Actress Zoe Saldana Explains Why She’s Not Sorry About “Nina Simone”

Actress Zoe Saldana Promoting "Star Trek Beyond" In Beverly Hills, CA. Photo credit Kylie Krabbe, Liquid Soul Inc.


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As a part of Zoe Saldana’s Los Angeles press tour for her role as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura in “Star Trek Beyond,” correspondent Kylie Krabbe was able to catch up with the brand new mom of two twin boys for an exclusive interview.

Here is what she had to say in that straight forward no holds barred conversation.

K: Why do you play so many aliens?  You must be the most diversified actor when it comes to playing just about every imaginable character – whether it is human or other.

Z: It’s imaginative. It’s outside of anything that you may want to box or try to box.  I feel like it’s a much wider palette to channel emotions. I don’t want to just channel being in love.  There’s so much diversity in space – it’s so unknown to us and I don’t like it when you tell me what to paint. I like when you just give me the materials – and not the stereotypical materials of colors and markers and pencils and pastels. Give me material.  Give me fabric.  Give me something and I’ll rip it and I’ll make art. It all depends on how much you want to expand or how much you want to be challenged.  I just feel much more nurtured when I’m compelled to use more of my senses in acting. That’s why I love the circus. I love clowns! I love acrobats that work in the circus because of their artistic ability to express something (that) is innovative. I like innovation.

K: So it is or it is not something where you have specifically angled your career towards playing aliens and interplanetary heroines of all shapes, sizes and hues?

Z: I think I gravitate towards it. It’s not just that these are the only jobs I’m getting and it’s not that I’m turning down earthling roles. It’s just that I had that moment where the first thing that came to me while I was clearing my table was something that came in the form of a green alien.  I’m a very present individual.  I don’t have a life plan.  I haven’t really thought about winning an Oscar.  It would be wonderful, but that’s not my sole reason as to why I’m here in Hollywood and doing movies to get accepted.  I don’t care to be accepted by anything or anybody.  I just want to be an artist.  Everyday I go: ‘I am lucky to be an artist who can support my family based on what makes me happy.’  That to me is something that I am just really grateful for.

K: You say that it excites you to play so many different types of characters from so many different walks of life, but recently many within the African American community faulted you for accepting the role of the late civil rights activist and African American musician Nina Simone.  The crux of that discontent was rooted in the fact that you don’t traditionally identify yourself as an African American or black woman in your everyday life away from acting.  Do you think that this complaint is unfair?

Z: I think it is, but I’m not going to approach this situation from that angle.  It’s not the right angle to look at it.  It’s just not.  This color situation that happened with me and Nina, it’s been happening with me and every person of color forever.  That’s what happens when you pick on a kid so much and you pick on a kid so much that they are going to turn into a bully.  For whatever reasons he may have, he’s going to defend himself.  He’s going to act out of just anger because what is happening and has been happening is unfair.  So what I’m saying is, I’m looking at this whole situation, I’m respecting it. But I’m also respecting my own position and how I view it because I have to honor it.  I know no other way and I don’t know any other experience.  I didn’t operate under any other motive but my own, and I can clearly say and share that those were pure.  Those were really, really pure.  I respect and I am going to respect the opinion, but I know who I am and I know where I want to be, and I know where I am from.  So I wasn’t going to defend that.  I was going to focus on the fact that we all tried.  There were things that were broken in the process.  I came out a better business actor knowing how to make wiser decisions when you start to see signs and know that they are signs of mismanagement.

K: When you say mismanagement, what are you referring to specifically? Because actors of color often get put into boxes and heaven forbid you don’t agree to be inside that particular box.  Is that along the lines of what you are talking about when you say mismanagement?

Z: No, no, no.  More like the business aspect of how films get made.  You have producers, you have writers, directors, you have unions.  You have bond companies, you have insurances you have to file.  All of these things that should be arbitrary in the telling of a story sometimes are so mismanaged that they will bleed into weakening (and) debilitating the quality of the story, of a work.  So I know that those things affected us a lot, but I also know that everybody just wanted to be a part of the telling of a story of Nina Simone.  It’s either that or go work on a show.  Go work on a commercial.  Sometimes you just have to make a decision and take a risk because you are an artist, because you are an active citizen of society, because you’re a victim.  Or you’re just aware of a system that’s broken and this is what you would like to do about it.  Do you understand?  If it was poorly made, poorly received, okay.  But I have no control over that.  That – it already left my hands.  Having respect of others and having respect of self, you think: ‘I’m going to respect it.’  It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that it is ludicrous on your behalf to believe and expect that your opinion should take precedence over mine for me.  Respect of others is an unspoken word.  I respect everybody’s opinion, but in the same way I respect mine first.

K: Point taken.

Z: Also, one thing I would like to add on like a family level, I’m raising sons.  I want to be a part of a palette of things where they can go, ‘Mom, you’re cool, man.  You’ve been here, you’re present, you f###### bust your ass, you’re behind things that you believe in, Mom.  Thank you for that example.’   I don’t want my kids to grow up knowing that (someone) is always telling them, ‘you’re a black man, you’re a black man.”   You’re a man.  Be a man.  Be courteous.  Be respectful.  Be honorable.  Being black, don’t worry about that.  The world’s going to tell you about it.  At that point, I can only pray that you have a strong enough platform to choose what you want to believe of yourself to be.  That is different.  You know what I’m saying?  It’s different.

K: Another hallmark of the majority of the characters that you bring to life on screen is their inner strength.  Is that something that comes naturally to you or is it something that you make a point of infusing into the characters that you play?

Z: It’s funny.  I always hear the words ‘kick ass’ or ‘strong’ when I’m promoting the movie, but it never occurred to me, because I’m like, ‘you need to come to my house and meet my grandmother’.  You need to meet my neighbor that I just met that I’ve just known now for two years.  She’s a kick ass m########### and she happens to be a woman.  I’ve been surrounded my whole life by women who are overachievers because they have to be, because they want to be.  It’s like, at the end of the day, you close this door.  You may close that door, but I’m still going to achieve something because I have to!  I want to!  So, I never even find that in a woman (character on screen).  I just look at her and the position she has in the story.  I’m a very technical person sometimes.   I’m like: ‘okay, she’s here right now in the story’ and based on that and whatever lines or beats the writers give me, I kind of go: ‘oh no, wait a minute, yeah.  There’s no other way.  She does have to leave, she does have to take that step.  She has to save them.’  But when that doesn’t add up, that’s when you start to have a problem if you go: ‘what this represents is a real woman.’  What I play is not a kick ass woman. I’m playing a real f###### woman, because that’s what I am.

“Star Trek Beyond” is in theaters now.