Top, by Manish Arora; belt, by Oscar de la Renta; briefs, stylist’s own; necklace, by Kenneth Jay Lane; earrings and shoes, both by Dolce & Gabbana.
Dress, by Marchesa; earrings, by Dolce & Gabbana.
Actress Zoe Saldana wears many hats in her glamorously ambitious life. From mother of twin boys and wife to Italian artist Marco Perego Saldana to fashion icon and kickass movie star, the 38-year-old seamlessly moves between home life and professional life, always staying true to her multicultural roots. Raised by a single mom from Puerto Rico (her father, a Dominican, died in a car accident when she was only 9), Saldana grew up in Queens, N.Y., as well as the Dominican Republic, where she discovered a love for dance. Ballet prowess led to acting aspirations, landing Saldana in the breakout dance flick Center Stage. More than 16 years and 35 movie roles later, Saldana’s résumé is stacked with girl-boss roles in films which include teen phenom flicks Crossroads and Drumline, the action-packed Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the intergalactic Star Trek and Guardians of the Galaxy franchises, the moving Nina, and the otherworldly Avatar (the highest-grossing film of all time!). Here, Saldana shares intimate details about life in Hollywood, what fame really means to her and rediscovering a love for Atlanta.
You moved to the Dominican Republic with your mother and two sisters after the passing of your father. Take me back to that time in your life.
I wanted to be a gymnast, and when my mom went to sign me and my sister up, they wouldn’t take me. They were like, ‘She’s going to be too tall; she’s already long as it is, and she’s too old to start in gymnastics.’ I was 10, and I was absolutely heartbroken. My mom saw an announcement for these [dance] companies that were sponsoring scholarships for this dance studio and took us to the audition. We made every cut, and eventually we were two out of the 10 kids that were given scholarships that year on the island. We felt so excited that I forgot I even wanted gymnastics to work. I discovered this whole new meaning as an artist and as myself through ballet.
You ended up quitting ballet at 18 but were ironically booked to play a ballerina in your first film Center Stage. What was going through your mind at the time?
I was still having second thoughts about going back to ballet, and by booking my very first movie when I was 20 years old, right after I had just made this heartbreaking decision to stop doing something that I had been doing for nearly 10 years, it was a yes to something beautiful and unknown [acting] and a goodbye to something that was my first love [ballet].
Signing on to play best friends with Britney Spears and Taryn Manning in Crossroads shortly thereafter must have affirmed your new career path. What was it like to work with Spears and Manning at the height of their fame?
Taryn had just come off of doing White Oleander and Crazy/Beautiful, and these were two movies that were very powerful for our generation. Britney was this amazing force to be reckoned with, and I was just in awe of both of them. After I had made a decision to change my life and then the universe was responding back to the decisions I was making, there came a confidence in me. The first five years when I started acting were the ‘bestest’. I know it’s not a real word, but I love using it. Because I didn’t know much about it, ignorance was bliss at that time. Every experience was so awesome.
In 2003, you joined the big leagues in Pirates of the Caribbean with Johnny Depp. What was that experience like for you?
That was a shift for me because it wasn’t a good experience at all. That was really the first massive production that lacked all the other beautiful things about the films that I had done until that point. From Center Stage to Crossroads to whatever movies I had done at that time, whether big or small, they were human. They were real. Pirates was the first Hollywood thing that I had done, and because it was bigger, it had bigger room for all the things that are not so great about what we do, which is egos and arrogance and negligence and drugs.
Wow. That must have been a shock to you.
We were in the Caribbean and I guess it just gave people permission to be a little too reckless for my taste and upbringing. It left a really poor taste in my mouth. It was like the loss of innocence for me in terms of going, ‘Oh, you can be a machine; you can be cruel; you can be treacherous in Hollywood if you’re meant to be someone.’ You know? So I need to watch where I go.
It seems like this was the first dark side of fame for you.
I think it was the first time I learned what the word ‘famous’ was, you know? I even think that there’s a hierarchy when it comes to people who are considered famous versus people who are considered artists. So there were moments in Hollywood in which I felt like an alien in my own skin, the odd person because I behave in a very different way.
It sounds like Pirates gave you that first armor to protect yourself in the industry and to be true to yourself.
