Zoe Saldana has dominated sci-fi cinema with roles in
Avatar and Star Trek, and is no stranger to comic
book adaptations, having starred in 2010’s The
Losers. She now adds the role of Gamora, the deadliest
woman in the galaxy, to her list of credits, starring as the
fearsome former assassin in Marvel’s Guardians of the
Wired.co.uk speaks with Saldana about the merits of performance
capture versus old-school make up and prosthetics, the importance
and demand for female action heroes, and geeking out over the other
heroic women who might join the Guardians.
Wired.co.uk: Between Avatar, Star
Trek, and now Guardians, you’ve racked up a lot of
action and genre credits. Was that something you deliberately
Zoe Saldana: I’m just happy that these amazing filmmakers
want me to be part of their work and that I have what it takes to
take on the responsibility of those characters, who are so
demanding, that needed so much attention, because they are very
important figures in the story. It makes me feel very happy and
James Cameron is ramping up for more Avatar now
— are you looking forward to getting back to Pandora?
I started shooting Avatar in 2007 — oh my god,
I thought it was just five years ago. I thought it was 2012 for a
moment. Why did I do that? I am so reluctant to age! [laughs]
Those tent-pole sci-fi franchises have all been pretty
effects-heavy. Which was the trickiest to act in as a result of the
Here’s the thing, performance capture is very liberating.
Even though you’ve got all these batteries and sensors wired to
you, you don’t have to wear a costume or do make up. You just have
these green dots on your face, a helmet with a camera on, and that
data gets downloaded into the system. All the time I’m in Pandora
I simultaneously get to see what you’re doing on all these screens
that they have throughout the set. You get to imagine everything
but you’ve done so much research and training in the months leading
up to that moment that you just feel “there”. It never felt
difficult. I never felt pressured. It actually felt easy and
beautiful because I was very well prepared.
A film like Guardians, I felt that it took a little
more work because I was going through five hours of make up every
day. It was done old-school style, I felt like Eddie Murphy or
Michael Jackson, doing the Nutty Professor or
Thriller thing. I wanted to go through it because I’d
never experienced it. For someone who’s been in a lot of high-tech
movies, I’ve never experienced that kind of work. This is the first
high-tech movie I’ve been in where I felt “oh, this is what it is”.
And it was so rewarding. I mean, it’s not like I’ll skip to work
but I would never say no to prosthetics work. I can’t, really, I
signed big contracts. [laughs]
Did your dance background help with the physicality of
Gamora, or did you go through separate training?
You always train for every scene because every fight
co-ordinator will give you different techniques and fight styles.
Ballet — if it wasn’t for ballet, my body would not be equipped to
handle the stunt work that I’m able to do in all these films, or in
an action movie. I have ballet to thank for that!
How was the physical partnership between you and Karen
Gillan, to get that key fight scene down?
It was fun. It was a lot of work, but it was fun. In my
heart, I was bursting with happiness, knowing that two women would
have this opportunity at kicking each other’s ass!
That’s something you don’t see too much in superhero
movies. Scarlett Johannsen is kind of the solo woman in the
earthbound Avengers, but then out of the bat
Guardians has you and Karen in fierce action roles.
Yes, and I’m happy that at least Gamora and Nebula have a
plot of their own, that’s not involving men. We’re not talking
about men in a dating sense — we have daddy issues over Thanos of
course! — but we’re talking about each other. It gives us a lot of
relevance, and it’s very important for women to see that.
Especially so in action, but in any genre of film, to have our own
importance without having to be on screen just for the sake of
giving a man importance. I’m not saying I’m bitter about it, I’m
just saying we need more women in our art. We have to see them
more. There’s been a drought. The audiences are asking for it –
and not just women but it’s the men too. When we go into the
sequel, I hope James Gunn and Marvel will choose to develop and
explore that, so you get to see more of the history between [Gamora
and Nebula]. It’s very, very cruel that these two women were
abducted, forced into a life of crime and violence. One loves the
taste of blood and the other can’t stand it. One loves the other
and one hates the other’s guts. It’s a conflict and it’s so
dysfunctional — I love it!
Did you dig into the comic background of Gamora at
No. That’s something I purposefully do to avoid
additional pressure. If the director had told me that I needed to
go and school myself on Guardians, that he wanted me to
come in with little niches, I would have immediately been like
“send me the whole collection! I’ll read them all!” But I was told
the opposite, “please don’t read it, I don’t want you to”.
Guardians is the least well-known story in the whole comic
movie universe, so it gives us the liberty to create a beautiful
and unique platform. James told me, I am the first and only actor
bringing Gamora to life from the page. So do her well, have fun
with her, make her unique in her own way, and then we’d follow
that. I took that as a great sign to jump in. But now I would like
to read up on who she is and where she comes from. That’d be
There are actually more female characters in the comic
team. Would you be interested in playing against more women as
compatriots than as enemies?
Yeah, that would be awesome. I’d love to! Who are
In the run the movie is based on, there’s a character
who is psychic; Mantis, who’s
a bit convoluted but has a bunch of powers, and Quasar
who makes energy constructs.
Oh fun! So they’re more powerful than Gamora? Oh my god!
