my father also played basketball and was a basketball coach and wanted me to be a basketball player. So I highly identify with LeBron's son in this film, because I too had this issue of, "Well, I don't want to do that. I kind of have a different idea of what I want to do." But I also relate to the fact of having amazing support from my parents, being like, "We support you in your dreams and what you want to do."
Smart call by your parents, since I'd say it's worked out for you! So you grew up with Space Jam, which served as the introduction to Lola Bunny, who became a very popular character. Was she your personal favorite? Or, I don't know, maybe you were more of a Marvin the Martian girl?
Marvin the Martian is actually my older sister's favorite animated character ever. She has a magnet at my grandma's house, still! It doesn't move — nothing at grandma houses move. [Laughs] It's still there, this little Marvin the Martian. I loved Bugs because he's like the face of the Tunes. The cover girl, the cover bunny. But I've always appreciated Lola because she's the only girl on the team, kind of holding it down for the ladies — and she's also an incredible player. I think in this reimagining of who she is, it just leans into that a little bit more, the fact that she's got these skills and she's an MVP. When we meet here, she's like, "I'm being a warrior, an Amazon princess, I don't have time for this right now." But she obviously ends up being such a crucial member of the team and really holding them all together. When they're going off on their looney moments, she brings everyone back. I'm glad they thought maybe I could use my voice and bring her to life. She's a badass bunny.
What was that initial reaction like when they approached you with this Lola Bunny idea? I have to imagine that was a pretty surreal moment.
Yeah, it's kind of a big deal. It's like, "Wow, that's an iconic character." It was flattering, because I got a call from Ryan Coogler, who is a producer on the film, and we share Oakland, so I've always wanted to work with him. So when he called, I was like, "I'm probably going to say yes to whatever you tell me." And when he told me about this, I was like, 'Whoa, this is a big deal." They had already started that reimagining of what she was, and I guess there's some spiritual connection between who Lola is in this film and maybe who Zendaya is, and maybe my voice would make sense for that new version of who she is. So I felt very lucky that they wanted to do that with me. And it was a nice small part, so there's pressure for sure, but it could be worse — it could be all me. So there wasn't too much weight on my shoulders. But it was a really special experience, and I just leaned on our incredible director Malcolm to take the lead and tell me what he wanted. And I really enjoyed myself.
You mention Malcolm, and I remember talking to him for our New Legacy first look cover. This was before you were announced as being cast, but it was clear that reworking Lola and making her a more well-rounded character was a priority for him. While I knew our cover drop would break the internet, I didn't anticipate it would be because people were outraged over Lola's appearance...
I didn't know that was going to happen either! I definitely know we love her, but I didn't know it was going to be as much of a focus as it was. [Laughs] But I understand, because she's a lovable character. She's very important, so I get it.
So what's your reaction as you're sitting back, knowing you're probably going to to do this role, and watching the internet go down this really weird rabbit hole? Pun intended.
She's special to a lot of people and their childhoods and they've been able to grow up with her, so I get that sense of protection. I was like, listen, just as long as I did what the director and the producers and everybody wanted me to do, I'm just here to offer my services. [Laughs] No, but I felt really grateful just to have the opportunity.
Earlier you mentioned your basketball family history, so how you compare Zendaya's game to Lola's game?
Trash! Zendaya's game is absolute trash in comparison to Lola's. The handles are just nothing. Just absolutely nothing. Sometimes we have hoops on-set, definitely not regulation height, I bring that joint down a little bit, and I'll bring my ball and dribble around, throw it up, and as soon as it goes in, I'm like, "Alright, I've got to get back to work." As long as everybody sees the good stuff and then I can get out of there, that's how I like to play it.
The last shot is always the one everyone remembers.
Just need one swish and you're out.
Space Jam: A New Legacy premieres Friday in theaters and on HBO Max.