RED ALERT! Zoe Sal­dana is feel­ing talkative. Hol­ly­wood, be afraid

Ac­tress, wife, mother, ac­tivist… best not to mess with Zoe Sal­dana, as we found out

Cosmopolitan (UK) - - Contents - Words LOT­TIE LUMSDEN Pho­to­graphs MAX ABADIAN

Zoe Sal­dana takes a sip of rosé from a white-china cup and looks out to­wards the mel­low­ing LA sky­line. We’ve been to­gether since 9am this morn­ing and choos­ing to drink wine out of a cof­fee cup is prob­a­bly the least sur­pris­ing thing about the ac­tress.

On set, shortly af­ter she de­camped into the make-up chair, a small shoal of chil­dren ar­rived with a rugged, hand­some, long-haired Ital­ian man and a smil­ing older cou­ple in tow. This was Sal­dana’s fam­ily – her three sons, Cy, Bowie, and Zen, her hus­band, Marco, and his par­ents. The chil­dren did what chil­dren do – ran about, shrieked, but also snuck a look at mummy at work on set. Sal­dana ex­plains that it’s im­por­tant they see she is happy at work – that’s one of the rea­sons she tries to bring them to ev­ery­thing she does. Marco, mean­while, is a qui­eter, steady pres­ence, al­ways watch­ing. Watch­ing and smil­ing, like the most hand­some pi­rate on earth.

Sal­dana, 39, made the de­ci­sion last year that her fam­ily should join her at work wher­ever pos­si­ble. She’d had a crazy few years of it, what with film­ing Avengers: In­fin­ity War (out this month), Guardians Of The

Galaxy Vol. 2, and start­ing work on the long-awaited Avatar 2. And then there were the pro­mo­tional tours for the fran­chises, mov­ing house and, you know… giv­ing birth to Zen.

“It [2017] was my most hec­tic year,” she smiles.“A lot hap­pened in our lives. I was di­vid­ing my time be­tween my fam­ily life, per­sonal life and also two of my movies, which were shoot­ing in dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions – At­lanta and Los Angeles. It be­came very stress­ful. I re­alised that life needs to be more bal­anced. Not only was it af­fect­ing me, but it was af­fect­ing my chil­dren and hus­band.” Twins Cy and Bowie are three, and Zen is now one. “A lot of de­ci­sions were made for the bet­ter­ment of our health.”

Sal­dana and Marco mar­ried in 2013, with her artist hus­band fa­mously tak­ing the ac­tress’s name, to be­come Marco Pere­goSal­dana. She says he is her great­est con­fi­dante, and that it is he she turned to while try­ing to process ev­ery­thing go­ing on in Hol­ly­wood in the wake of the Har­vey We­in­stein har­rass­ment scan­dal and sub­se­quent #MeToo and Time’s Up move­ments, of which she is very much a part.

“My hus­band has been an in­spi­ra­tion in this whole thing,” she says.“The con­ver­sa­tions we’ve been hav­ing, safely and in­ti­mately, have been evolv­ing. And it’s been very re­ward­ing. He is a part of the #MeToo group.” She adds, “We have to broaden the nar­ra­tive of #MeToo. The same way it ap­plies to vic­tims, it should ap­ply to men who were blind who have now seen. If there is one thing I have to advise, it’s to be kind to the men who are mak­ing an ef­fort and don’t put them all in one box. Let’s not do to oth­ers what has been done to us. If we know how bad it’s felt for so long, then we know what not to do and how not to teach.”

It’s easy to for­get up here in the calm of the Hol­ly­wood Hills, amid the sway­ing palms and multi-mil­lion-dol­lar man­sions, that Hol­ly­wood is burn­ing up, va­por­ised from the in­side out by one of the big­gest rev­o­lu­tions to have ever hit the in­dus­try. But when you are liv­ing and breath­ing it ev­ery day, like Sal­dana, it can never be far from your mind. “I get choked up,”

“I re­alised that life needs to be more bal­anced”

“I don’t want you to just post me on your wall”

she says, her eyes widen­ing. When she tries to speak again her voice is hoarse, con­stricted by pal­pa­ble emo­tion, some­thing I’ll see time and again through­out our in­ter­view.“Never in my life would I have dreamed what hap­pened last year. We were all reach­ing out to each other, as women, pro­vid­ing care for each other.” She pauses.“I never ex­pe­ri­enced that when I ar­rived in Hol­ly­wood 20 years ago.”

