“Oh my God! Where are the stunt people?”
That’s what Zoe Saldana wants to know, as she surveys a cannon-like contraption designed to shoot her from atop a platform all the way down to the bottom of a 30-foot water container on the set of the sequel to the 2009 sci-fi phenomenon Avatar. She’s been well prepped by her stunt coordinator (“I trust him with my life”), and James Cameron, the Oscar-winning director, has no intention of calling for a stand-in. “Nope,” he says. “You are going to do this.”
“I was like, ‘Okay, suuuure,’” Zoe recalls a week later with nervous laughter. But the tough-talking actress from Queens, New York, didn’t become the female face of this and two other testosterone-fueled franchises (Guardians of the Galaxy and Star Trek) by shying away from such challenges. So she summoned the courage to allow herself to be launched into that “big-ass tank”—and ended up enjoying it.
“We often equate success with our physical beauty. It’s so f-cked up!”
“The moment he says, ‘Action!’ you forget you’re from this planet and you really believe you have superpowers,” she says. “I was bummed when he told me, ‘I got it, that’s it.’”
It’s a rainy early-spring day, and Zoe’s in a car heading back to the set in Manhattan Beach, California. On the way, the former ballet dancer reflects on her journey from a rising star of teen classics (think Center Stage, Drumline, Crossroads) to internationally recognized kick-ass action heroine, with legions of fangirls and fanboys.
“There’s this sense of responsibility to keep growing,” explains the actress, who turns 40 on June 19 and is currently onscreen as lime-skinned ex-assassin Gamora in Avengers: Infinity War. “You sort of go, ‘I can’t drop the ball.’ So I’m always pushing really hard.” And that applies whether she’s training for a new film or raising her sons (1-year-old Zen and 3-year-old twins Cy and Bowie).
Indeed, because Zoe is often doing crazy-awesome stunts (which in the past have involved martial arts, archery, and horseback riding) or chasing her kids, keeping physically and mentally fit is just a way of life.
“I like feeling that I’m giving myself—my body, my spirit, my mind—the attention it needs.” She’s not only about adrenaline-boosting activities, either. When she has time, she’ll hit up a yoga class. “I often take for granted how helpful stretching and breathing exercises are,” she says. “Yoga reminds me to breathe and slow down.” The key for her is being intentional and pushing her body in some way.
Zoe got hooked on the intensity of movement during her days as a dancer. “I love having that kind of intimacy with my body and getting my body to do things I never thought I could do.” And she happily admits that she takes pleasure in food as well (especially Italian), though she opts for gluten-free and organic as often as possible.
“When I was younger, I was more strict,” recalls Zoe. “I felt I needed to control that part of my life in order to feel I was going to be successful at something—because we often equate success with our physical beauty. It’s so f-cked up!”
“That ‘Mom’s the boss’ thing is not going to happen in our family.”
These days, she finds validation in other ways. “My boys are a constant source of strength for me,” says Zoe. “They keep me on my toes, reminding me how much I still have to learn and grow as a person.” (Her sons even appear with her in Drake’s “Nice for What” video.)
It was the birth of her twins, she says, that inspired her to launch BESE (pronounced bee-say), her new digital media company that aims to provide millennials and Generation Z’ers with positive portrayals of their Latin peers. “I’ve been a victim of exclusion, of being considered ‘other,’” she says. “And that sucks.”
Lending support to all of her pursuits: her artist-husband of five years, 39-year-old Marco Perego Saldana. (Yep, he took her last name and she took his; she’s Zoe Saldana Perego.) “I have the most perfect partner in my life,” she gushes. “I’ve never met a male like my husband, who [believes] any woman is naturally his equal.”
The equality theme is big in her family, as Zoe and Marco are intent on raising their sons in a gender-neutral household. “That ‘Mom’s the boss’ thing is not going to happen in our family, because that means he’s the fun one, the good guy, while I’m the disciplinarian,” says the actress, who was brought up by a single mom in the Dominican Republic after Zoe’s dad was killed in a car accident when she was 9. “I don’t want my kids to look at women like, ‘Oh, god, they’re so annoying! They always come with structure.’”
Shortly before arriving at the Avatar set, Zoe reveals a major car confession: She hopes to soon star in an all-female superhero film. The girl-power plan was hatched on a recent Marvel Studios photo shoot that assembled the current female members of the Marvel universe, including Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok), Brie Larson (Captain
Marvel), and Scarlett Johansson (she reprises her role as Black Widow in an as-yet-untitled movie).
