As the star of ‘Avatar’ and ‘Star Trek’, Zoe Saldana has been in the spotlight for almost a year non-stop. Married Italian artist Marco Perego, she also plays the lead female role in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ – Will King meets the actress in Los Angeles
In what can now be considered one of her last interviews before taking maternity leave, the 36-year-old Guardians of the Galaxy star plays the green-faced alien Gamora in the title, released worldwide this month.
Her character joins a gang of intergalactic treasure hunters, and when I arrive at the Disney studio to meet the star, she is sitting quietly immersed in her Blackberry, talking to what is clearly an answering machine - in Spanish.
"Sorry, it's my husband. We haven't talked in four hours!" Zoe explains as she hangs up, speaking about her Italian husband, whom she married in 2012.
Wearing a loose-fitting dress, Saldana doesn't show any signs of pregnancy-related fatigue and seems ready to talk - in fact placing the Blackberry down next to an untouched plate of sandwiches. And so we begin...
How many languages do you speak with your husband?
Sometimes we speak Italian, sometimes Spanish - or a mixture of the two, with English. We call it 'Italian Spanglish' and some bizarre way it works! (Laughs)
Is it important to have his support during press tours?
We try to support each other in everything we do. We learned that in the process of getting to know each other. I think that is what's precious when it comes to love - that we change for the better and become stronger when together.
I saw the movie yesterday - your character is far from sweet girl. Did you feel comfortable playing Gamora?
I was fine! I don't want to play everyone's sweetheart. But I wanted her to look cool. We all know that green is not considered a very 'sexy' skin colour. I was originally nervous of looking like a swamp creature... And knew that men wouldn't necessarily find it attractive. But the make-up artists were fantastic.
Although after Avatar you are no stranger to playing an alien...
You know, when the director of Guardians of the Galaxy James Gunn called me last summer, his proposal sounded like this - "Zoe, its another sci-fi movie, with a six-day week, lots of stunts, four hours in make-up and prosthetics daily, and yes, you're an alien again!" And this came when I was all in love. All I wanted to do that summer was to go to Italy to relax in the sun and eat pasta...
And so you probably had to get back into a strict training schedule for this role?
That was the turning point that influenced my decision actually. I decided that I did not want to play another alien that does Underworld-style moves jumps and flips around. I told the director that I want to play Gamora in a more classy and sophisticated way.
And yet half of the film you spend beating up the character of Chris Pratt?
He still moans about it! (Laughs) In the last seven to eight years I have played in so many adventure films that my body remembers how to fight - I have muscle memory. At first, Chris told me, "Don't be afraid to hit me with all you got!" After a couple of takes he was shouting, "Hey, back off, it's just a movie!"
I was looking for inspiration in an artistic way - a friend of my husband, showed us her installation of a filmed bullfight fight, but at a speed of 60 frames per second. In normal view, it had all slowed down and it just looked filled with grace and grandeur. I decided that in the past Gamora dreamed of becoming a matedor and borrowed a lot of their movements.
James Gunn said that you told him about this at three o'clock specifically - by text, email, on twitter and left a voicemail. So he had no choice but to accept it?
I always create backstories for all of my characters. I just take a notebook and start writing. Behind the scenes stories are always exciting. It tells you why the person is behaving the way they do. I need to understand where different actions are born and what their motives are. I tried to understand why there Gamora was closed and difficult to understand, and why she wanted to get away from everyone, when her masters enjoyed power and violence.
And why is that?
I thought Gamora is likely to be native to the peaceful planet on which democracy and equality prevailed. When she was kidnapped, and dipped into the world of violence and crime, it confused her. Now she finally had an opportunity to escape from her fate, and she makes an attempt to - although that could cost her life.
I read that in addition to filming as Gamora you recently agreed to play the legendary singer Nina Simone. How do you prepare for that role?
I talked to people who knew her personally, and I read her diaries. Listened to interviews with her and watched recordings of her live concerts. Most importantly, I've tried to develop the kindness and amount of love that Nina possessed.
So it's harder to play someone that existed in real life, rather than a fictional character?
Yes, because she did a lot and changed a lot in her lifetime. In addition, there is a lot of respect and adoration to deal with. Believe me, everyone involved in this project takes the job very seriously.
And finally, on the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack there is a variation of 80s hits - which is your favourite?
For me it's definitely Cherry Bomb by The Runaways. It has so much energy; you can do so much while listening to it, pack your suitcase, go out for a jog, or if you have enough time, change the world!