Sal­dana moved here aged 19 and, soon af­ter, was cast as a bal­let dancer in her de­but film, Cen­ter Stage. She had been signed to a ta­lent agency af­ter they spot­ted her in a New York Youth Theatre pro­duc­tion of Joseph And The Amaz­ing Tech­ni­color Dream­coat.

Al­though she was born in New Jer­sey, she moved to the Do­mini­can Repub­lic aged nine with her Puerto-Ri­can mother and two sis­ters, Mariel and Cisely, af­ter her fa­ther, who was Do­mini­can, trag­i­cally died in a car crash. Later, they moved to New York. Grow­ing up, her role model was Alien’s Ellen Ri­p­ley.“She was ev­ery­thing,” she says. “It was all I wanted to watch. It wasn’t easy for me to look at princess movies – I al­ways wanted to be the war­rior, or the ninja.” As a child, Sal­dana describes her­self as “in­se­cure, vul­ner­a­ble, con­fi­dent… but also a loner. I was picked on by other girls. I al­ways felt I was the luck­i­est girl be­cause my best friends were my sis­ters, but they have said,‘It must have been painful for you as you cried a lot.’”

Ar­riv­ing in Hol­ly­wood for the first time was “fun”, she smiles. “It was great. You ar­rive here and you’re just as in­no­cent and im­per­vi­ous to good [as you are to] bad things. You learn as you grow – what to do, who you should not ever work with again…” She laughs.“And who you should have been more thank­ful to.” Small film roles came early on in

Cross­roads with Brit­ney Spears and

with Kirsten Dunst. But it didn’t take long for Sal­dana to re­alise that be­ing a woman in the film in­dus­try came with its is­sues.

“You cry [now], be­cause you didn’t know how hard you had it,” she says. “Now I see it dif­fer­ently. We were all suf­fer­ing qui­etly... The high road for a woman for cen­turies was si­lence. You kind of go, ‘F*ck!’ The new high road is speak­ing up. I don’t want to go back to feel­ing min­imised and like I’m lucky to be here. It was un­fair and un­even… from how you built the part to why you were cast…” Her voice breaks. “To how you are dressed. And that one scene where you have to be in your un­der­wear and why you have to have this sex scene that feels gra­tu­itous. Or when you ar­rive on set and see your male di­rec­tor and male co-star hav­ing a col­lab­o­ra­tive dis­cus­sion about a scene that in­volves you and you’re not a part of it be­cause you’re the ser­vice­able char­ac­ter. And how hurt you then feel in your trailer. I don’t want to go back to that. You feel stupid. I don’t want to hear an­other man tell me, ‘Oh, you were my muse.’ I don’t want to f*ck­ing be your muse any more. I don’t want you to just post me on your wall and look at me. I want you to lis­ten to me!”

Sal­dana’s first big film role came in the form of pi­rate Ana­maria, in 2003’s Pi­rates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl. It was a learn­ing curve.“I was very young – it was my first mas­sive pro­duc­tion of a movie. I was deal­ing with a lot of peo­ple who were great and a lot of peo­ple who were not so great. I left that ex­pe­ri­ence feel­ing a lit­tle bit­ter,” she says.“It was super-elitest. My time is ev­ery­thing to me. And when I don’t spend it wisely I am un­happy. So if I’m like,‘I could have been with my fam­ily, in school learn­ing, or trav­el­ling, and in­stead I’m here be­ing treated like an ex­tra, but in a very de­spi­ca­ble way by peo­ple who don’t even speak prop­erly…’ my time is be­ing wasted. A lot of that has to do with your per­sonal in­se­cu­ri­ties, too, though, and your in­flated ego. So I was im­ma­ture also.”

Still, that ex­pe­ri­ence al­most led to her quit­ting the in­dus­try. And it was only her next job, a Steven Spiel­berg pro­duc­tion along­side Tom Hanks, that stopped her.

“I booked [my role in] The Ter­mi­nal right af­ter, so I got to work with an amaz­ing di­rec­tor who is known for be­ing hum­ble and a men­tor,” she says.

How did she get her pas­sion back? “By speak­ing up. I shared [my ex­pe­ri­ence] with him, and he said, ‘That’s very un­for­tu­nate you went through that. But keep do­ing this. You’re re­ally good at it. There are good peo­ple out there.’