Though the actresses are part of the Marvel family, some of them met only that day. “We were getting to know each other, and it became this lovefest,” Zoe says. “We started feeling bolder, braver, and super inspired, and it was decided: Marvel should have all-female-cast movies!”
As if on cue, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige entered, and the women seized their moment. “He was very overwhelmed, because we were all talking at the same time, with all this energy. We wouldn’t let him leave!”
Climbing out of the car, Zoe reflects on the real force that united them. “The energy came from connecting with each other, from being fearless and saying, ‘You know, we’re going to talk about what we truly feel,’ versus just staring each other down like we’ve always been encouraged to do as women.”
“And it is important that we have an all-female movie,” she adds. “Our girls need it. Our boys need it. We need it!”
Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana and Zach Galifianakis are set to star in a new movie from Laika, the animation house behind the stop-motion pics Kubo and the Two Strings and Coraline.
Laika is partnering with Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures for the feature, which is simply being titled Film Five at this stage (it is Laika’s fifth movie). Annapurna will distribute in the U.S.
Chris Butler, who directed Laika’s ParaNorman, is helming Film Five, whose plot is being kept under wraps but is described as a globe-trotting comedy-adventure “bursting with humor, heart and a profound message of acceptance and finding one’s place.”
Observers had some doubts about future Laika projects when president and CEO Travis Knight stepped away to direct a live-action Transformers spinoff movie, Bumblebee, for Paramount. But the announcement of the new movie clears those doubts away.
“Our next film represents an evolutionary shift for Laika,” Knight said Wednesday in a statement. “It’s an exciting bridge to our future. Director Chris Butler and the wizards at Laika have crafted a moving work of art, layered with wit and imagination and soul. Plus it’s really, really funny. It’s a privilege to partner with Megan and her exceptional team at Annapurna to bring this beautiful original story to the world.”
— Ana Martinez (@wofstargirl) 1 de maio de 2018
WHO Honoree: ZOE SALDANA
Emcee: Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, President/CEO Leron Gubler
Guest speakers: James Cameron and Mila Kunis
WHAT: Dedication of the 2,637th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures
WHERE: 6920 Hollywood Boulevard in front of the new Miniso store
WHEN: Thursday, May 3, 2018 at 11:30 a.m. PDT
Monday, April 23
Robert Downey Jr., Tom Holland, Zoe Saldana, Paul Bettany and Pom Klementieff (Avengers: Infinity War), musical guest A Perfect Circle
You might recognize her from her starring roles in some of the world’s biggest-grossing film franchises. She’s smart, she’s kind. She’s even an action figure! So why is ZOE SALDANA still not getting the kudos she deserves? By JENNIFER DICKINSON
The question I often get before a trip to Los Angeles to interview one of our cover stars is an avaricious, conspiratorial ‘Who?’ This time, when I murmur, ‘Zoe Saldana’, the response is astounding. And, actually, infuriating. The eyes widen, that unmistakable confusion as the interrogator wracks their brains. ‘Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avatar…? She’s in the new Marvel Avengers movie!’ The light dawns. A sheepish look follows.
But Saldana is a star. A star of some of the biggest films and franchises of all time. So why isn’t she in the same one-name or even nickname league as Angelina, J.Law or Reese? Why aren’t you sick of seeing her on the cover of every magazine? Why isn’t her every outfit detailed by savvy social media accounts? (Because, incidentally, her style is impeccable; cool in a Sacai-shirt-and-Cèline-bag kind of way.)
It’s not because the fans don’t get it. The fans are plentiful and enthusiastic; a nice bunch, too. Saldana explains that since her boys were born – twins Cy and Bowie, three, and Zen, one – she and her artist husband, Marco Perego, have taken a new approach to selfie requests and, without fail, the legions of people who approach her understand. “It has been confusing to [the boys] when they see us approached for a picture; it shifts their behavior. So I talk to that person: ‘I’m teaching my sons about strangers, and [taking a picture with you] will be very confusing to them.’ The response is 100% receptive. People go, ‘My God, we get it,’ and walk away, knowing why I turned them down.” This isn’t a line concocted to protect herself from unwanted attention. When I went to get ice cream with the couple two years ago in Atlanta, the twin boys safely ensconced with their nanny, the actress was mobbed in a way I’ve never experienced before, and she posed happily then, even asking the people behind the camera phones about their evening plans or their families. No, the fans aren’t the problem here.
