After more than 80 episodes with her Black-ish family, Yara Shahidi’s Zoey Johnson is all grown up and making her way through college in Kenya Barris’ Freeform series Grown-ish. For Shahidi, learning of the opportunity to lead her own spinoff series “was very art imitating life imitating art.”
“I get a call, and I’d just turned in my own college applications literally that morning, and Kenya had said, ‘Well, what do you think about Zoey going to college?’ ” Shahidi told Dominic Patten during a panel session for the show at Deadline’s The Contenders Emmys. “After meeting with him and really hearing his ideas, it was like, how could you not want to do this?”
Black-ish centered on father Dre (Anthony Anderson). But in Grown-ish, Shahidi has been able to break out—as her character has—telling a story through Zoey’s unique perspective.
“What was nice about Grown-ish was that…we wanted to shift it, tonally. Grown-ish doesn’t occupy the same space as Black-ish, which lets both breathe,” she explained. “I feel like because we’re now hearing from the lens of Zoey, the stories are very different.”
Discussing her transition from ABC’s mothership series to Freeform’s spinoff, Shahidi paid tribute to her Black-ish co-stars, who were influential in preparing her to take on lead billing.
“I feel like Anthony [Anderson] and Tracee [Ellis Ross] have really led by example, in terms of their work ethic. It was really good prep, watching them and being on Black-ish,” she said. “I think just having that sense of dedication that Black-ish has given me meant that the challenge became fun.”
Heading into Season 2 after a first season that packed freshman year into 13 episodes, Shahidi is “really excited to have a breath, in terms of extending these storylines.” For the actress, the big change in Zoey by the end of Season 1 is that she has acclimated to this new phase of her life, with a good head on her shoulders.
“Zoey now has a point of view, by the end of this season, so while we watch her through some episodes be very much like a Switzerland figure in the middle of most circumstances, after all of the life experiences that she has been put through, I feel like she is now just a more determined and more settled human,” Shahidi said. “I’m looking forward to episodes of her being super obstinate, because she now has her perspective, and no one is going to shift it.”
Check out the conversation above.