“He would in­vite me to sit with him on set – there would be a chair right next to his. It made my heart ache with hap­pi­ness be­cause he re­mem­bered that I’d been made to feel so ir­rel­e­vant be­fore and he went out of his way to make me feel the ex­act op­po­site.”

Shortly af­ter, Sal­dana made her name as war­rior Neytiri in James Cameron’s epic Avatar in 2009. Un­til De­cem­ber (when Star Wars: The Force

Awak­ens over­took), it was still the high­est-gross­ing film in US his­tory, hav­ing pulled in a life­time gross of £542mil­lion. She’s in the mid­dle of film­ing the long-awaited sec­ond in­stal­ment now, in cin­e­mas in 2020.

But two years ago, trou­ble brewed again... this time for very dif­fer­ent rea­sons, when Sal­dana took the epony­mous role in the biopic of singer and civil rights ac­tivist Nina Si­mone. So­cial me­dia, as well as cer­tain fac­tions of the press, were in­censed that she had had to wear dark make-up to play the part, be­cause her skin was too light.

At the time, she tweeted a Nina Si­mone quote,‘“I’ll tell you what

“Art should be de­pict­ing women more ac­cu­rately”

free­dom is to me – no fear. I mean, re­ally no fear,” #Ni­naSi­mone.’ Si­mone’s es­tate re­sponded by tweet­ing,‘Cool story but please take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.’

To­day, Sal­dana is re­flec­tive about the whole sit­u­a­tion. “There’s a per­sonal feel­ing be­cause I’m a hu­man be­ing. I had my re­ac­tions to that, but there is also an ac­knowl­edge­ment that it’s a sys­temic is­sue and I’m just a frag­ment in it. Lis­ten­ing was the only an­swer at that time. Not to the hate, but to the facts, and the is­sues. I learned a lot, but I have no re­grets about why I de­cided to do it. I just wanted her story to be told. No­body else was will­ing to do it,” she says.

This is not the first time Sal­dana’s eth­nic­ity has caused her grief. As well as ev­ery­thing that comes with be­ing a woman in Hol­ly­wood, she has found her­self, at times, “deal­ing with race on top of that”. She re­veals, “That was quite dif­fi­cult be­cause it was hurt­ful. It has al­ways been hurt­ful. I’ve al­ways known it’s wrong.”

Frus­trated by her own ex­pe­ri­ences, in 2013, Sal­dana co-founded pro­duc­tion com­pany Cines­tar Pic­tures with her sis­ters, aim­ing to cre­ate con­tent that re­flected them, as women. Then, in Fe­bru­ary this year, she and her hus­band launched BESE, a dig­i­tal me­dia com­pany that fo­cuses on em­pow­er­ing Lati­nos.

Does she feel she has had to work harder be­cause of her skin colour?

“I’m not go­ing to sugar-coat it for you,” she smiles, sadly. “Ask any artist of colour if they feel like they have to work harder. I don’t mean that we de­serve any spe­cial treat­ment – I don’t want any­body’s sym­pa­thy. But I do en­cour­age em­pa­thy be­cause you do have to work twice as hard to make some­one in a po­si­tion of power who has the power to f*ck with your life and your dreams see why they should hire you, and why you are the right per­son for the role.”

“We are yet to have an Asian su­per­hero. And I’m wait­ing for that. It’s time. ‘Time’s Up’!” What’s the an­swer? “Stand­ing up and speak­ing with love and re­spect when­ever you feel you’ve been treated un­fairly.” This month, Sal­dana reprises her role as green anti-hero­ine Gamora in Avengers: In­fin­ity War.

“Maybe I chose to live in space for many [of my] roles, be­cause in space I wasn’t just some­one’s other,” she muses.“I was my own per­son. I think art should re­ally start de­pict­ing women more ac­cu­rately.”

With that, it’s time for us to go. The sky has black­ened around us and the tem­per­a­ture dipped. She grabs her blazer and pulls it tight around her body as she makes her way to the purring car in the drive­way. She en­velopes me in the sort of hug an old friend would pull you into. And then, just like that, she’s gone. Back home to her ba­bies. To her hus­band. To sav­ing the world. Whether that is on-screen or in her own uni­verse.

Avengers: In­fin­ity War, in cin­e­mas 26th April

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.