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ZOE SALDANA
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THE BALLERINA KICKS IT WITH THE BOYS.


Zoe Saldana has probably populated more fanboy fantasies than Jessica Alba and Jessica Biel put together.

In 2009, the actress scored back-to-back hits playing Lt. Uhura in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and Princess Neytiri in James Cameron’s Avatar. If that wasn’t enough to certify her a place in the Fanboy Hall of Fame, the actress popped up this year as the bad-ass Aisha in The Losers, an action extravaganza that came to the big screen from the pages of the DC/Vertigo comic book.

In all three films, Saldana plays characters strong enough to take on all comers. If being typecast as a gives-as-good-as-she-gets warrior is her cinematic fate, she’s just fine with that.

“Hollywood has made a living out of portraying women to be such canker sores,” she says during an interview. “We just have to be rescued all the time because we’re so incompetent.  But, in reality, especially in American society, women are doing so much more… I’m from Queens in the ’80s when women were the caretakers and the soldiers. I’m in that phase right now [where I’m playing strong women] and until I burn that, it’s good. Right now, I like participating in the saving of the day because I think it’s really sexy… Right now, I like holding the gun.”

Saldana might be a self-described “beast for action movies” but she’s also game for comedy. In this year’s Death at a Funeral, she held her own alongside funnymen Chris Rock, Columbus Short, Martin Lawrence and Tracy Morgan. Appearing in four high-profile movies over the course of a year is something of a dream come true for the workaholic actress.

“As an artist, you can only ask for one thing and it’s just to be able to pay the bills,” she says. “When you get to do that and are also recognized by amazing producers and directors for your work – that’s [the best feeling of all].”

Now 32, Saldana wants you to know she’s not an overnight success. Born in New Jersey to a Puerto Rican mother and a Dominican father, she was raised in both Queens and the Dominican Republic. By the time she moved back to New York City at the age of 17, she was a ballet fanatic who imagined she’d carve out a career for herself as a dancer.

It was while she was performing as part of the Faces theatre troupe that Saldana was spotted by a talent agent. In a matter of months, she netted the prominent role of a ballerina in the 2000 film Center Stage. For the last decade, she has worked almost non-stop on projects both big (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The  Terminal) and small (Drumline). She is particularly proud of her role opposite Orlando Bloom in the little-seen romance Haven. The 2004 movie was barely released but it caught the attention of The Losers director Sylvain White.

“When I met with Sylvain, he was, like, ‘Dude, I saw you in Haven.’ Sometimes, it takes years. You just have to be patient… For me, it’s about bringing it back to, ‘Why did I become an artist?’ I didn’t become an artist because I wanted people to recognize my face before they recognized my work. I wanted them to know my work.”

Since completing The Losers, the hard-working Saldana has signed up for Burning Palms, an ensemble drama co-starring Lake Bell and Nick Stahl. She’s also counting the days until she’s called up for the Avatar sequel.

“It’s whatever the boss says, you know? I just need at least six to seven months of training to get into Neytiri again,” she notes. “Sometimes, with Jim [Cameron], we have to wait 10 years but by the time he does get around to it, he gives you something that sort of changes your life… So, I do know that Avatar 2 is going to be just as great as the first one because Jim’s the shit.”

As for another Star Trek adventure, Saldana says she’s good to go. “Trust me, I email J.J. [Abrams] every other day, just like the rest of the cast, asking him, ‘What the heck, dude?’ J.J. is an amazingly talented man who’s full of surprises. I heard through a little grapevine that it might be as early as next year that we all get back on the Enterprise. I’m really excited about that.”

Written by: AMY LONGSDORF
September 13th, 2010