The future looks bright for Zoe Saldana literally and figuratively. Within the next year the strikingly gorgeous 30-year-old actress will be starring in not one but two intensely anticipated feature films set in the sci-fi future: not only is she in Avatar, the first fiction film from director James Cameron since Titanic, she’s also landed the iconic role of Lt. Uhura in J.J. Abrams’ reinvention of the Star Trek franchise.
No stranger to working with top-flight filmmakers (she previously appeared in Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal and Gore Verbinksi’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl), ComingSoon.net found Saldana to be bubbling over with enthusiasm during a chance encounter in Beverly Hills, where she talked about taking on the Trek mantle and First Contact with fans and while she kept a lid on some spoilers, she didn’t, ahem, skirt the issue on whether her uniform would be as leg-friendly as Nichelle Nichols’.
CS: I know you can’t tell me too much about “Star Trek” but can you talk about the experience at all? What was it like to step into those iconic shoes or boots as the case may be?
Saldana: It was amazing! It was a humbling experience. I met Nichelle Nichols, I worked with Leonard Nimoy. I was not a “Star Trek” fan before the film. Now I can honestly say that out of respect for the pioneers of this amazing conception, I am. They are amazing. They are the most graceful actors I have ever met. To work with J.J. [Abrams] I just hold him in the highest regard. Up there with James Cameron and Steven Spielberg, they are my idols and my everything. J.J. I hold in that regard and at that level. He’s younger and those directors, Steven would go to the set constantly to visit him and lend his support to J.J. and Jim invited him to the [“Avatar”] set to go see it. I don’t know who was more in awe. It’s amazing to witness that and be in the middle going “Oh my God.” I feel like the selfish one because I’m working with all of them. I feel very blessed and I think “Star Trek” is going to be amazing. Have you seen the trailer? It says “Under Construction”? I got goose bumps! I’m like “Dude! What are you doing?” It’s amazing.
CS: Can you tease if you wear the mini-skirt? Did you get your legs in shape for this role?
Saldana: All I’m going to say is that for some reason every man on set noticed when I was working. It was like “God, I don’t know – Was it my line? My deliverance? Oh. Okay.” That’s all I’m going to say.
CS: What did you learn from Nichelle Nichols? She was a genuine pioneer on television in the 1960s. She was almost about to leave the original show at one point because the part had become less prominent than had been planned, and Dr. Martin Luther King told her how important it was for her to stay for people of all colors to see black people in the future and know they had an equal role to play. Did she talk about that with you at all?
Saldana: Yes, she did. I think that the way she said it reminded me of a universal thing. When you become a role model, in sort of an accidental way, it’s not your job to be conscious of the mission you have. It’s your job just to do it. I have no right to judge whatever thoughts or whatever experiences she had while she was becoming this important role model that will forever exist, not only in Hollywood, but in America. What is beautiful about her now is that she does not understand it. That’s what blew me away and I want to be just like her. I don’t know how else to say it. She blew me away, not only because of her poise and how good she looks at her age, but how unaware she is of it. There is a part of her that understands it and a part of her that never will. It’s not her job. The day that she understands it is the day that she will stop becoming the mission, the alchemist, and she’s on her own journey. I get goose bumps just by talking about it. She’s amazing. She was just this graceful thing. To know that she was such an essential tool in the conception of Uhura. She walked into the audition room with a book she was reading called Uhuru and they loved her. They said “Why not [call the character] Uhura?” So she was there with the writers, the creators, and she was at the top with everything. They had no idea that what they were going to do was going to be so important.
CS: Have you had your first fan encounters yet? Have you started to meet some of the die-hards?
Saldana: I have actually. I had a driver who picked me up at my house and ended up being a stand in for someone on one of the shows like “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” For some reason he had his entire memorabilia in his trunk. It wasn’t his car, it was the sedan that he was driving. I was pretty freaked out by it, but it didn’t hit me until the end of the day, and I had him for the entire day because I had a series of appointments. It wasn’t till I got back home that I was like “This could have been really freaky.” But he was so respectful. He was so happy that I was doing “Star Trek,” but to this day I’m wondering whether or not he knew he was picking me up and that I was doing “Star Trek” or that he happens to drive his town car filled with memorabilia.
CS: Any one else in the new cast that kind of blew you away?
Saldana: Everybody from Eric Bana to primarily Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, they were amazing. I really hope that the fans embrace their interpretation of Kirk and Spock. It was so genuine and it came from the heart, with the most respect.
CS: Okay, you’ve got to give up one little thing: did you get to say “Hailing frequencies open?”
Saldana: [long pause, then grinning widely] F*ck, yeah!
Star Trek is scheduled for a May 8, 2009 release, followed by Avatar on December 18, 2009.