“People in this industry look down at Marvel…They think we’re selling out. They should be more cognizant about what a superhero means to a child”
So why does she think that her work does not receive the same recognition as some of her peers? It’s not the easiest question to answer without rancor, and Saldana doesn’t do raging or bitterness, so she shifts uneasily in her seat as she forms a reply. “I’ve been in rooms with people in this industry who are great at what they do, but they’re absolutely elitist and they look down at movies like the Marvel films or actors like myself. They think we’re selling out in some way. Every time they speak I feel so disappointed in them, because whenever you see pictures of people in this industry who donate their time to children in need, it’s these actors that live in the world that you feel is selling out. It’s these actors that understand the role that they play inspires a five-year-old who has one dying wish to meet a superhero. That actor takes time out of their life and sits down with that five-year-old and says, ‘I see you, I hear you, and you matter.’ Those elitists should be a little more cognizant about what playing a superhero means to a young child. Because you’re not just dissing me, you’re dissing what that child considers important in their world. I feel so proud to be living in space, to be playing green and blue aliens, to inspire, primarily, the younger generations. I remember what it was like to be young and to feel completely excluded out of the mainstream conversation of life because I was just little and unimportant and ‘other’.”
The entire sci-fi world is, explains Saldana, a refuge for anyone who has ever felt excluded – the creatives who populate it have often been outsiders themselves. “I work with filmmakers who gravitated to this genre because they were exiles in their own right, excluded from a mainstream conversation. They found their world and they were able to imagine the unimaginable. Everything about how they create, and how they invite characters to join them, is absolutely inclusive.”
“I feel so proud to be living in space, to be playing green and blue aliens, to inspire the younger generations”
Saldana’s experiences of starting out as an actress as something ‘other’ than the industry’s presented norm of white is sadly familiar, but her take on it is, like her, surprising. When asked how it felt to grow up not seeing herself represented, she rejects the suggestion. “But I did! As a child, when I saw Sigourney Weaver play Ellen Ripley or Linda Hamilton play Sarah Connor, they were my true north, because I loved action, I loved science fiction and I loved the roles that they played. They were inspiring to me; I wanted that. It wasn’t until I started in my own career that I was reminded that I wasn’t ‘like’ them.”
Saldana is American, born in New Jersey. Her mother hails from Puerto Rico and her father was Dominican; she has Lebanese and Haitian heritage, too. She speaks English and Spanish and has added Italian to the mix, courtesy of her relationship with Perego. She and her two sisters, Mariel and Cicely, split their childhood between the US and the Dominican Republic, so the influences of both countries as well as the lessons learned from a strong, smart single mother are imprinted on their psyche. But it wasn’t until she started out in Hollywood that her ‘cultural composition’ was presented to Saldana as a negative. “Every time I read a script, even if it was a period piece, I read it thinking that I was going to go after the lead role. It wasn’t until I would come across the introduction of a supporting ethnic role that I realized, ‘Oh’. I wasn’t even allowed to try to get that main role, because ‘they want to go traditional on the part’. I would hang up on that conversation from my agents, thinking, ‘What about me is non-traditional’? It was a very hard pill to swallow.
“In my country, where I pledged allegiance every day since I was five, to be told when I’m out there trying to pursue my American dream that I was not a traditional American was very hurtful. I will never accept that I am not a traditional anything. I come from where I come from, I can’t change that, and you come from where you come from. But if you tell me that where you come from is the only right place, and therefore I don’t fit that traditional mold, let’s just establish, very clearly, that you are the one who’s wrong. Because everything about me and where I come from is just as right.”
“I will never accept that I am not a traditional anything. If you tell me that where you come from is the only right place, and therefore I don’t fit that traditional mold, you are wrong”
In an attempt to change perceptions in the world that their sons are growing up in, Saldana and Perego have just launched a media company, BESE. “I want the American narrative to continue, I just want the characters to vary,” explains the actress. So when she’s not filming – right now that’s on James Cameron’s Avatar 2, already behind schedule, she says, because Cameron is asking scientists to invent the technology he needs as they go along – or spending time with her boys, the couple are looking for investors, “getting on a plane, meeting with brands that we believe have a philanthropic mission of inclusivity.”
