Zendaya Breaks Down That Sexy ‘One Shot’ “Challengers” Scene (Exclusive)

Both the tennis and the steamy scenes in ‘Challengers’ were rigorously choreographed, say Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist

<p>Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures</p> (Left-right:) Mike Faist, Zendaya and Josh O

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

(Left-right:) Mike Faist, Zendaya and Josh O'Connor in "Challengers"

Zendaya is shedding light on the sexiest scene in her new movie — or at least, its sexiest scene not involving tennis.

As the actress-producer, 27, said on the red carpet at the April 16 Los Angeles premiere of Challengers (in theaters now), “tennis is the sex in the movie.”

The sport in Challengers “holds a metaphor for a lot of things — for desires, passion, pain, anger, frustration,” per Zendaya. Under Luca Guadagnino’s direction, the characters in the film “all use tennis as this way of communicating with each other when they just don’t have the words.”

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But just as each and every point in each and every tennis match was choreographed, so were the movie’s steamiest moments, Zendaya and costars Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist tell PEOPLE. 

<p>Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images</p> (Left-right:) Mike Faist, Zendaya and Josh O'Connor on April 20

Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images

(Left-right:) Mike Faist, Zendaya and Josh O'Connor on April 20

“I've done sex scenes and people are always fascinated: ‘How do you do that?’” says O’Connor, 33, praising Challengersintimacy coordinator Mam Smith. “It is choreographed. It has to be so that everyone feels safe and comfortable.”

For the scene involving his character Patrick, Faist’s Art and Zendaya’s Tashi in bed together, “the movement is locked in," adds O’Connor.

“We had to do it in one shot,” explains Zendaya of the moment (which, spoiler alert, features all three characters taking turns locking lips). “So that was like, ‘Okay, you have to say this line, the camera's got to go here, and if we mess up, we got to start over again.’ "

“It's very intentional and thought through with the help of everyone,” adds the Dune star. "It's such a community of people that make this one shot happen. It's like we [actors] are just a small part of it, ultimately.”

Related: Zendaya Reacts to Meme Showing All Spider-Man Female Leads Then Playing Tennis Stars

Within the rigorously choreographed movements of such an intimate scene, says O’Connor, “all of the emotion, all of the stuff that we can play with, we can improvise.”

The ability to play within such a structure is “what excites” Faist, 32. “Because life is not just black and white. Life is everything, all the 50 shades of gray in between. That's the work for me.”

Zendaya agrees. “I've found that I drill my lines so that by the time I'm there, I'm not thinking about my lines. I can feel free, I can play.” By rehearsing and choreographing with teams of professionals — for Challengers' tennis and sex scenes alike — “it just allowed for us to be more present,” she says.

<p>Niko Tavernise/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures</p> Zendaya and Josh O'Connor in "Challengers"

Niko Tavernise/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

Zendaya and Josh O'Connor in "Challengers"

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The cast’s preparation also included weeks of tennis practice with all-star coach Brad Gilbert, who has worked with Andre Agassi, Andy Murray and currently, Coco Gauff.

O’Connor and Faist also studied videos of Agassi, John McEnroe and Nick Kyrgios on the tennis court. “I actually took a tick of Brad’s,” reveals Faist. “Whenever he's waiting to return a serve, he does this footstep routine, he's pacing.”

“Yes!” says Zendaya. “Forward, forward, back, back. Forward, forward, back, back.”

“So I was like, ‘I'm stealing this,’” quips Faist.

Challengers is in theaters now.

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