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Zendaya, Mike Faist, and Josh O'Connor on Challengers' three-way love affair

Zendaya, Mike Faist, and Josh O'Connor on Challengers' three-way love affair

Mike Faist as Art, Zendaya as Tashi, and Josh O'Connor as Patrick in Challengers
Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

Mike Faist as Art, Zendaya as Tashi, and Josh O'Connor as Patrick in Challengers

Challengers’ stars Zendaya, Mike Faist, and Josh O’Connor on how their characters are ultimately in a relationship between three people in Luca Guadagnino’s homoerotic tennis movie.

“The relationship for me was always between the three of them,” Challengers’ star Josh O’Connor says. He’s talking about the three-way love affair between his character Patrick, his best friend Art, played by Mike Faist, and the woman they both love, Tashi, played by Zendaya in Luca Guadagnino’s new queer film set in flashbacks and a current riveting tennis match.

“I think I had to see it as we present a relationship that isn't necessarily one we're used to seeing, and that is flawed,” says O’Connor, who landed on the radar of queer audiences when he played a gay sheepherder in Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country (2017).

“For me, capturing in those early scenes in the hotel scene, the joy and the excitement of that [three-way love], not just for the characters, but hopefully for the audience, so that we are all batting for them to come back together,” he adds.

Mike Faist as Art and Josh O'Connor as Patrick in Challengers Mike Faist as Art and Josh O'Connor as Patrick in Challengers Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

Though best friends and friendly tennis rivals Patrick and Art don’t fully consummate their love with one another (that we see), they do via their mutual attraction to Tashi, a former tennis ace forced out of the game by a career-ending knee injury while she was still playing at Stanford. The unabashed and confident Patrick is the first to win Tashi’s affection in the months following a three-way motel make-out session at Tashi’s behest.

Eventually, Patrick and Tashi have a blowout, and she not only marries Art, she becomes his coach and the driver of a successful empire they build together that includes appearing in high-end ads. Tashi’s emotional and sexual agency drew Zendaya to the role in the film from the Call Me By Your Name director.

“I think that she's kind of unapologetic. She’s doing exactly what she feels she needs to do, and she’s not apologizing for it, nor is she making excuses for it. And we're not trying to ask the audience to feel bad for her either. I appreciated that,” Zendaya tells The Advocate. “She’s not a villain. She’s not the good guy.”

Josh O'Connor as Patrick and Zendaya as Tashi in ChallengersJosh O'Connor as Patrick and Zendaya as Tashi in ChallengersNiko Tavernise, Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

“She’s just a messy, complicated human being as we all are,” she adds. “She’s just unafraid of her own power in this way that I’ve never maybe personally experienced, but in a way that was quite refreshing in a female character. It seemed terrifying to take on, but a beautiful challenge.”

Through his marriage to Tashi and homoerotic encounters with Patrick (a churro scene, a sauna scene, and shots of sweaty male body parts throughout the film are all part of Guadagnino’s queer lexicon) Art loses his love of tennis. He’s ready to quit the game.

Zendaya as Tashi in Challengers Zendaya as Tashi in ChallengersNiko Tavernise, Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

“It’s an interesting discussion a little bit in terms of just attraction in general and why you are attracted to someone. For Art, he is very much one, the least talented out of the three in terms of the sport itself, and two, the least secure,” says Faist, who starred as Riff in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story. “And so he gloms on and is attracted to these people, these two who are so secure in who they are. And there’s kind of this quality that he does not possess. He can’t help but just be attracted to that, to the point of, I always say, to want to consume them is the truth of the matter.”

Watch the full interview below. Challengers is in theaters now.

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Tracy E. Gilchrist

Tracy E. Gilchrist is the VP, Executive Producer of Entertainment for the Advocate Channel. A media veteran, she writes about the intersections of LGBTQ+ equality and pop culture. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of The Advocate and the first feminism editor for the 55-year-old brand. In 2017, she launched the company's first podcast, The Advocates. She is an experienced broadcast interviewer, panel moderator, and public speaker who has delivered her talk, "Pandora's Box to Pose: Game-changing Visibility in Film and TV," at universities throughout the country.
Tracy E. Gilchrist is the VP, Executive Producer of Entertainment for the Advocate Channel. A media veteran, she writes about the intersections of LGBTQ+ equality and pop culture. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of The Advocate and the first feminism editor for the 55-year-old brand. In 2017, she launched the company's first podcast, The Advocates. She is an experienced broadcast interviewer, panel moderator, and public speaker who has delivered her talk, "Pandora's Box to Pose: Game-changing Visibility in Film and TV," at universities throughout the country.