‘The Crown’ star transforms from King Charles into scandalous new role for ‘Challengers’

Josh O’Connor is best known to most audiences for his Emmy-winning performance as a young King Charles in seasons three and four of “The Crown.”

But for his new film, “Challengers,” co-starring Zendaya and “West Side Story” star Mike Faist, he’s showing a whole new side of himself.

O’Connor plays tennis pro Patrick, one-third of a love triangle with Tashi (Zendaya), a tennis pro poised for greatness before an injury relegates her to coaching, and Art (Faist), another well-to-do tennis pro. Tashi eventually marries Art, and Patrick comes back into their lives years later, kicking off tensions and connections, including a racy threesome.

Reviews have described “Challengers” as sexy and steamy, something O’Connor is still surprised he was chosen for.

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“If you were making the movie, you wouldn’t cast me,” O’Connor recalled telling screenwriter Justin Kuritzkes in an interview for The Wall Street Journal. “You would cast anyone but me.” 

Zendaya not only co-starred in but produced the film, and she handpicked O’Connor for the role after a discussion with director Luca Guadagnino.

“Literally, that was the first person I thought of,” the “Euphoria” star told the outlet of O’Connor. 

She explained she liked the actor’s intensity in “The Crown,” and remembered thinking, “After meeting him, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, you’re nothing like this person.’”

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O’Connor admitted when it comes to his casting, “I still think it’s a reach.” 

Filming the steamy scenes raised its own set of challenges, including Zendaya’s family viewing the finished product.

“It was hilarious,” she told Entertainment Tonight recently, noting her family was aware of the film’s scandalous content. 

The 27-year-old revealed her family is used to seeing her in racier scenes, thanks to her role on “Euphoria,” for which she won two Emmys.

“They’ve all seen ‘Euphoria,’ you know, so it’s not like our first rodeo or anything,” she said.

Still, at a recent screening, Zendaya told ET she observed her family’s reactions with amusement.

“It was funny ’cause, you know, obviously I’ve seen the movie many times, so I know what’s coming, and they were all sitting behind me, and I got to, like, watch them watch and slowly just be like, ‘Oh god,’” she said.

For Zendaya, playing Tashi was a chance to play a mature role she actually related to in some ways, while exploring other elements.

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“I’ve been playing 16-year-olds since I was 16,” she told Variety. “So, it was nice to play a character that was not a child anymore. It was also interesting playing parts of my life that I haven’t experienced yet. I’ve not gotten married. I’ve not had a child. Those milestones I don’t necessarily have a direct reference point for. That was different to feel. Ultimately, it felt like the right time for a character like this.”

While the scenes aren’t explicit, Zendaya did tell ET, “It’s still enough to not want to watch with your aunt.”

O’Connor highlighted in the ET interview that the intensity of some scenes will keep viewers “on the edge of your seat.”

But when it came to filming, particularly the three-way kiss scene, he added, “In reality, you know, we laughed.”

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Zendaya described the intricacy of filming the scene as “a dance” and ultimately not very romantic or intimate. 

“It’s not just the three of us,” she said. “It’s a whole crew also who’s a part of the scenes.”

In the cast’s interview with Variety, the “Spider-Man: No Way Home” star admitted she let herself get distracted during the edgy scene.

“The only reason I really remember is because Beyoncé came out with ‘Break My Soul’ that day,” she told the outlet. “I was having a great day, like, ‘Y’all. Beyoncé’s single just dropped.’ That’s what I was focused on, to be honest.”

“We lost Zendaya for like a week,” O’Connor added. “She was on set, normal, chatting with us. Then one day, Beyoncé released something. They called ‘cut,’ and she immediately had headphones in. She was completely lost to the world.”

The cast also bonded through rehearsals and training to portray tennis stars.

In an interview with Variety, the stars discussed their intense workout regimen, with O’Connor admitting he’s not much of a gym rat.

“I find gyms incredibly tedious,” he told the outlet. “I get bored very quickly. I always catch myself in the mirror, and I’m like, ‘You look so pathetic. You look rubbish holding your weights. And out of your depth.’ So, I just never really lasted.

“There’s a piece of equipment that measures how strong your abdominals are. And Zendaya had the best abs of the three of us by a long way. I remember me and Mike laughing, but we were also furious and desperately trying to improve our strength.”


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