I knew who Zoe Saldana was before she rose to A-List status, well before actually. I’d been following her career since early on, years before she garnered worldwide fame playing Neytiri in Avatar. Can anyone say The Terminal? Observing the trajectory of her work, I believed Zoe – Z as she’s called by some – was headed for big things. She is an actress who gives everything to her roles, be they in studio or independent films.
In 2009, Ms. Saldana gained accolades for her work in Avatar, which went on to become the highest domestic and worldwide grossing movie of all time.
Today, Zoe is being honored by a studio in the biggest way an actor can be. She is opening a film. She is the star. She is the draw. It is her name up there on the marquee above the movie’s name.
You would be hard pressed to come up with many movies in which an actress from a minority background was given the opportunity to carry a major studio film on the strength of her name. Now, Zoe Saldana, a Latina, joins a small number of groundbreakers. The sultry Dominican actress stars in the action film Colombiana, opening tomorrow.
In addition to speaking about the film and her career, Ms. Saldana sets the record straight telling CYInterview she never had a near emotional breakdown as reported by various media outlets. Zoe recaps the full story, telling us what really happened.
The sky is the limit for Zoe Saldana, one of the hardest working people in Hollywood today. She is talented, beautiful and down to earth. We look forward to seeing her in more films.
Listen to the entire Zoe Saldana interview:
(Backup Player: Including IE)
Chris Yandek: Zoe Saldana who will be in a big movie [Colombiana], out this coming Friday, Ms. Saldana thank you for joining me today. Three and a half years in the making, how is everything going before we begin?
Zoe Saldana: “Very, very good. Good to be on the show.”
CY: Your career just over the last decade, I believe in film, has been a climb of independent movies and studio films and box office hits, but getting the opportunity to open your own movie is still a really big deal, especially for a woman. With this movie [Colombiana], what does this big moment mean to you?
ZS: “It means so much. Besides the fact it’s a Luc Besson movie and I’m incarnating one his femme fatale characters he’s been known for delivering and delivering really, really well. That to me was an honor to get to work with a director like that because he’s been amongst other directors in my bucket list of people to work with. I love the fact that it was also a physically challenging movie where you know usually it’s male actors that get to be the protagonist in these action movies and for it to have been a female and also a Latina female, it made me feel so happy and humbled.”
CY: Yeah. It’s a one of a kind thing definitely for sure and a rarity in the world of Hollywood, still, I’m all for equality of course. I always believed that you give everything to every role you’ve had in your career and you leave nothing off the screen. Is that true and do you feel like this movie was a chance to use all your acting abilities as this leading lady?
ZS: “Yes. I am a very hard working person. I like to, I feel like it’s the least that I can do if I get a director that basically gives me the responsibility to go, ‘Hey. I trust that you can do this.’ The least that I can do is prepare myself very, very well so by the time the cameras are up, it comes up second nature and I can do justice for a character and when fans walk away and audience walk away thinking, ‘Ok. She did a great part and that character was so essential for the story.’ It makes me feel so good that that reward and it makes me know that everything that I do, once you dedicate and you give 100 percent of yourself as much as you humanly can, it’s impossible for it to go unnoticed.”
CY: You’ve had some action and thriller roles in your career, but did you ever think you’d play the bad girl action star, It’s almost like Tomb Raider like with the big guns. Did you ever want to play the girl packing heat?
ZS: “Yes! Absolutely! I grew up watching from Sigourney Weaver playing Ellen Ripley to Linda Hamilton being Sarah Connor. I just thought, oh my God! They’re just so badass and that’s my character gravitates towards. I’m a fan of movies and I’m a fan of all kinds of stories, but I’m really excited about action movies and science fiction.”
CY: In other films, like the one that you have here, you have different love interests and interracial relationships. Why do you think people still make a big deal about this that you having a white male love interest in this movie for example? Why are we still having this conversation about interracial relationships whether it be on film or in real life?
ZS: “I don’t know and I really don’t, try to the best of my abilities to understand with questions like that mean and what they have behind them, you know. And it just doesn’t really exist in my realm. I wasn’t raised to look at people and box them. I was raised to just judge someone by their character and I’ve guided myself and my life accordingly. And when I go for a part or I go for a movie, that’s the last thing on my mind. All that I want is for the director’s to cast the most amazing actors whether they be female, male or whatever.
So you know, working opposite Michael Vartan, like working opposite Zachary Quinto or Sam Worthington for that matter, Ashton Kutcher, but that was a different sort of kind of subject, but I’ve never seen as like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to be working opposite like a white male.’ I’ve never seen. To me, he’s an actor and he’s so talented and we’re going to play these lovers and God, I hope the story’s believable. I hope we really do the best job that we can. I’ve never thought about that.”
CY: Simple point. My opinion, life, it is what it is, whatever makes you happy.
CY: Whatever makes you happy. Through your career and life, has it been important for you to have your Latina roots come through in your roles like this one?
ZS: “I mean, it’s very important for me in my life to have my Latina roots come out through my life, you know. And that to me is the only thing that matters. When I’m looking at a character, whatever this character is, whether she’s an alien or she’s the operator on the enterprise or I don’t know, a woman that’s looking for revenge after the death of her parents, those are the things that I see and then unless it was something very specific like about their racial background, then I will obviously incorporate that into a character like Cataleya. She was from Columbia and she’s sort of like, she moves to the United States and so obviously she was Latina in her roots.”
