Zoe Saldana is flying high. The actress stars in two sci-fi mega-franchises (Star Trek and Avatar), might wind up in a couple of others (Guardians of the Galaxy and, if she has her way, Star Wars), and has an array of diverse projects coming up, including the films Nina, Out of the Furnace and Blood Ties. During a recent interview with Saldana, she discussed most of the above – we say most because the news about Guardians of the Galaxy hadn’t broken yet – with the bulk of the conversation devoted to Star Trek Into Darkness, the May 15/17 release in which she reprises her role as Uhura. Below is part one of our exclusive interview with Saldana, who was chatty and charming as she spoke with us by telephone while relaxing on a couch at her home in Los Angeles. Be sure to visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow to read part two.
Go back to Star Trek (2009). How satisfied were you with the film, and then also by the fans’ response to it?
SALDANA: I was super-happy with it. It over-exceeded any expectation that I had, especially knowing that science fiction is a genre that no everyone is keen on watching. Sci-fi is the place for me. I love it, but for a film to do well (across the board) it has to get a lot of things right, and people were very taken by it. I was very humbled.
What did it mean to you, on the first film, A, to meet Nichelle Nichols and, B, to get her seal of approval on your casting and performance?
SALDANA: Meeting Nichelle and getting her approval was really, really great. Nichelle was the creator of her character. She named the character. She named her Nyota. So, to get her blessing meant a lot to me.
How much of a reunion/party were the first few days of Star Trek Into Darkness?
SALDANA: Actually, the rehearsals were tons of fun. Everybody was getting back into it. You had some actors complaining about having to cut their hair or having to get more muscular or getting on a special diet or shaving their eyebrows. I had to go back into starting to shave my whole legs all the time because I had to wear those little dresses. Then I had the hairdo. But then you get on the Enterprise and, yes, there’s a big green screen and you know you’re doing a movie, but it’s so much fun and it’s so fulfilling. Even when I’m whining on the set I feel blessed to be doing what I do.
Heading into Star Trek Into Darkness, what were you hoping to see story-wise, both in general and specifically for Uhura?
SALDANA: I wanted to see an evolution in these characters. I wanted to see them start at Point A in the first movie and then at least be at Point B in their lives in this one. It could be things like Chekov (Anton Yelchin) growing a beard, just things that let you know they’ve been together doing missions for some time now. And, for Uhura, I’m a tomboy, so if I’m going to play a role where I’m working up against male characters that are kicking ass, I want to be in on it, too. I want to be a part of the fun. So those were my expectations for this one.
And what was your reaction when you got the script?
SALDANA: My immediate reaction was “Thank you.” They delivered an amazing script and I was very, very happy with it for story.
So, they met your expectations in terms of Uhura?
SALDANA: Yes, they did, and I know the rest of the actors felt the same way. To feel that energy, to know that everybody felt seen and heard by your director, your group of writers, your peers, you feel very integrated into the teamwork, into the collaboration of doing a movie like this.
A lot of the footage fans have seen so far has been of the action variety. What sense did you get from J.J. Abrams that it was as important to him to hit the dramatic beats as well as the action beats?
SALDANA: For J.J., it’s the acting and characterizations that matter most and sometimes it’s the only thing that matters. It’s like he’s expecting you to have all the action together with the stunt team. Obviously, once he sees it, he decides if it’ll aesthetically look good and if it matches the personality that your role possesses. If it doesn’t, then he’ll intervene. But, for J.J., it’s about the story and the characters and their lives. That’s what matters the most, and I love that.
Again, we know you can only say so much, but how does Uhura figure into the emotional core of the story?
SALDANA: The more and more the danger and the stress level rises and the story unfolds, there’s more of an open collaboration among all of the people on the Enterprise. The captain is more open to ideas and suggestions, so Uhura is one of the characters that jumps into it, either by encouraging the captain or by voicing her trepidations.
What’s going on between Uhura and Spock (Zachary Quinto) in Star Trek Into Darkness? We’ve heard Quinto say that Spock is misunderstood, especially by Uhura…
SALDANA: Yes, Spock is misunderstood because he has explaining to do. Uhura needs a lot of answers to questions that we’ve left hanging with her, with them (as a couple). That’s pretty much what I’m going to say to that.
How did you enjoy working with J.J. again, and was there a shorthand of sorts this time?
SALDANA: J.J. is a great human being and wonderful artist. And he’s a leader. So you feel taken care of on every spectrum. You feel considered. You don’t feel ignored. And you feel very happy and safe going to work. And yes, there really was a shorthand this time around, definitely.
Visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow to read part two of our exclusive interview with Zoe Saldana.