The Evolution of Zoe Saldana
By Benn Lyons
J.J. Abrams and James Cameron are two very different directors, but they have come to agree on one thing: Zoe Saldana is damn good at what she does. From Star Trek to Avatar, 2009 marked a career-changing year that took Saldana to outer space and back. Twice. I sat down with the native New Yorker and recent LA transplant over drinks in Century City.
BL: Being a part of huge blockbusters such as Star Trek and Avatar, the pace of your life and your life in general have changed significantly. What effect has that had on you?
ZS: I’m very lucky I have a good support system around me. The only element that’s not happy in my life is my dog. He’s having a very hard time dealing with [all the traveling]. Every time I pick up my suitcase—I’ve never seen anybody have a tantrum like that. But I take time in between movies because I put so much into the characters I do that they haunt me for a while.
BL: Tell me about the experience of working on Avatar.
ZS: You know how certain things just feel like they were meant to cross your path? I feel like I was meant to work with Jim (Cameron) and [actor] Sam (Worthington) and to play someone like Neytiri because everything about her was something either I knew I could get away with, or I wanted to get away with. I wanted to work with someone who is just like I am, who doesn’t stop until it’s done. Literally, Jim is the Terminator. He will not stop!
BL: You lived in the Dominican Republic for seven years growing up. How difficult was it to refamiliarize yourself with American culture when you came back?
ZS: My shock was how little I knew about Tupac Shakur and Biggie [Smalls]. Being originally from New York, that was unacceptable. When I came back I had missed out on so much of that hip-hop culture that had infiltrated New York. When I left we were dancing to Debbie Gibson! When I came back we were dancing to [Saldana starts to rap the Biggie song “Juicy”] “It was all a dream.” It definitely took some time to catch up on that.
BL: OK, so you can rap Biggie, what other music do you love?
ZS: Jay-Z’s new album blows my mind. Hearing “Empire State of Mind” definitely had an effect on me. And lets talk about Lady Gaga. It took me a full year to get into the whole “Gaga-mania,” but I love the fact she is being herself, and even with all the attention she is getting the one thing we can all concur on is she is an artist. Her videos are works of art.
BL: We are both from New York City but have relocated to LA for whatever reason. Do you have moments when you realize—even though you miss home—you know you’re supposed to be here right now?
ZS: I feel like I just had to move to LA at the right time. If you are working in this business, you have to have sufficient maturity to understand that what you see, what you are being seduced by, isn’t real. When you are very young and you think it’s real, it’s easy to become lost. You have to know yourself and be very honest with yourself. I knew if I moved here at an earlier stage in my life I could have been susceptible to fall victim to that; it’s just so much fun and feels so good. But now that I’m older, want more space, have priorities and want a house and a family, LA is the best place to move because literally, work is here. All the producers are here. And let’s face it— Hollywood is amazing.
PHOTOGRAPH BY NOAH ABRAMS