Zoe Saldana is a please-and-thank-you kind of woman.
Not that anyone else of her caliber is the opposite, it’s just that Saldana’s kind even when she’s letting you down. And polite. Very, very polite. For months now, Black folks have been buzzing about the Nina Simone project and everybody’s weighed in on her casting in the lead role. And because she’s a smart woman, she knows that a publication like EBONY—where she’s previously been featured on the cover—is going to ask about it.
But today? She’d rather talk about her new film, Star Trek: Into Darkness. And she’s right. That’s what she’s here for, after all. The 34-year-old actress is without question one of the most successful working actresses—Black, white or otherwise—of her generation, and this sequel will further cement her status at the top of many top directors’ lists.
But for the record: she does give us a little something about Nina (and she promises that when the time is right, she’ll sit down again with us again and spill all). And we look forward to it. In the meantime, Saldana chats with EBONY.com about reprising her role of Lt. Nyota Uhuru, why she recently stripped down for Allure magazine and why she’s over talking about racism in Hollywood.
EBONY: The Allure spread has been the talk of Hollywood. What made you take it all off?
Zoe Saldana: I had not done it before, so I always like to do things I have not done before. I guess when they approached me to do the cover of the magazine, I was in a place to want to be sort of naked, spiritually. Just be bold and very honest about any questions that they wanted to ask.
EBONY: Interesting that you said you’ve been feeling very spiritually naked. You’ve been very open to share a lot of your life in these last few interviews. What changed?
ZS: In the last year, something very beautiful has been happening where I have been… I don’t know if it’s through Twitter, the fact that media—now, the way it’s evolved—gives you the ability to be more connected directly with your fans and people that follow you. You kind of realize: OK, there’s very little that people know about me. And even though that’s the way I’ve always been, I kind of wanted to just share a little bit of myself, so that if you’re going to follow me and admire what I do, then at least get a little bit more of a sense of who I am. That way you can make a very certain decision as to whether you want to continue to follow me or you wanna go, “You know what? After knowing how she feels, I kind of don’t!” I just feel like it’s a more honest approach to wanting to honor your fans.
EBONY: Star Trek: Into Darkness is a lot of fun. Did it feel just as good the second time around?
ZS: This time around, you get a sense that Uhura and Spock have been together for quite a while, so they feel very familiar with each other. They feel very comfortable in their own skin, they’re much more adapted to their own respective titles. Their relationship has moved on to a different phase now. You definitely know these characters have evolved in a very good direction too.
EBONY: What about yourself? How have you evolved since that first film? You have had a couple of blockbusters under your belt at this point.
ZS: Now I can say that the whole Star Trek crew are my friends. From J. J. [Abrams] to the producers to the crew and the cast, it was like going back to an environment where you feel safe. You feel like you can be yourself, very much so. I guess that’s the difference. I was very excited to be going back to work with people that I know and love.
EBONY: You have power in Hollywood, clearly. What excites you in a script?
ZS: I don’t know. I still am a bit unpredictable, and I even surprise myself! I never know what’s going to capture my attention. Because the way that I see it too is, we’re going into the summer. So do I want to be doing something really heavy and intense in the summer, or do I want something fun and more active and lightweight?
I’m going to be doing Guardians of the Galaxy, which is a Marvel comic, this summer. When I read the script, I really responded well to it and I spoke to the director and I liked his personality and got really excited when he told me how he wants to do this movie. And there was something about being green. I mean, I’ve been blue once, might as well be green!
EBONY: Speaking of color, it doesn’t seem to limit you. And it almost appears seamless. Is that true? Or have there been bumps along the way because you’re a woman of color?
ZS: Nothing in life is just one layer. It’s one-layered [but] it’s multifaceted, and there are various factors that take place into making a decision or something happening. So the one thing I will say is, what has not changed is what I feel and think of myself and how I interact with the world, how I handle myself. I feel like I’m very confident. I’m going to have my moments of weakness, but I like who I am and I don’t want to be anybody else. I don’t want anybody to tell me to change when I don’t want to change.
So that’s just who I am. And when I approach something—whether I’m fighting for a role or I’m being offered a role—I’m not thinking whether or not anybody is doing me a favor or if I’m doing somebody else a favor. I’m just thinking, as an artist and as a woman, “is this something that best represents the craft that I want to be known for?” Or is this an accurate representation of what a woman is supposed to be?
And do I like this story? Do I like this director? Do I think the studio is going to manage and sell it properly. That’s where my head is at. I’m not thinking, “Oh, I’m a woman of color, are they gonna want me?” I don’t give too much energy to that, because my time is very valuable, and something that exists to others is not going to exist in my world. That’s how I think I get by, by not giving it any validation by wasting more time investing into thinking about it.
EBONY: That’s profound.
ZS: Yeah. Morgan Freeman said it. And I was just told this when I was doing an interview: he’s not going to talk about racism. I’m not going to talk about it. Yeah, it’s an elephant. We all see it, we all know it, but I’m not going to carry it in my heart, because I want to be a person that embodies change. Not embodies war or battles or bitterness; I want to keep moving on.
EBONY: People are buzzing about the Nina Simone project. What was that experience like?
ZS: I’ve been a fan of hers and have followed her life and known about her journey since I was very young. I am proud of it. It was a very intense and spiritual journey. I can’t wait until the film is done and it’s ready to be shared with the world.
EBONY: Back to Star Trek: this film is bigger than just something for Trekkies. It’s entertaining from top to bottom.
ZS: Oh my God, absolutely! It was never our purpose just to do a movie just for the demographic that follows the franchise or the show. Never, never, never. It was literally to do an amazing movie to revamp a very special series that had such a positive message of peace. Revamping it utilizing the advances that we have with technology and doing special, amazing effects that look more believable.
I’m not a fan. I never followed Star Trek. I’m now a lover of Star Trek because I enjoyed being a part of the story. It’s important to get across for other women that they’re going to enjoy this movie. They’re not going to be yawning, going, “Oh my God, why’d I let him drag me into this?!” This movie is going to cater to all your senses, whether you’re old or young, male or female, ’cause it’s a great movie experience. It’s a whole package.