In the last few years, actress Zoe Saldana has seemingly cornered the market on strong female roles in major franchise pictures. She has certainly become to the go-to person when a movie requires some physicality from its female lead. Saldana spoke candidly with a roundtable of reporters recently about her philosophy when it comes to roles for women in films, as well as details of her upcoming movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, where she plays Gamora, an assassin often described as “the most dangerous woman in the galaxy.”
On her approach to working in movies that involve a lot of visual effects:
Zoe Saldana: "I've always learned since Avatar to ask a lot of questions. If you’re going to provide me as an actor with nothing to base my emotional tonality…if it’s not going to be there, then at least explain it to me and carry me through enough so I can place it in my head and I can give you exactly what you’re envisioning. So I like directors who are very generous with their knowledge."
On her preference for roles in action and genre cinema:
You gravitate unconsciously to what feels comfortable, what gets you excited. I grew up with a mother who was really into reading a lot of imaginative writers. I grew up watching a lot of action movies. I was never a princess for Halloween. I was a ninja. And then I was Ellen Ripley, or some kind of other woman that was heroic.
Even though I love being a part of movies that are sensitive and have a certain type of fragility, I’m most challenged and I feel most relevant when I’m able to incorporate my body in what I’m doing. I also think that there aren’t enough female artists that are given the opportunity or even want to be in action driven genre projects. They don’t think it’s possible for them. So when you open those doors, it becomes better. Now you’re giving the audience the opportunity to see an action movie through not just a male perspective but also a female perspective. And if the female artist can pull it off and work just as hard as the male actor, then it becomes a very great movie, since it isn’t something that just isn’t seen so much.
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On having a female co-star:
It felt great, and I hope it opens eyes in terms of how necessary it is to have more women in our stories. When there’s only one door that opens for a woman, it causes this competition that keeps us from becoming united and working together. It creates so much fear. One of the most beautiful things about getting older is losing that fear. As soon as you have another woman in the cast, you make the best of it. You encourage that other woman to bring it and fight just as hard. .
On the limitations of roles set on Earth:
If you’re on Earth, you’re usually having babies. It’s great, but out of 250 films that Hollywood may do in a year, you don’t want 225 of those to be with female characters that are just assuming female roles according to a male perspective. It just feels very limited. And I feel like males are also cheating themselves out of the opportunity of really discovering how able and multifaceted women really are.
I need an accurate depiction of what women are in my eyes. I was raised around women who did everything. That’s the way it was around my life. I’m not saying that I would reject a great role where I would play a mother, or a wife of someone, but when it comes to being a serviceable character that’s completely irrelevant to a story, it’s not something that I want to be a part. It won’t send a positive message to women.
On the atmosphere around the set:
It’s funny, because we’re all painted. Your sword is made of rubber. They’ll say “action,” and maybe an explosion doesn’t go off on time. You have to keep a sense of humor. You’re playing this tough person. As soon as you say “action,” I have this bravado, but as soon as you say, “cut,” I’m like “My feet. Take my weapon I’m hungry. Where’s lunch?” I go into myself, and so that creates a sense of humor for everybody.
On co-star Chris Pratt:
Chris is very funny. He loves to sing country music. Here we are, all dressed as aliens, in these luscious, amazing sets, and here comes Chris singing Zac Brown. And we’d all sing along with him.
On co-star Karen Gillen:
Karen is just so feminine, and so beautiful. And she would transform into this vicious character. But as soon as James would say, “cut,” she would go back to her Scottish accent, and grab her cellphone (which is all pink), and take pictures. .
On co-star Dave Bautista:
Dave is always hungry. We could be shooting, and there was always someone bringing in plates of food. You’d say “didn’t you just eat?” And he’ll say “I did. Ten minutes ago. I’m starving.” You would see this man in all this gear with these contact lenses on, and he’s bigger than life. And he’s just having a sandwich.
On Michael Rooker:
He was the oldest. And he was the youngest. You could always tell when he was working that day, because you would hear him from miles away laughing. He would never stop talking.
On taking roles in big franchises:
I would do more if they come along. If it comes in a package of a great director, an amazing cast, and great female characters. I think I would be limiting myself an artist by saying “no” out of fear of what others may think if I do too many [franchises]. I have to always remind myself every morning that I am an artist, and this is what I want to do. This is what makes me happy first. The day I start making decisions in terms of the roles that I take because of what others may think, that’s the day that my work will be compromised.
On the challenges of working on a major production:
Conforming to the formula of working off a big enterprise. There’s a lot of it that I completely understand. It is a business. They have to continue thriving. And people like to stick to what they know. But as an artist, it can be a little frustrating when you just want to try something, and you’re told “no, do it this way or do it that way.”
It’s a lot of work. When you work in films it’s not just fabulous. It’s a very small fragment of the wholeness of what we do. It’s a lot of work, a lot of stress, a lot traveling and being away from home and family. That takes a toll, not just on your heart and your mind, but also on your body. I thought that I was going to live forever, and then I turned 30. And by the time you’re 35, you doing another movie like Guardians of the Galaxy…your body just says “no!”
On working with Marvel:
I’m happy I’m part of the Marvel family. The Marvel producers are great. You see it through your director. For a company as strong as Marvel, which has been dominating the box office for the past five years, to give free rein to a young director and trust him…we never felt any pressure. James was really so relaxed, because they really just let him be. It ended up being such a wonderful experience.
Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” opens in cinemas on July 31 in The Philippines.