Zoe Saldana: From Star Trek to Avatar
Born: Zoë Yadira Saldaña Nazario
Date of Birth: 19 June 1978
Birth Place: Passaic, New Jersey, USA
Height: 5′ 6½” (1,69 m)
Spending part of her childhood in the Dominican Republic, Zoe Saldana recalls watching the show VIAJE A LAS ESTRELLAS with her mother and great-grandmother. Devoted fans of the series, her relatives were not only emotionally involved with the characters, but immersed in all the stories. Little did they realize that the 10 year-old girl sitting next to them on the couch would one day get her chance to actually portray the most important woman on the show in a big screen adaptation of the series.
If the name VIJAE A LAS ESTRELLAS doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps the English version strikes a more familiar tone, STAR TREK. “My mom was a huge Trekkie,” Saldana now admits. “Needless to say, she was very happy when I got this part.” And not just any part. Saldana is portraying Lt. Nyota Uhura, the lead communications officer of the ship who is an expert in linguistics. As the USS Enterprise travels to different galaxies, she is the mediator between the commanders of two different ships from two different planets. If she gets the communication wrong, she can actually start a war.
Star Trek, directed by JJ Abrams, is the latest incarnation birthed out of the landmark 1966 television series; however unlike the ten other films or five television adaptations, this version takes audiences back to the beginning. We witness the formation of the now infamous team of Captain Kirk, Sulu, Chekhov, Spock and Uhura; how these young Star Fleet cadets morphed into their leadership roles aboard the USS Enterprise.
When the show first premiered, it was revolutionary in that it not only promoted international peace and harmony but also featured prominent minority representation from Asian and African American actors. Nichelle Nichols, who originally portrayed Uhura, became a stalwart symbol for not only her race and gender but her fashion sense as well.
“She was a very sexy, elegant and strong at times,” explains Saldana. “What I wanted to do was recreate her and picture her in school. Because she was very strong and she was able to command herself in that presence, I knew that I could have fun with her and make her powerful.” One thing the actress did not want to do was mimic the prior performance and thus decided to limit her viewing of the previous STAR TREK incarnations. “I took my time getting to know Uhura. We had advisors on set and I spoke to Nichelle and JJ and they allowed me great flexibility in creating this woman as long as there were the basic guidelines I followed.”
While actresses complain about the lack of proactive roles Hollywood seems to afford them, the genre of science fiction has traditionally been good for women. “Look at DUNE, or ALIEN or THE TERMINATOR,” boasts Saldana. “All of these films were ahead of their time offering women substantial roles that demanded more of their physical attention. They were not just the girlfriends. They were the saviors. They were missionaries. They were going to deliver the child that saved the world. Here with STAR TREK, it was one of the first times that a woman had a significant position of power in a cabin. Here was this military show that allowed a woman to have power and it meant so much.”
Much more so than in any of the prior films, there will also be a greater sexual energy between Uhura and Kirk, a fact that brings a smile to Saldana’s face. “I will just say that they have a lot of curiosity about each other. Kirk definitely sparks a lot of intrigue, not only around Uhura but the school in general because he is so different. He takes everything so lightly. Everybody wants to know what his deal is and Uhura is not immune to that. She is intrigued at the same time.”
One can only presume that after STAR TREK opens there will be a great deal of intrigue surrounding the actress as well. Born in New York, the trained dancer moved with her family from Queens to the Caribbean when she was ten. Attending a prominent arts school there for a few years, she returned to her hometown as a teenager and immediately set out on a career in the creative arts. She joined the FACES Theater Company, a group that performed improvisational and educational skits for teens followed by a role in the chorus of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT. After appearing in an episode of LAW AND ORDER, a rite of passage every actor in New York goes through she adds, Saldana made her feature film debut in CENTER STAGE, chronicling the struggles of a group of students at the American Ballet Company, where she got to show off her notable dance skills.
After a brief appearance as the pirate wench Anamaria in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL, Saldana was given a nice romantic turn in Steven Spielberg’s THE TERMINAL, where she played a security officer who is romanced by Diego Luna. Foreshadowing what was to come, the Oscar winning director gave her a few “trekkie” documentaries for her to view to understand the fanaticism that followed the show. “That was my introduction to STAR TREK and I became a fan of the fans.”
Also starring in James Cameron’s highly anticipated AVATAR, Saldana appears poised for greater things but don’t expect the notoriety to impress her. “That is not something that I wake up in the morning thinking about. I just want to continue working with amazing directors. These last two films I have done have spoiled me and I hope to become this rotten child in Hollywood where I only get to work with amazing people that I can learn from.”
One presumes mother and great grandmother will still be devoted fans.