On the eve of Avatar: The Way of Water, one of the most-anticipated sequels in film history, Zoe Saldana is a woman with a lot of work to do.
Not only is the 44-year-old acting in what may be the most lucrative franchise in history, she’s also taken time to redress her perspective over the male/female divide and what it means to be strong.
As RSNG discovers, the results are illuminating.
RSNG The Avatar project extends from Avatar 2 to Avatar 5… As an actor, how do you get your head around that?
ZOE SALDANA, ACTOR “The project is huge, but it has to be. You have a film that took $3 billion at the box office, and yet we are 13 years on. Perhaps it’s only right we’re getting as many follow-ups done, if it’s taken us this long up until now!”
**RSNG At 190 minutes, what is left for the Avatar sequels that come after The Way of Water?
ZOE SALDANA “All will be revealed – those tiresome words, I know!”
I was very nervous because sequels can be dangerous – we all were feeling the pressure
RSNG Obviously when sequels are mentioned the first thing people think about is risk. Do you feel this?
ZOE SALDANA “I was very nervous. I was nervous because sequels can be dangerous. And we all were feeling the pressure. I think the first couple of days, we all had moments of, ‘can we do this again?’ ‘What was the secret ingredient? Do you know, does anyone? Should we just leave it there, not mess with it?’ There were a lot of nerves. It has been a long while.
“When something hits so well, how can you go better? Could we go better? That was scary. This danger of throwing away what we had just for another role of the dice… or another few rolls of the dice. The stakes were huge. Are huge.
“Once we were in it, all that fear melted away. Jim [director James Cameron] was in charge and his vision was present and trustworthy and I just hopped on the ride and went with it. So it was very different from the first. Way different. Different planet different.”
RSNG But you’re convinced fans will love the follow-up?
ZOE SALDANA “The key word here is ‘more’… which is saying something because there was a lot in there to begin with. We know the characters’ personalities so much more; we can grow with them. There’s more love, more affection. More tears. Just everything heightened and bettered.
“I didn’t know this was possible because the first was such a beautiful, perfect package.”
RSNG We seem to be in a different era of film compared to how the world was back in 2009 with the first Avatar. Is that a threat to the integrity of the Avatar concept, or an opportunity?
ZOE SALDANA “It’s definitely an opportunity. A new generation of filmgoers has moved into the mix, but we still retain the curiosity and interest of the millions of people who went out to watch it first time around.
“I can’t think of many film series with 13 years between the first and second, but it's been pushed back a lot because of the time it takes to write it.
“Obviously, the continuation of this story is here and, knowing Jim, he's such a respectful storyteller, so you walk a very fine line when it comes to manipulating a story because you are so attached to it.
“I also think Jim needed for his sake to take time off because for all of us the first film may have been two years in the making, but for him it was more than 10 years. And now these next movies will be another 10. That’s a huge commitment to someone’s professional life.”
RSNG How does he seem to be doing?
ZOE SALDANA “He has put himself back in a very beautiful place in order to be able to create these new stories, but also an intense place because he's locking everything in.
“All I can say to you is, you know, fabulous things are worth the wait, and knowing what Jim is capable of, he is worth the wait. He loves this story, he loves these characters but most of all, he adores the fans. He does it for them and wants to deliver the absolute utmost to them. I wanted to go back to Pandora real bad.”
RSNG Why is Avatar such a big thing for you amongst so many other major franchises?
ZOE SALDANA “Avatar will always be special because we created Avatar. You create a history for them, you create a culture, and I was there from inception.”
RSNG Is it true there were 3.30am make-up starts?
ZOE SALDANA “Yes. It was a little painful to shoot. All the green makeup and the prosthetics and having to get up at 3:30am for four-hour make-up sessions every day for six days a week for months on end is an ordeal.”
I can dish it out and look convincing if I'm punching out the bad guys or shooting a gun
RSNG Do you like to be physical in films?
ZOE SALDANA “Having studied dance for so many years, I enjoy getting a chance to show that I can do a lot of stunts and be very physical. That's a big advantage of mine, where I can dish it out and look convincing if I'm punching out the bad guys or shooting a gun.
“I was raised in a family where women are expected to carry a lot of weight and where we get to run the household and take charge of things. I have an attitude where I feel I'm very much in charge of my life and I feel free and uninhibited.
“That said, strength comes in many forms. Strength comes in quietness; strength comes in physiological resilience. I’ll always love to kick ass, that will never change… but there can be varying shades.”
RSNG In the past you’ve been criticized for being outspoken. Do you regret some of the things you’ve stood up to talk about?
ZOE SALDANA “I don't care what other people think. I always say what I think. I hate the idea of putting on an act when I'm talking about myself doing press. There's enough of that in this business and I don't need to be part of that s--t...
“I think that the audience will give you credit for not being afraid to say what's really on your mind instead of trying to be politically correct.”
RSNG You are a big advocate for women but have softened your approach of late – why?
ZOE SALDANA “My attitude has done a total one eighty when it comes to the choices that I make and the change in my life, with my sons, my husband, has something to do with it. In reality I’m surrounded by the greatest men. I’m in a houseful of men, which is the complete opposite to my upbringing, all females. I feel like I’m learning so much about men now that I never knew before being surrounded by them.
“My husband’s approach and outlook on life is so beautiful and worldly and not sexist in the least, the total opposite. My boys are my light.
“Before, I think my own approach came from my uncomfortableness in a way… always this need to be better than a man. I felt I always needed to beat them, and that bred this desire to be strong and aggressive – strong, to me, was aggressive and intense.
“Now I’ve had a few years of raising men, all men, which I never really considered would happen, with a wonderful man. It’s made me readdress my perspective, that perhaps strength doesn’t always have to be so emotionally and physically forceful.”
WHAT NEXT? Read how Brie Larsen got strong to return to her role as Captain Marvel in this exclusive RSNG.com interview.