So, how about those magazine covers. Does she have any theories on why she hasn’t been selected for more over the years? “It stopped mattering after a while,” she offers. I believe her, and yet it obviously stung for a time. “It was something I was acutely aware of,” she admits. “And it was always, like, why? When I’m doing everything that they consider right, why am I not on these covers?” It’s not a whine: Saldana’s approach is to analyze, to fix and not just find a way around problems in her path. “I do understand that it’s a business, that they have a lot of issues to sell. Magazines, even though they’re run by male corporations, they’re being carried by females. When females are raised in a female traditional box, they will only gravitate towards certain female traditional things and they will exclude things that feel masculine. I feel like the action genre, for many of these editors, feels rather masculine, and I’m just going to say it like that for their benefit, because I’ve also seen a lot of females that are in action-driven films be on the covers of their magazines.” Suddenly, Saldana looks tired and says, “I think it has a lot to do with race.”
“Every time I rip myself away from my children it hurts so much, so the least I can do is make sure that whatever it is I’m doing is rewarding”
I worry that I’ve pushed too hard, that this isn’t a fair line of questioning, but she rallies like the otherworldly beings she portrays. “‘Color doesn’t sell’ – they hide behind that excuse. But in reality, if you are in a position of leadership, that means that you have the responsibility to guide the narrative and re-shape it and put it on the right track. When you’re not setting that trend, then you are no different than the shackles that are binding you.”
It’s not Saldana’s nature to play the victim. Superheroes are literally much more her scene. And she’s excited that her sons’ introduction to these powerful beings has come via Wonder Woman and yes, playing with their Gamora dolls (“They play with Gamora action figures all the time, and they break her”), rather than exclusively male characters. Although she enthuses about working with the likes of Robert Downey Jr. on Avengers: Infinity War, she’s also quick to list her female co-stars in the blockbuster: Brie Larson, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong’o, Elizabeth Olsen and Karen Gillan. Saldana’s all-inclusive world of sci-fi is stepping up to the casting plate. It’s clearly a world – or multiple worlds – that truly inspires her; something worth being away from her boys for, when the job demands it. “I’ve never experienced the constant ache in my heart than when I became a mother. Every time I rip myself away from my children, it hurts so much and it hurts them and they share that with me, so the least I can do is make sure that whatever it is I’m doing is rewarding.” She and Perego have made the decision to stick at three, she says, telling me that the story of Zen’s birth – Saldana did not carry him herself – is not something that she will share without his permission. “We feel that that story belongs to Zen. We don’t know yet if he wants to share that or not, or how he wants to share it.”
It’s yet more proof that Saldana has a good heart, like those sci-fi characters she loves so much. Truly, I might even believe she has a few superpowers of her own. Don’t be surprised if she does save the world. She’ll certainly try.
Avengers: Infinity War is out April 26
“[There were] a lot of people who were not so great”
She’s known as the queen of Sci-Fi thanks to roles in Avatar, Star Trek and Guardians of the Galaxy, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing for blockbuster actor Zoe Saldana. In an exclusive interview for the May issue of Cosmopolitan, she reveals that her first major film role, as pirate Anamaria in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was a serious learning curve. “I left that experience feeling a little bitter,” she confesses, referring to the whole affair as “super elitist”.
Zoe, now 39, describes “dealing with a lot of people who were great and a lot of people who were not so great”, and feeling that her time wasn’t valued: “If I’m like ‘I could have been with my family, in school learning, or travelling, but instead I’m here being treated like an extra but in a very despicable way by people who don’t even speak properly…’, my time is being wasted.”
Dangerously close to quitting the industry, Zoe’s passion for the job was only rekindled in her next job, a Steven Spielberg production alongside Tom Hanks. “I booked The Terminal right after so I got to work for an amazing director who is known for being humble and a mentor.” She reminisces about being invited to sit with him on set, in a chair next to his: “He remembered that I’d been made to feel so irrelevant before and he went out of his way to make me feel the exact opposite.”
It’s perhaps those formative experiences, along with a shifting climate for women in Hollywood that led her to form part of the MeToo and Time’s Up movements. “I don’t want to go back to that. I don’t want to hear another man tell me, ‘Oh you were my muse’. I don’t want to be your f*cking muse anymore. I don’t want you to just post me on your wall and look at me. I want you to listen to me!”.
Since becoming an activist, Zoe has urged women not to suffer quietly. “The highroad for a woman for centuries was silence…The new high road is speaking up.” But she’s also keen to include men in the narrative, citing her husband as an inspiration: “We have to broaden the narrative of #MeToo. The same way it applies to victims, it should apply to men who were blind who have now seen. If there is one thing I have to advise, it’s to be kind to the men who are making an effort and don’t put them all in one box. Let’s not do to others what has been done to us.”