She’s the Rage in Harlem
As she proved in this summer’s Star Trek, Zoë Saldana shines when she’s surrounded by guys. Happily, the 31-year-old actress has another high-testosterone sci-fi epic in the works: James Cameron’s hotly anticipated special-effects bonanza Avatar, set in the 22nd century. Meanwhile, photographer Michael Roberts beams Saldana back to Harlem’s glamorous past, while the author reads the Hollywood tea leaves for her immediate future.
By Krista Smith WEB EXCLUSIVE August 18, 2009
Zoë Saldana likes being the girl in guys’ movies. This past summer, as Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek, she locked lips with Spock aboard the androcentric U.S.S. Enterprise, knocking the popcorn out of the laps of Trekkies everywhere. “I love acting with men,” she says. “I tend to gravitate toward roles in movies where I get to be the only girl.”
This Christmas, the self-professed sci-fi fanatic and classically trained ballerina will return to the screen for more testosterone. Saldana, 31, will try to solidify her place in the Hollywood hierarchy with James Cameron’s Avatar—quite possibly the most anticipated movie in years (and, at a rumored cost of more than $350 million, certainly the most expensive). Written by Cameron—with uniquely Cameron-esque ingenuity—Avatar is set in the 22nd century, amid a war between earthlings and the once peaceful indigenous tribe of a distant planet. Cameron buffs starved by the studio’s strict muzzle will at least be pleased to know that the film, more than a decade in the planning, was shot in 3-D and boasts never-before-seen special effects. “The story is so compelling,” says Saldana. “It’s definitely going to be one of those movies you have to watch more than once.”
Avatar isn’t Saldana’s first brush with cinematic royalty. Her breakthrough, in 2004, occurred in the Spielberg-directed Tom Hanks vehicle The Terminal. “I was 25, and all of a sudden I heard ‘Steven wants to see you.’ It was mind-boggling,” she says.
It’s a role she might never have landed had she not stolen the screen in Center Stage, the niche hit about ballet-school competition that may have unintentionally spawned every subsequent dance movie and reality show. “Ballet has always been my first passion, but I simply didn’t have the feet, and I have way too much pride and ambition to just be in the corps,” she says.
Up next are roles in Takers, a heist movie starring Hayden Christensen, and Neil LaBute’s Death at a Funeral, featuring James Marsden, Chris Rock, and Danny Glover. But don’t expect this native New Yorker to allow her ethnicity to define her career. “I’ve done roles that anybody would have done,” she says. “I’ve never helped any girl get the quarterback. I left with the quarterback.”
Given this type of moxie, it seems doubtful that Saldana will end up in anyone’s corps.