By Jack Rico
Dominican/Puerto Rican actress Zoe Saldana belongs to a rare and privileged club, where a small click of actors films rank in the top 3 box office movies of all time. Avatar is the leader in that category and she’s its key co-star. She is literally on top of the world. Her huge blockbuster films have put her on the lips of every top producer and director in Hollywood as well as a profusion of money in her bank account. As she nears the release of another gi-normous franchise film in “Star Trek Into Darkness,” where she plays Uhura, she seems to be in a reflective mood about life, work and her place in it.
I have been interviewing Saldana since the early 2000’s when I used to work for a Spanish language morning newscast in New York. She was just breaking through with “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” back then and she seemed innocent to the tidal wave of the VIP life that was about to hit her.
In our deep, but fun conversation, her answers were peppered with shades of feminism and what sounded like a need to break free from some metaphorical chains that seem to be clinging to her. We spoke about nudity, the price of fame, directing movies and kissing friends. She has some answers that might surprise you.
Jack Rico (JR): I know you for a long time Zoe and you have come a long way. Franchise films such as Avatar and Star Trek have made you into a global star. When it’s all said and done, what do you want to have achieved?
Zoe Saldana (ZD): Whenever it is my time to look back and look at what I left behind, I never want to be a woman that ever surrendered or conformed to a man’s world.
JR: Are you referring to the men in positions of power in the Hollywood system?
ZD: Hollywood is just a aspect of my life. I’m talking about my life in general. Because there are so many young women looking up to me and I’m embracing that now and I’m realizing that it is very special. It matters very much the kind of woman that I want them to know that they can be in a world that is predominantly designed for men. I never am going to conform, and if I ever feel that I’m asked to play a role that is servicing a man only, I’m wasting my time so I’m not going to do that.
JR: Do you then feel that you’re progress is being obstructed by men? What would you want to do to break yourself from that?
ZD: I want to direct. There is just something about taking a bigger participation in storytelling that I’m very intrigued with. I want to explore more of it and see if I have it in me to do. As an actor it is very hard of me to surrender so much of my power and my control and my craft to so many circumstances. The reality is that unless you’re producing a project or created it, you don’t have much influence in it. By the time you go to the premiere and you see the end result, it is nowhere near what you read on paper that made you say, Yes! I wanna be a part of this movie and play that character. That collaboration when it comes to storytelling still gives me a lot of happiness, but it doesn’t give me the satisfaction that I want.
JR: If Paramount Pictures gave you the go ahead to direct a film, do you have a story in mind that you would want to tell as your first project?
ZD: There are filmmakers that I have loved my whole life that I’ve been wanting to sort of one day do films that have their essence. I obviously want to find my own voice, but, directors like Tony Scott and Ang Lee are directors that I just absolutely find fascinating. I would want to do a film like “Lust, Caution” [from Ang Lee] or “Man on Fire” [from Tony Scott]. When I say doing films like that I’m talking about not just the story of it, but the way Tony used to shoot, and the lighting he used and the way he used music to make you to compel you to feel and keep you always on this adrenaline rush. And Ang Lee is such a psychological filmmaker. Those are the kind of filmmakers I look up to and would want to showcase work that has a little bit of influence from them.
JR: After being a part of box office juggernaut movies, any thoughts to exploring your Dominican roots and starring in a Spanish language film next?
ZD: That is something I would love to do and I’m never closed to that. I read a lot of scripts and I want to, but it’s what captivates me. It would be amazing to do more films in my native tongue.
JR: In the coming Allure magazine issue, you are completely nude. Would you do a nude scene on film and what is your overall take on nudity in film?
ZD: Sometimes it feels like its part of a formula that needs to sell more seats, sometimes it feels like its absolutely necessary sometime like it needs a little more skin in a story. To me it’s just art, I would never do it for the sake of anything but the story. I don’t believe the body is something that should be covered, I don’t believe the body is something that is dirty. There is so much censorship when it comes to sexuality and sensuality in our art, but we have gone to the extreme to showcase violence and that I can’t tolerate.
JR: How are you dealing with fame nowadays. Do you like it, does it annoy you when people ask you for autographs and pictures?
ZD: I’m only human (giggles). Somedays I just want to be a regular person, but I never lose sight that I always have to be polite. But the reality of it is that I’m okay in saying no when I don’t feel like doing something. But also, I can’t lose sight of the fact that I made this decision to be in this profession and therefore those are the consequences of it, and sometimes whether the delivery was right or wrong or too abrupt or a little too loud… people who approach other people because they saw them somewhere and want to collect a memory of them, whether through a picture or a signature, is beautiful.
JR: Let’s talk “Star Trek Into Darkness”. For people who aren’t “Trekkies,” can they also enjoy the movie or is it just for fans?
ZD: Oh my god, I think we would have been fools if we only did the film for the fans. Whether you’re a fan of Star Trek or not it’s perfect for you. It’s just a great movie with the whole package – amazing visuals, a beautiful heart, amazing characters that you can part with. It literally brings back the feeling of wanting to go back to the movies and eat that popcorn guilty free and be taken for an amazing ride.
JR: You and Zachary Quinto are really good friends who go way back. When shooting a kissing scene with a friend that close (who is also gay), does it hurt the character’s credibility with the moviegoer?
ZD: Zachary and I have known each other for 14 years. Sometimes you get the giggles and you can’t stop. If he’s a very close friend of yours, you can be brutally honest and tell them “Hey, you want a mint?” or you can give him a compliment and say “My god Zach, you’re such a great kisser!” But Zach and I are professionals and we’re great friends that it’s just a regular day, but it’s not always like that [with other actors].
Star Trek Into Darkness comes out Friday, May 17 in IMAX 3D.