Big Picture: Disney role brings Zendaya to Mill Bay

Zendaya was clearly amused by the predicament she faced while in Cowichan Valley to shoot Zapped last summer.

Zoey Stevens, the teenage character she plays in the Disney Channel movie premièring in Canada tonight at 8 on Family Channel, is pretty much glued to her pink smartphone. After a freak accident, the plucky dancer and straight-A student discovers her phone’s dog-training app can also magically control boys with comical results at the new high school where she’s struggling to adjust.

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Ironically, the Oakland, Calif.-based recording artist, dancer and actor occasionally couldn’t use her own smartphone during her first visit to Vancouver Island.

“There were times I didn’t have phone reception and there wasn’t much to do,” the 17-year-old megastar recalled.

Indeed, our pristine waterways and wilderness and the streets of Mill Bay seemed worlds away from the Los Angeles film and recording studios and concrete canyons of Manhattan where Zendaya Coleman launched her career. With nearly 14 million followers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and a platinum-selling single Replay under her belt, it’s a promising career indeed.

“It was a really, really fun experience,” Zendaya said.

Zapped gave the former star of Disney Channel’s Shake It Up the chance to collaborate with other familar Mouse House faces, including: Chanelle Peloso as Rachel, Zoey’s quirky best friend; and Spencer Boldman (Disney XD’s Lab Rats) as a dreamy classmate. It also features Emilia McCarthy (Bunks) as a rival dance squad captain, and Vancouver native Adam DiMarco as the eldest of Zoey’s rowdy new stepbrothers who turn her life upside-down when her mother remarries.

Zendaya was in her element shooting the comedy based on the Leslie Margolis book Boys are Dogs, especially when Pitch Perfect choreographer Aakomon Jones put her through her paces.

“I’m always moving anyway,” said the teen idol, who shines during dance showdowns. Production manager Allen Lewis says they were shot “like a music video” in a Mill Bay high school gym.

Filming also took place in Duncan and at Saanichton’s RnR Diner, posing as the Pit Stop, a retro high-school chess club hangout.

The dance sequences required a lot of rehearsals and “a much bigger light package than usual,” said Lewis. He said Zendaya, whose funky new song Too Much is featured, was a pro.

“She was wonderful to work with, such a talented singer and dancer,” he said.

Zendaya said she loved dancing on screen because it’s her workout of choice.

“The most important thing for me is stay active. Dancing’s better for me because I don’t like being cooped up in a gym. I get bored really fast.”

There seems to be no stopping this young triple-threat who began her career as a fashion model for Macy’s and Old Navy, became the youngest contestant on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, went platinum with her breakthrough hit Replay, played Rocky Blue on Shake It Up and appeared in the Disney Channel movie Frenemies.

Just ask Zendaya’s adoring fan base. Her “Zswaggers” have even more to tweet about now that she’s also co-producing her new Disney series K.C. Undercover. She has also been cast as Aaliyah Haughton, the legendary R&B singer who was killed at 22 in a plane crash in the Bahamas, in Lifetime’s biopic Aaliyah: Princess of R&B.

As if that weren’t enough, Zendaya was also recently selected by Madonna and her daughter Lola to become the new face of their Material Girl clothing line.

If her experiences off-camera on the Island last summer was any indication, Zendaya is as comfortable on the ground as in the celebrity stratosphere.

“I went whale-watching and kayaking, which I don’t usually do,” she said. “And people went hiking and stuff like that. It was so beautiful we put our phones away.”

She’s excited about co-producing K.C. Undercover because “I definitely know what I want” and it gives her “more creative control from a young age.”

Whether starring in Disney shows or doing concert tours — “I love performing in front of my fans. It’s unlike anything else” — Zendaya says she strives for balance.

“Obviously there’s pressure but the most important thing is to just have fun and don’t put too much pressure on yourself,” she says. “Have a good time all day, as long as you work hard.”

Zendaya also resists pressure to grow up fast as a young artist in the high-stakes world of showbiz.

“I just like to take my time and not try to grow up too fast,” she said. “It’s important to be happy however old you are, to grow at your own rate.”

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