Josh O’Connor reveals Zendaya handpicked him for sexually ‘fluid’ Challengers role

Josh O'Connor at the Challengers premiere.

Josh O’Connor stars in the ‘tennis threesome’ film Challengers alongside Mike Faist and Zendaya – the latter of whom handpicked the God’s Own Country star for the flick.

Directed by Luca Guadagnino (of Call Me By Your Name fame), Challengers is a horny tennis drama that follows Zendaya as Tashi Duncan, a former tennis prodigy turned coach following an injury.

The twist comes when she begins coaching her husband, Art (Faist), out of a losing streak, and he is pitched to play against his former best friend – and Tashi’s ex-boyfriend – Patrick (O’Connor).

With the film confirmed to have at least one queer moment between Art and Patrick – as well as some suggestive sauna scenes and banana-eating – O’Connor previously opened up about the sexuality of his character; and he’s now revealed that Zendaya, who also produced Challengers, handpicked him for the role.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ. Magazine), Zendaya told journalist Ben Cohen that O’Connor was the first person she thought of when casting: “You know the guy from The Crown?” she said. “He’d be great for this.” 

O’Connor was also “convinced” that his co-stars wouldn’t know who he was; “I was convinced the studio and Zendaya, Mike and anyone else would be like, ‘Josh O’Who?’” he said.

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Josh O’Connor, Zendaya and Mike Faist at the Los Angeles premiere of “Challengers” held at Regency Village Theatre on April 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gilbert Flores/Variety via Getty Images)

Speaking on his character in Challengers – who, spoilers, is not a good person – O’Connor said that he revelled in his ‘evilness’,

“It’s the first time I think I’ve played a character who’s just like, ‘I’m f—ing mad,’” he said. “Like, ‘I’m a dick and I’m proud.’”

First reactions to Challengers have praised the film as “deeply horny” – with thanks to the love triangle at the centre of the film.

“Yeah, I think they’re all fluid. I think they all kind of love each other and they’re figuring that out,” O’Connor explained to Variety, when asked if the male characters were queer.

“They’re trying to understand where that plays out and how it plays out, and so I don’t know if there’s a clear cut answer to that, but I think that they’re all completely tied [to each other]. They’re all in.”

Challengers arrives in US and UK cinemas on 26 April.