Despite an acting career stretching way back to 1999, Zoe Saldana got her first big movie break when she was chosen to play Uhura in JJ Abram’s 2009 Star Trek reboot. Clearly unworried about being typecast, she followed this with a leading role in James Cameron’s sci-fi fantasy Avatar, in which she was virtually unrecognizable in blue skin and Vulcanesque ears. Then came a role in the well-received Colombiana, the tale of a female assassin out to avenge the murder of her parents.
This month she returns to cinema screens for the first time since 2012 drama The Words, starring in Star Trek Into Darkness. This time Uhura’s got the hots for Spock, and the screenwriters have caused a stir among the Trekkie fraternity by introducing new worlds to its hallowed mythology.
Saldana, who turns 35 this month, is embarking on a year of cinematic ubiquity. Coming up is an Oscar-baiting role as legendary singer Nina Simone, then she’ll be appearing opposite Christian Bale in violent thriller Out Of The Furnace. She will also be heading for the stars once again in Marvel creation Guardians of the Galaxy. This girl’s here to stay.
How are you enjoying promoting Star Trek?
I’m enjoying it a lot. Sometimes my body gets a little tired, but my mind feels very resilient because this was a movie that I was so happy to be coming back to do again. And also working with JJ [Abrams] and the cast and half of the crew. We really had a great time because the script blew our minds.
Is it nice to finally be able to talk about the sequel now that it’s been made? Because I know for the past few years that’s all people would ask you.
Yeah. It feels really great. We were doing publicity for the first movie, we briefly talked about it when we were in one of those cities doing promotions. And it was just like, “Guys, if we have the opportunity to come back, where would you want the story to go? What would you want your character to be doing?” And obviously the conversation was initiated by JJ and Damon [Lindelof], and Alex [Kurtzman] and Bob [Roberto Orci], and none of us had suggestions. Then years later, we’re able to come back for a second installment and it felt like the boys, the team, had heard everything we said.
In Star Trek Into Darkness you filmed all the bridge scenes first. What was it like to jump in and do all those character moments in the first few weeks?
We definitely needed to always stay in sync, that way we captured the right tonality and it was all thoroughly on the same level. Also, there were minor changes constantly happening with the story. Either because the actors would have a suggestion or JJ and his team would realise that after shooting a scene, it went in different directions. So all the scenes that we were doing on the bridge were very delicate because they were setting a reactive tone.
From when you first got the script to what we see on screen, how much changed along the way? Were there any dramatic changes or was it only minor tweaks of scenes that you read?
It was minor tweaks of scenes that were already there. One thing is to imagine something the way that it would happen, another thing is to be in it and act it out. So once you act out something, it’s nearly impossible to be in a movie where the script isn’t being tweaked while you’re shooting, because there’s one writer at the very least writing the story and writing the arcs of all these characters.
Another thing is once the actors come on set and they bring these lines to life, sometimes the emotional beats are not the ones that the writer chose and they go in a different direction. Therefore, you have to adjust minutely as the story unfolds.
Who is the biggest joker on set and who tries to make people laugh the most during serious scenes on camera?
The biggest joker – it’s a battle between Simon [Pegg] and John Cho. The person who likes to mess with you the most in terms of when it’s your close-up and they’re trying to make you break character – for me at least – was Zach Quinto.
Which is more difficult to master, Klingon or Na’vi?
Klingon was a little more difficult, I have to say. Even though I had more dialogue in Na’vi [in Avatar] as I spoke Na’vi throughout, my character only speaks Na’vi and speaks English with a Na’vi accent, it was still much more difficult to learn Klingon.
What’s the latest on Nina? When will we see a trailer, and the movie?
I know that Cynthia Mort, our director, is still editing it and she’s taking her time, as she should. This film is the kind of film that needs time. We shot it and it was a very intense experience, very beautiful, and I’m very happy and proud I was a part of it. Now she’s putting it together and then I have to go back to the studio to put all the songs together as well.
So there’s still a decent amount of work in front of you on that one then?
What was it like to work on Out of the Furnace? Do you know where and when it will premiere?
It’s coming out in the fall at the Toronto Film Festival, I believe. It was a very intense movie to do, but it was a wonderful experience to work with Scott Cooper and the cast – from Christian [Bale] and Forest Whitaker, to Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck and Sam Shepard. It was just phenomenal.
This film provided not one ounce of levity, but that’s because the reality and the depiction was such an actual depiction that you get a sense that they’re people going through this, living like this. There’s so much compassion that you find yourself having in your heart that you deal with the subject and every day on the shoot you carry yourself with respect and empathy and you’re very sensitive.
With the huge worldwide success of Iron Man 3, does that make you even more excited to begin production on Guardians of the Galaxy, another adaption from a Marvel comic?
It makes me excited that I’m going to be a part of something, a world that’s going to challenge me – I mean, I’m going to get to play green, I’ve been a blue one, so might as well be green. I really like the director, James Gunn. I responded very well to the script. I love the casting decisions they’ve been making so far. I can only hope we kick ass and have a great time while we’re putting the film together. And that as a result, the audience will respond very positively to it and hopefully we’ll be able to make just as much as Iron Man is making right now.
When you get involved with Marvel, or even Star Trek or Avatar, they make you sign these multi-picture deals. What is it like for you to be involved with what might now be three franchises?
I haven’t thought about it that way up until this tour actually, when it was brought to my attention. I read scripts and if I respond well to the story and especially to the character they want me to consider or who I’m going for, that’s what I do.
And then, all of a sudden, I stop and I go back and think, “Oh my god! These three things have so much in common,” and then I just keep going. It’s not something I’m strategically looking after or that I’m finding because I’m avoiding other things. It just so happens that I’m in a frenzy. I’ve been in an action frenzy for the past couple of years and I guess I gravitate towards these characters who are very physically active.