LONDON - Standing in the costume department for Marvel's wild new science-fiction action-comedy adventure space opera whatever you want to call it, "Guardians Of The Galaxy," I was struck by just how singular the designs were for the wardrobe worn by Gamora, a dangerous new character played by Zoe Saldana.
There was a decidedly punk edge to the drawings, but they were also gorgeous, like something you'd see for a runway show. Saldana is stunning in person, ethereal and delicate and yet with this sort of lacerating edge that she seems perfectly capable of laying down verbally. You get the sense she chews on her words and really thinks about what she's saying to you during an interview. I don't think she takes it lightly, and part of what she considers is how her physical appearance is part of the brand she's built as an actress.
We asked her about the development of the particular shade of green of her skin in the film. After all, when you look at her character, that's the first thought: green. There are all sorts of cool details to the Gamora design, but first and foremost… green. And in Saldana's case, she has experience with this, having been blue for "Avatar," although that was in performance capture and not in actual make-up. We asked how involved she was in finding that particular hue, or if it was decided before she showed up.
"We had maybe seven or eight camera tests that we had to do. When it came to, you know, all the characters and for mine specifically, [the question] was how alien do we want Gamora to look? What I was thinking was she just needs to be pretty…"
As she said that, she smiled, but it was not like she was kidding, but more like she was surprised she was starting the interview at this degree of candidness. "That’s usually a thing that I don’t think about with other characters that I play, but for some reason because I was gonna be green… and because I was gonna be the lead girl… I just wanted teenage boys to find me attractive. I don’t know why."
Everyone laughed, and Saldana kept that same smile in place as she continued. "I really was… while we were testing, that’s where I was coming from. Everybody else was just about context. Do we dye the hair? Wig, no wig? What color hair? How long is it? I'm like… pretty. Teenage boys, please. We gotta get their vote."
Here's where the laughs stopped, though, because Saldana continued, "I mean, because I'm older… and you kind of go, 'Am I losing my sex appeal?' When you’re green for four months, it definitely, you know, it moves you a bit and you do, you do kind of wobble, going, 'Oh, okay, what is it? What is beautiful?' Then, finally, you start to find your character really appealing and very beautiful in how different she looks because you get used to it."
Look, my son Toshi just turned nine. When the "Columbiana" junket happened in LA, I took him with me to do the interviews. He was a huge fan of both "Star Trek" films, and "Avatar," and he expressly told me he wanted to come along so he could meet her. I'm not even sure he knew why he felt that way. When we walked in to do the interview, I introduced him, and she stood up to shake his hand. He went a startling shade of crimson, immediately, head to toe, and stayed beet-red until we left the room six minutes later. He never said a word. I'm not entirely sure he ever even blinked.
Which is to say, Zoe Saldana really doesn't have anything to worry about.
Besides, what makes her really interesting is the way she's made choices in these films, the very distinct humanity she brings to the roles. Not everyone would be able to play a character like Gamora after playing Neytiri in "Avatar," especially knowing that she's going back to do it again soon. Not everyone would want to. There's probably some legitimate reason to worry about being put in a box in terms of what other roles she's offered, except she's working non-stop right now, and doing a lot of different things. "To me, it would be no different of a concern than Cate Blanchett or Keira Knightley need to have because they primarily do period pieces. I feel like just because I’ve done a film that is considered… science fiction, then, you know, then so be it, I guess. As an artist, I like working with filmmakers that have the balls to imagine the unimaginable. Those are the radicals that I identify with and I grew up in a household where there [were] a lot of stories that were placed in unconventional places. I found it, I found the escape to be much more rewarding, at least for me. Now, on the basis of being a woman, by playing an alien I avoid playing someone’s girlfriend here on Earth, ‘cause that’s a bit of a canker sore."
Smile still firmly in place.