CY: Ok. Well, I read you suffered exhaustion and I believe a reported near emotional breakdown while training for this movie. Though there is notoriety and there are a lot of perks that come with this business it can be quite stressful and you can burn yourself out. It doesn’t matter if you’re famous; you’re still just a person. Reflect back upon that for me, what you learned and do you think it’s hard for people to understand what dedication it takes to be truly successful in this media and the entertainment business if you’re not in it and the stress that comes with the daily life. I’ve always thought that.
ZS: “You know, I made a statement on one of the magazines that I was getting interviewed for and I feel like everybody sort of ran with it. When it comes to like a nervous breakdown, there was no such thing.”
ZS: “It was just after coming out of such a beautiful and emotional rollercoaster that was Avatar. From the moment that we shot it to the moment that we delivered it to the world, through award season, everything, I was on such a beautiful emotional high that by the time that was over, once your body releases so many endorphins you’re left a little dry so that was when I sort of sunk down to my body and my being and my body just told me to, ‘Ok, can I please have a break now? I’m really tired.’ And I jumped immediately into prepping for Cataleya and I remember waking up every morning eager to go train because I’m such a workaholic and so excited to be doing something new.
But I just was realizing that my body was just felt a little heavy like it just didn’t want to move as fast as I did. I wasn’t getting things as fast and I remember I would cry just watching a commercial or being really overwhelmed. I remember calling my mom and telling her I don’t know what’s going on. She’s like, ‘Baby, you’re just a little tired. So whenever you have a weekend off, you’re not training or anything while you’re shooting Colombiana, just sleep, stay in bed.’ And she knows, I’m her daughter that that’s impossible for me because I’m so extroverted. I’m so like always moving. So that was what was going on. But it wasn’t like I was having a nervous breakdown, I needed like taken care of or anything. I just needed like a little week off. That’s it”
CY: So no emotional breakdown? No nervous breakdown?
CY: Just stress? Would you call it stress? Just stress?
ZS: “Not even stress because I wasn’t stressed about anything. I think I was just a little tired. Once I got off all the planes and I stopped wearing all the gowns and I was able to wash all the makeup out of my face and you know, you talk so much. You’re doing interviews all over the world 24/7 so you’re expelling so much energy and you’re forgetting that you need to take some back or you need to hold some back for you so you can have fuel for when you wake up the next day and you’re off and I didn’t do that.
It was a new experience for me so I did realize that I was a little tired, but I think it happened to all of us because everybody from the cast to the director and the producer of Avatar, everybody took a chunk, like at least two months off and they all traveled the world, you know with their families or they slept or they just went away and or they hid and that’s what I should’ve done, but you know, some of us immediately went back to work and it didn’t hit us until to you know, it was time for us.
I remember I was in Paris and I was with my niece and my mom and Grandma and they were visiting me in Paris and I was just so happy that they were there while I was training and shooting and we had a loss in our family, a very, very close loss in our family and that I feel was the tool that kind of unleashed and for a weekend I just stayed in bed and I cried because obviously I’m missing the family member that we just lost, but then my body also just needed to kind of expel some emotion. So I was just tired. So I really, it just, it concerns me a lot when things are blown out of proportion.”
CY: Well, the point I can say to you is you very well know, this interview will be run in its entirety with a full transcript and you know I am not for those kind of things. So glad to help you clear it. Three more quick things. How do you describe being part of now the number one domestic and worldwide grossing movie of all time [Avatar]?
ZS: “Blessed. I still look back. It was just such a magical moment because from the moment we became part of it and we started training, we just knew that it was going to be special because the script was so beautiful and the message was just so strong about the environment, about us treating each other with respect and not being so ambitious and greedy. So then by the time the movie was released and it touched so many hearts all over the world of all different ages.
Even Jim [James Cameron] took the movie to the Amazon and showed it to a tribe there and they were very moved by it as well. So for you to be in consciousness that you were part of something that not only was it monumental for filmmaking, but also it was extraordinarily heartfelt for humanity, it makes you feel so proud to be a part of it, you know.”
CY: Absolutely 100 percent, what do you hope people take away from everything you’ve done with your life?
ZS: “That I hope that they’re to inspired to work really hard for what they believe in and to fight for their dreams, to make them possible. I love to work and I’m never afraid of the hardship that work entails because for me work is part of life. The moment you’re born, you have to work every single day of your life whether it’s to work to stay connected to your family, work to educate yourself, work to better yourself, work to feed your dog.
You know, everything in life is work and we for some reason feel, we’re more obsessed with the rewards that work would have and we don’t really think about all the lessons that we learned while we’re in the journey and that to me is the most important part. So I really hope people take, learn that from what I do and the policy of life that I have that to me what’s most important is the journey and it’s not getting there. “
CY: Zoe Saldana, thank you so much for joining me today. Last thing, bonus round time, a lot of people don’t know, but three and a half years ago there was a little spot in the world on the front of her MySpace page where me and a few of her biggest fans and the people that work with her chatted for a few months and it was like the best kept secret on earth, you know.
ZS: “I loved that.”
CY: It was so funny nonetheless. Zoe, thank you so much as always, wish you the best in the future, good luck with everything and it was great to finally talk to with you after three and a half years on the other side of the phone.”
ZS: “Thank you so much. Good luck to you too.”
CY: Thank you.
Zoe Saldana stars as the lead in Colombiana out in theaters everywhere Friday. Check out the movie site at www.colombiana-movie.com
Zoe Saldana’s official website is at www.zoesaldana.com
Zoe’s official Twitter is at http://twitter.com/#!/zoesaldana
Zoe’s official Facebook page is at http://www.facebook.com/ZoeSaldana
You can email Chris Yandek at ChrisYandek@CYInterview.com