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GRAZIA: How has your day been so far in Tokyo?
SALDANA: “It’s been great. You know for some reason, I don’t know if it’s because I’ve become an expert at travel but after so many years of travelling to so many different places in the world and to so many time zones, but I get off the plane and I just go straight to bed; I don’t stay up late and that’s been working great! I’m a little jet-lagged but we’re happy to be here to promote Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”
Elizabeth Debicki told us the hardest part about working on the set of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was keeping a straight face around Chris Pratt. Did you have the same experience?
“Absolutely. It’s hard because he’s naturally funny and he comes up with things within seconds of something happening so there’s never a dull moment and there’s never a moment of tension on the set. That’s what makes such a long day at work seem like it goes by really fast when people like Chris are just funny, and he really is!”
What was Elizabeth like to work with? I know you only had a short time filming with her…
“Elizabeth Debicki is fantastic. She blew my mind.”
“Not just by the way they transformed her but her acting was so commanding. She was Ayesha and she just knew how to do this character and she took her time. I learned so much just from watching her and working with her for just two days.”
You’ve starred in Avatar, Star Trek and now Guardians of the Galaxy. What’s so appealing about this genre for you?
“They’re fun. I get to work with directors that I just find a kindred spirit in them. They’re able to imagine unimaginable things and I think it takes a lot of courage and freedom and imagination to do that. I like being part of films that inspire people, especially young people.”
When you look back at your really early roles, like Crossroads and Centre Stage, did you ever think your career would span into the genre that it has?
“I mean yes and no, I love science fiction—I grew up watching it non-stop and reading it. You know, I just never said no. I booked Avatar and then all of a sudden [Star Trek director] J.J. Abrams hears what I’m doing in Avatar and then he comes to set when I was shooting and he was like ‘You wanna play Uhura?’ and I’m like ‘Sure’. And then, from there [GOTG director] James Gunn sees what I did in Avatar and Star Trek and he’s like ‘I want you to be Gamora’ and I’m like ‘Uh, okay!’ I just don’t say no.”
How does that make you feel to look back at the really early parts of your career?
“I mean it’s been fun! I can’t believe time flies so fast, but I wish I was the kind of actor that had a direction and a bucket list of defined directors to work with, and defined characters to play. I’m kind of one of those happy-go-lucky people that if I happen to stroll in at the right place at the right time and someone just casts me and puts me in a picture, I’ll just do it and I make the best of it. But what’s important to me is to be happy, to work with people who are worthy of my time like I’m worthy of theirs, and to learn something new.
“When choosing roles, I avoid feeling boxed [into a genre].”
“So, maybe by avoiding certain box-y situations, I find other purposeful things and they just have genres in common.”
Do you ever see Britney Spears these days?
“I saw her on a plane when I was pregnant with my twins and it was so great to see her. She’s in a great place and she’s still the successful artist that she was meant to be because she’s a good person.”
It’s such an interesting time for women in film and television and we see more females taking focus in scripts. It’s so good to see characters like Gamora featuring heavily and not just as Chris Pratt’s sidekick. Does this type of script influence which kind of roles you take on?
“I mean, I think I’m getting pickier now and a lot more opinionated to my directors whenever I feel that the character I’ve been asked to play is just lacking a little bit of substance or feels like a lead that should belong to her has been taken for the sake of a joke or for the sake of a male moment. But it’s a push and pull situation. Also, I can’t just be side-tracked all the time and think I’m at war with every man that I meet and that I work with. Because that’s not the case – I signed up for a movie that was an ensemble and it wasn’t as the character named Star Lord.
So obviously the director is going to write according to that structure and I have to honour it. And sometimes I think as women or as people dealing with adversities as artists, I think we lose sight of that and I’m certainly not a political person when I’m creating, all the time. That’s just not what my art is about. And yes, I do like to talk about my experiences as a working woman, and as a woman in the arts, and as an American woman also in Hollywood as an actor, but that doesn’t define me entirely. I haven’t been a victim to misogyny as other actresses have been.”
Now onto something a little trivial: How long were you in hair and make-up with your green face.
“That process is the only thing that is gruelling about being part of GOTG. It’s long. I have to wake up at 2:30am and go through three hours of make-up and it’s just not fun but then you get to do the final movie and you love it.”
Have your children ever seen you with the green face?
“They have. They saw me when they were a year old and then they saw me again because I’m doing the Avengers [as Gamora] now. For some reason they weren’t bothered a year ago but now that they’re two-years-old, my twins are like ‘oh my god, Mama Gamora? Mama Superhero?’ – they’re obsessed with superheroes – and they go ‘Mama Hulk? ‘So they think I’m related to the Hulk!”
Credit: Instagram @zoesaldana
You have three boys and I can imagine when they go to school they’re going to be pretty popular because their mum was in all these cool movies. Are you excited to show them all the films when they’re a little bit older?
“Yeah, they’ve already seen parts of Avatar and parts of GOTG. My husband and I, we’re not one of those like super strict families where it’s like ‘You’re not 13 yet, it’s PG-13’. I think you have to go with it and personalise restrictions according to the kind of kids that you have and we want to expose them to what we do and then whenever we feel they’re uncomfortable or confused, then we push back, you know? And so far they like it. I feel like the earlier they get used to seeing their parents in their natural element as artists, the less it’ll be a thing to show off.
There’s a lot of action in this film. How did you prepare physically for the role?
“I had a trainer and because I was working long hours. I also did meditation and Pilates and that really helped and kept me in good shape and good spirits.”
Avatar has got two more film releases coming. What is James Cameron like as a director and how would you describe your relationship with him?
“James Cameron is my favourite director. I know there’s history there to him but I’m not associated to that and I didn’t know him then and the experience that I have with him has been nothing but supportive and collaborative and constructive and it flourishes, year after year.”
“He allows me the ability to be vocal about how I feel about something because when he asks me how I feel, it’s not a rhetorical question. He really wants to hear my input. And we always have debates – really strong and passionate debates – but it’s because we care, and he knows that I care and that it’s never personal. So to have someone like James Cameron allow you to level with him because he truly respects you, it’s such a rite of passage for me and I love the collaboration.”
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is in Australian cinemas April 25