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John David Washington responds to criticism of age gap with co-star Zendaya

He’s 36, she’s 24 and in the upcoming film “Malcolm & Marie,” they play a couple confronting their hidden issues. But some say their age gap is a big issue of its own.
MALCOLM & MARIE
John David Washington as Malcolm and Zendaya as Marie in the upcoming relationship drama. DOMINIC MILLER / NETFLIX
/ Source: TODAY

Hollywood has had a long history of pairing older actors with younger leading women on the big and small screens. But in recent years, it’s a practice that’s sparked criticism.

Sometimes the complaints are focused on the age of the star compared to the character she’s playing, other times it’s simply the enormity of the age gap itself, and all while some critics point out that teaming up younger women with older men means there are fewer leading roles for older women.

The upcoming relationship drama “Malcolm & Marie,” starring John David Washington and Zendaya, is the latest film facing such critiques, because Washington, at 36, is 12 years older than the former Disney Channel star who plays his partner. However, the actor doesn’t see a problem with the gap.

“I wasn’t concerned about it because she is a woman,” he said in a recent interview with Variety when asked about their age difference. “People are going to see in this film how much of a woman she is.”

But there’s more to it than that, according to the “Tenet” star. While there’s more than a decade between them age-wise, in terms of their careers, he sees her as the elder actor.

“She has far more experience than I do in the industry,” Washington explained. “I’ve only been in it for seven years. She’s been in it longer, so I’m learning from her. I’m the rookie.”

"Malcolm & Marie" premieres on Netflix Feb. 5.DOMINIC MILLER / NETFLIX

Washington, who’s a son of Academy Award winner Denzel Washington and singer and actor Pauletta Washington, had a couple of childhood roles but didn’t return to acting as a serious pursuit until 2015, when he joined the cast of HBO’s “Ballers.” By contrast, Zendaya’s on-screen career took off in 2010, when she landed the role of Rocky Blue on Disney’s “Shake It Up.”

“I was leaning on her for a lot,” Washington said of their work together for “Malcolm & Marie.” “Some of the stories she’s shared about what she’s had to go through with Twitter and everything. I appreciated her wisdom and discernment when it comes to this business. I admire that.”

Ultimately, he hopes viewers will reserve judgement until the film, directed by Sam Levinson, premieres on Netflix Feb. 5.

“What I’m really excited for people to see when the film is released — they’re going to see how mature she is in this role,” he said of his co-star. “We’re talking about versatility, and Sam and Zendaya brought both.”

That last part isn’t surprising, given that it wasn’t long after early screenings of “Malcolm & Marie” that Zendaya became the topic of Oscar buzz for her intense portrayal of a woman bringing hidden relationship problems to the surface.

As for the casting, Levinson, who works with Zendaya on HBO’s “Euphoria,” selected her for the role of Marie before he even considered Washington for the part of Malcolm.

“Zendaya is such a formidable force as a person and an actor, that it was really difficult to imagine who could go twelve rounds with her,” Levinson recently told GQ. “She could snap most actors like a twig.”