Yes and no. I was not immune to bullying [when I was younger]. When we moved from New York to the Dominican Republic, there was a lot of bullying that took place from other kids and other adults toward my sisters and me that came from being of a certain culture and being new. They’re very strict about religion, about their views on women at that time, about their views on what they considered good education. In a way, it was a lot harsher, so my sisters and I kind of created a thick skin. It wasn’t that I felt victimized by Hollywood; I’m not saying that at all. I just recognized things about it.
With time has certainly come new adventures on your own terms, including the beloved role of Uhura in the Star Trek series. Tell us what fans can expect from Star Trek Beyond (out July 22).
Something darker, but there is a levity to it that I also appreciate. I feel very lucky that I am a part of something that’s mission is to spread the word of peace. Gene Roddenberry, the creator, had this inspiration to create something that had a very strong message that human beings were not only going to be entertained by but they were going to be inspired by.
You often play headstrong female characters in films that are male dominated (Avatar, Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy). What attracts you to these roles?
I don’t feel serviceable; I don’t feel disposable; I don’t feel irrelevant. I need to feel that you want me here as much as I want to be here because if not, it’s not going to work. I like roles that represent women either whom I’ve met or I’ve known or feel that they could be real, they could exist. I really want that to be a message to women.
Fashion has been a huge part of your image as well. Who is your style icon?
Tilda Swinton to me is a style icon. She plays with masculinity and femininity in such an abstract and minimalist way that it drives me crazy how beautiful and unique I think it is. There are other people like Chloë Sevigny, Rooney Mara, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Jones. I also loved how Liza Minnelli would just put a shirt over fishnets with high heels and that was her outfit. She loved that!
We often get glimpses of your fashion moments on your Instagram, where you just hit 1 million followers. Who do you like to follow?
A lot of my friends, family and furniture [accounts]. I love interior design, architecture and food!
How do you think social media has changed the landscape of how fans interact with celebrities?
Primarily, I think it’s great. It keeps people connected. Before social media, you were at the mercy of a magazine; at the mercy of a journalist; at the mercy of people who were misquoting you or not representing you properly and neglecting who you truly are. There was a lot of that.
We’re big fans of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise and can’t wait for 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Tell us about filming the sequel here in Atlanta.
I have to say it’s fantastic because I’ve learned so much. Last time I was here in Atlanta was roughly 16 years ago, when I shot Drumline. One thing I’ve learned is that Atlanta is one of the fastest growing cities in America. From the business to the food to the arts, Atlanta is collecting an array of amazing individuals. I was staying 20 minutes outside of Atlanta and was being exposed to beautiful, Southern people that are so nice. It’s been wonderful for me and my husband because he is European, so for him it’s even more foreign, and he’s taken up such a beautiful appreciation. Our boys have loved it; they’ve been thriving so much because they’re outdoors all the time. The only two things I have to say that are a bit dangerous for us is, one, the fried chicken; and, two, the ticks and the bugs. We love the humidity though!
Where would we catch you dining around town?
Lure, Marcel and Umi were restaurants we absolutely loved. Marcel is excellent! Poor Calvin’s was amazing, and Ponce City Market was just to die for. We loved it.
What was it like working with Guardians co-star Chris Pratt?
He’s really funny. I almost feel like the five months [of filming] went by really fast because of Chris and the rest of the cast—they’re wonderful people. He was just out of this world when it comes to comedy.
How have your roles as a wife and mom shaped your role as actress?
It makes me feel like I was a [cold] person before I had the kids. I was a very reserved individual, very guarded when it came to my emotions. When you give and you give and you’re kind of taken for granted or laughed at for being open, you tend to feel very embarrassed and insecure about sharing yourself. So you create this wall, you know? Now, I feel very blessed that I am with a partner that goes out of his way to let me know how he truly respects everything about me. And children just make you soft; they teach you to compromise. It’s beautiful; I’m using it a lot.
What’s next for you?
Time off! But I also want to take on more leading roles, and I want to take on comedy. I’ve been dying to do a comedy. I think I’ve done a lot of heavy movies and space movies. I want a movie where my character is trying to find out who she is and falls in love.
Hair by Mara Roszak, Starworks Artists
Makeup by Vera Steimberg, Criterion Group
Nails by Crystal Tran, Exclusive Artists