While she's starred in a multitude of films ranging from the Stephen Spielberg dramedy "The Terminal" to the upcoming ensemble satire "Death At A Funeral," actress Zoe Saldana may be on the verge of becoming a geek movie icon. Aside from appearing under heavy amounts of CGI in the Oscar-nominated blockbuster "Avatar," Saldana's biggest part to date came playing Uhura in the critical smash "Star Trek." And next, on April 23, the actress makes her first full jump into comic book movies with director Sylvain White's Warner Bros. adaptation of "The Losers" – the Vertigo comic by Andy Diggle and Jock.
In between takes for an emotional showdown on the movie's Puerto Rico set, Saldana sat down with CBR for a crack character exploration interview, explaining who the mysterious and deadly Loser known as Aisha is to her, how she absorbed the character's signature tattoos and piercings to make the movie work and why stunt work will remain a part of her action movie career, even when she's not quite ready to shape up for it as with the next installment of the "Star Trek" franchise.
CBR: Can you tell us about your character?
Zoe Saldana: She’s a snake. You don’t really know what she’s hiding up her sleeve. She definitely had her own prerogative, and it’s very meaningful for her. She’s trying her best to play her cards right, but Jeffrey’s character just gets to her. There’s just something about him that [makes her] unable to kind of to fill her task, her mission.
In the comics, the Losers are a tight-knit group of these guys and Aisha comes in from the outside. It’s really mysterious for them. It seems like you’ve got a lot of personal choices to make about the character that aren’t in the script, per se. What’s that been like?
It’s hard, because you also have to love that the characters in the scene determine the tonality of how it’s gonna unfold. So it’s definitely been hard. Usually, female roles are what you see is what you get. But to be granted the opportunity to play something that is very complex and very layered and everything, it’s just hard I guess. I’m not used to it.
How is it, playing in the boys club?
I don’t know what it is. I really like...I seem very, very feminine on the outside, but on the inside I’m having a hard time understanding. I never take off my jeans in my mind, I never stop burping. I have no class whatsoever. I look like I do, and that’s fine, that’s all I need. For some reason, I keep gravitating towards films where I’m the only woman, and it’s kind of hot.
What’s the scene you’re filming today?
This is after the revelation of who she really is and what she’s been trying to do the entire movie. She has that confrontation with Clay. They have a lot to deal with right now because there is a very strong attraction between these characters. Because of the circumstances that are going to bind them for the rest of their lives, I don’t know where the possibilities of them making it as a personal relationship... It’s pretty fucked up.
How much do the tattoos and the piercings help you get into the character?
[That was] against my will. I read the comic, I knew the kind of person Aisha was, but, you can say, an actor can say, "I don’t put myself in my roles." [But] you fucking do, and you have to steer yourself apart from the role. And Sylvain fought me tooth and nail for all this metal. I was like, "I don’t know. It’s slutty. It’s kind of dirty," and Sylvan was like, "Trust me, Zoe. She has it in the comic. She is a feisty person, she lives on the edge. Separate youself." I’m like, "I’m totally separate from Aisha," but it wasn’t until everything came on, and the camera test, and I had the gun and all the tattoos. I was so stoked. It all made sense.
Is there a story behind any of the tattoos?
No. My research drove me to believe that if she’s a spy, if she’s like a lethal weapon - the worst thing you can do is tattoo yourself, because you’re just branding yourself and they can find you. But in a manner, I don’t think she really cares, gives a shit about that. This can all easily be covered and this can be taken off. So that was where my analytical research part came in. Sylvan was like, "There are certain things I can part with us not being completely similar to the comic and certain things I need to have. Trust me it’s all going to make sense." And it really did.
Was there anything you took from the graphic novel that connected with you that you made your own?
There’s one image of her when she stabs this man and she licks the knife. I mean, it just lets me know the kind of person that she is. That even though she has a principal of always trying to make justice for women and children and whatever seems wrong, she’s also ruthless, a ruthless fucking assassin. And I like that about her. There’s a masculinity that she has that she doesn’t compromise herself. She’s a savage animal. I like that.
You’ve done some physical shoots in the past. How does "The Losers" compare and how physical is this to what you expected going in?
I mean, it’s still very new for me to shoot action movies. I honestly feel that after "Avatar" I became like a beast for action. I’m so hungry for it and I want to do all my stunts. I’m all bruised up and everything. I’m still at that phase where I want to do everything myself and get beaten up.
You were wielding guns in the scene we saw. Was there a lot of gun training involved in preparing for this role?
Yes, gun training, a lot of physical training too. I had to gain a couple of pounds so that I was going to be able to hold those weapons for more than eight hours a day. They’re pretty heavy. I don’t know what it is, but I love that kind of shit. I really love it when I’m pushed physically and it’s not just a mental research of what a character’s supposed to do.
Thank God, because of my athletic background I’ve been able to be thrown across the room and do all my kicks and everything. But let me tell you, it’s only like my third action movie, so I’m pretty sure that five years from now I might not be saying or doing the same thing. I’ll be like, "I’ll just let the stunt person do it," you know? But so far, it’s very exciting.
It’s like sky diving - they say do it once, while you’re young.
I like to think that I’m still young. Hips aren’t hurting, knees are fine, they’re not swelling, so let’s just do it. But it was a lot of fun, to be able to jump into my role and not just drop her and have somebody else pick up. Even though the stunt people are doing a marvelous job, if I could do it, why should I let somebody else finish it when I can do it myself.
What has you most excited about going back to "Star Trek?"
Well, there're perks. Besides the financial perks of signing onto films that turn into franchises is that you get to work with the actors and the directors all over again. Sometimes I almost feel like a three month experience for something that will last forever is not fair for the actor. Because what you guys get to watch, that’s for you. The part of shooting the movie, that’s for me. I take all those memories and that experience with me. And to get to go back to "Star Trek" and see Chris [Pine's] baby blue eyes and get to kiss Spock, Zachory [Quinto], and to work with J.J. [Abrams]. I couldn’t have been in a better environment, from the writers to the producers...to get to relive that experience in another adventure in space. I’m not looking forward to the dress, though. It just means I have to hit the gym two months before we start shooting, so I’m not looking forward to that.
"The Losers" opens April 23, 2010.