I love it! Gamora is one of Thanos’ favourite daughters, right?
Yeah, and she’s got similar motivations as Drax, out to
kill Thanos. She’s the last of her race.
Right, because he killed her family. Her whole race,
right? That makes me so sad. She’s like Spock.
Speaking of Spock, the relationship between your Uhura
and Zachary Quinto’s Spock was far more developed in the reboot
Star Trek movies than in the TV show. How did that
JJ Abrams and his team of writers, and [co-writer and
producer] Roberto Orci,
were Trekkies, huge Star Trek fans, and maybe that’s
something he’d have wanted to see when he was growing up. They
always flirted with each other but there was never a history. So
they said “what if we did the reverse, that there was a history but
they’re no longer an item by the time the story starts?” That’s why
there’s still that little flirtation with each other. I thought
that was brilliant.
Did you find the development of that relationship in
Star Trek Into Darkness satisfying to build on?
Yes. I liked the fact that it wasn’t that melodramatic.
That she’s bothered by something and she has good reasons for that.
Kirk is bothered by it too. It’s like [Spock] doesn’t care, but to
him it’s the contrary, that he cares more than they can ever
imagine. So I liked the conflict because it felt tangible to me
without being overpowering. It wasn’t like all she cared about was
fighting with Spock while the whole universe was in jeopardy. It
wasn’t just boy troubles. I’ve never been that kind of person. I
know women like that are out there but I just can’t imagine. I’m
the kind of person that if I have guy trouble, I’ll be like “Oh
god, I’m having guy trouble…. ooh, I should go get a manicure!”
You move on, you have a list of things you need to do, and then
when you’re done with your list you think “what was it I was…?
Oh, guy trouble”.
I’m like a dude, I treasure my life and what’s important in it
very highly. I give time to everything appropriately.
Were you daunted stepping into Nichelle Nichol’s role,
which was so important in the 60s?
I wasn’t pressured at all, I was happy. JJ was like “I
don’t want you to imitate what Nichelle did, I’m not asking any
actor to do that”. What those actors did was unique, they set a
beautiful platform, but they were much older when you meet them in
the show. We were playing the younger version. JJ said “You are the
Uhura that was studying for her term exams and really wants to
graduate with honours from the academy, and she wants to get on the
Farragut and that’s it!”. I thought that I wasn’t that
put-together at her age. When you’re young you still feel like an
alien in your own skin. You’re insecure. You’re an overachiever, or
you’re very doubtful. That’s how I played her. Even though she was
elegant, studious and intelligent, but she also just wanted to do
Your filmography largely alternates between big action
movies and smaller, more relaxing films. Is that deliberate or just
the way it worked out for you?
Well, it’s also what’s around! [laughs] Even then, it has
to be a good movie with a good filmmaker. I like to look back on my
work and know I’m collecting an array of amazing filmmakers, from
Neil LaBute to
all these others that I’ve worked with. That’s what adds to a good
experience, that’s what keeps me growing. It is important to have a
balance as it gives you perspective, but also you lend support,
your voice, to small arthouse movies that are just as good and
special as big blockbusters.
As Gamora, did you feel it was like a boy’s club on
This time around I really didn’t. I have to say, it was
more of a boy’s club on Star Trek, but a fun boy’s club.
They’re all super-smart and do crossword puzzles with each other,
play Scrabble on their phones. I could never keep up! They’re all
wicked intelligent, including Simon Pegg. With Guardians
it was different. There were fewer guys — it was only Dave and
Chris, and Sean [Gunn] and Christian, who were our amazing
substitutes unsung heroes playing for Rocket and Groot while we
were shooting. Then there was me and Lee [Pace, who plays villain
Ronan the Accuser] would come and go, Karen as well. I didn’t feel
as lonely as I would feel if I was the only girl. It was fun.
Y’know, when I was younger and a lot more insecure, I thought “I’d
love to be the only girl because it’s just awesome!” Now, no, I
want there to be more women around me, I need to see it. Just the
fact that there’s one female, it’s like “OK it was cool for a
minute but now that we’ve done it enough, let’s put more more women
As you were saying, it’s not just women asking for this.
I found it weird as a kid that action cartoons would only have one
woman. I mean, She-Ra was more interesting than He-Man, because she
was just as strong and had other powers. Why do you think there’s
so little action content being made with real female
Amen! She-Ra was awesome! And oh my god, you get it. It’s
important — the more we talk about it, the more you journalists
talk about it, and the more we as actors and artists talk about it,
the more the consumer, the audience, the fan talks about it. Then
the people that are in the positions of power to create these
opportunities, to write these stories, will listen and then they
will give us what we’re asking for. At the end of the day, nobody’s
doing it on purpose. They’re just looking at numbers and thinking
“everyone loves guy movies, girls go with their boyfriends to guy
movies and when they go on their own they just want to see romantic
comedies”. That’s crap! We have to get girls to see genres that
they believe are only for men, and we have to get men to see films
that are led by women. It’s important.
So you’d be down for a Gamora solo film?
Are you kidding me? There’s a saying in Spanish — does a
dead person need a funeral? Of course they do! Of course I