Zoe Saldana talked to us about stunts and her post-ballet body just after she beamed up as Uhura for J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek.
The year 2009 was a busy one for Zoe Saldana, having been the leading lady in two of the year’s biggest films – playing Uhura in J. J. Abram’s re-imagined Star Trek, and Na’Vi princess Neytiri in James Cameron’s ground breaking Avatar. Despite beginning her acting career at the turn of the century, it took a while for Saldana to find her way into the acting world having spent many years training as a ballerina – something she demonstrated in her debut film role as Eva Rodríguez in 2000’s cult dance film, Center Stage.
“In my mind I will always be a dancer, but my body seems to differ,” she laughs. “I started dancing a little late in life and even though I enjoy it and gave it my all six days a week, I realised that I couldn’t be as good a dancer as I wanted and my body was telling me ‘you’ve been putting me through the mill for nine years and this is as far as I am gonna go.’ I would want to be much better so I took a step back and I parted with it.”
Hanging up her ballet shoes, Saldana found inspiration from strong female figures in Hollywood and decided to try a different form of expression. “I love actresses that always fought against the pressure of being a woman in Hollywood – that focus on the exterior and never looking on the interior,” she explains. “I love people like Merryl Streep that did things because they wanted to and reflect the kind of woman that they are. I certainly wanted to explore that and before I went to university to study and do something else. The moment I started acting I started feeling very happy and I have been running after that feeling ever since.”
2010 is off to a successful start for Saldana with Avatar breaking box office records in January. Later this year she can be seen in a small role for gangster film Takers (“I only worked on the movie for four days and it was mostly as a favour to the producer who is a friend of mine”) and in April takes the female lead in action flick The Losers (“I did more than four days on that film!”) based on the DC Vertigo comic series of the same name.
“It is really, really good and very physical,” says Saldana, sounding exhausted by the memory of the filming process. “It’s like all I did for the movie was jump out of this tank and shoot this gun and set this room on fire but I love pushing the envelope and testing my limits. I did mostly all of my own stunts as the stunt co-ordinator on that movie was Garret Warren – the same stunt co-ordinator on Avatar – and he knows how far I can take myself. If it had not been for him, I would not have done all the stunts on The Losers, but I am very proud of that movie.”
The film tells the story of a group of CIA agents who are double crossed by their handler and left for dead then team up to exact revenge. Saldana plays the character Aisha who she describes as “a feisty, snaky person,” and who, in the comic series at least, joins the CIA agents on their mission with a vengeance of her own. Although the character she plays has a dark intention for her target, such motives do not enter the mind of Zoe.
Having spent the past few months flying at light-speed, defending an alien home world and being a mercenary, the opportunity to take part in the US reworking of British comedy Death At A Funeral (out later this year) proved one Saldana couldn’t turn down.
“I don’t think I’m funny, but my team think I’m hilarious,” she says. “I’ve wanted to work with [Director] Neil La Bute for a very long time and when I met him and read the script I thought it would be wonderful to step away from the intense roles for a bit and just do something – not necessarily easy – but something of a much lighter theme and I ended up having so much fun!”
So the comedy film set is a much more relaxed set than the action, explosions and guns of her other recent projects? “Oh my god! I have these fricking four-inch heels on for the entire movie, so I kind of wished I had a gun!” she laughs. “I’m running around chasing after James Marsden, who plays my boyfriend, and they weren’t so uncomfortable, but I was just so scared. I didn’t want to break my ankle!”
Although the heels proved as big a challenge as any action scene, fashion is something Saldana has a high respect for. “I grew up with a grandmother who was a seamstress since the 60s in New York. We always had magazines like Vanity Fair and Vogue lying around so I knew about all these designers like Diane Von Furstenberg and I love dressing up now that I’m older.”
Confessing to being a tomboy when growing up, the sneakers and sandals from her days as a dancer seem far behind. Saldana is co-founder of My Fashion Database – MyFDB.com – an online source that compiles fashion credits on published work to provide a comprehensive resource for fashion industry professionals and she tries to be as involvedas possible when she is not working on films. With all her acting roles and fashion commitments, how does Zoe Saldana ever find time to relax?
“Usually I’m just a work-a-holic,” she states. “Sometimes my body is exhausted and even my skin reacts. It’s like every part of my body separates and they have conversations on their own and they’re like ‘Fuck you! We’re not going to look nice and bright today. My hair is going to be very dull, my ass is going to be crampy’ and I have to listen to that voice that says ‘enough’ and force myself not to get out of bed. The next day you wake up and feel like one hundred bucks because you gave yourself the rest.”
Although her action parts will no doubt add to her workout routine, there is no disputing the actress has an incredible figure. “I don’t put my body through rigorous exercise. As human beings we have to relax a lot more than we think,” she says stating healthy eating is the main factor in keeping her shape. But having starred opposite an array of attractive actors including Chris Pine, Sam Worthington and Johnny Depp, would any of her co-stars every try to get their hands on her off screen?
“I’ve had a very private life and I’ve been involved with someone for many, many years,” she reveals. “I’ve considered myself to be very lucky because it has kept me from the downside of this business which is to become that little crazy bunny that just jumps into something every time, but I’ve always left work at the office. I acknowledge there are very handsome, sexy and amazing actors, but I see it on a respectful level and I’ve been lucky to have worked with very professional men.”
Beyond 2010 Saldana looks forward to reprising her role as Nyota Uhura and rejoining the cast and crew of Star Trek who all bonded on the first outing together. “We are just dying to get back on the Enterprise. We’ve become such great friends through the movie so we’re always egging each other on, rooting for each other, sending mass e-mails and questioning J. J. and Bryan Burk on what Star Trek 2 is going to have in store for us.”
Abram’s, for anyone that didn’t know, is notoriously secretive about his projects be it the inconceivable twists of his TV shows like Alias and Lost or the storylines of films like Cloverfield and, indeed, Star Trek. But this characteristic is not something that frustrates Saldana too much. “I love the fact that he is so mysterious. He takes the audience on a big adventure,” she says. ‘Big adventure’ could also be the two words to describe the life of Zoe Saldana so far.
Images: Gregory Harris
Styling: Lester Gracia