In 2004 Zoe Saldana played a Trekkie in Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal and just a few year’s later she walked onto the bridge of the USS Enterprise as the new Uhura. In our exclusive interview with the actress we talk about that journey, about her being a sci-fi fan, and even about clothes. We also get into one of the more surprising elements of her Uhura. [interview contains SPOILERS]
Interview with Zoe Saldana
TrekMovie: I understand your introduction to Star Trek was through Steven Spielberg, playing a Trekkie in The Terminal, and he had to give you a little background on what it means to be a Trekkie?
Saldana: I didn’t even know what the word ‘Trekkie’ meant. So I didn’t know what conventions were. I knew of Star Trek, but not extensively. So part of doing my research to have the feel to be a Trekkie and to go to these conventions, I saw a couple of the episodes and I saw Trekkies 1 and 2, and I remember watching it and the people around me were sort of laughing at everything and I felt so overwhelmed and I felt so happy that I remember thinking ‘I want to be like that, I want to be so passionate about something that I incorporate it in my every day life and it is the reason I wake up and it fulfills me.’ So it was through the fans that I became very very curious. What is it about this show and these characters and these stories that drew people to keep it alive after forty some years after only a few seasons?
TrekMovie: Steven came to the set of Star Trek, so what was that like?
Saldana: Oh my god! He totally flaunted that he was the one that taught me to do [the Vulcan salute]. Because he really did. It took a little bit for me.
Video clips of Saldana as a Trekkie from "The Terminal"
(video put together when TrekMovie was first to report Saldana was in talks to play Uhura)
TrekMovie: You talk about being passionate, what would you consider yourself passionate about? Maybe fashion?
Saldana: I love fashion and am very passionate about it, but I am mostly passionate about what I do as an actor. I love being able to tell stories. The participation of storytelling is what keeps me obsessed. I guess I am a Trekkie for movies.
TrekMovie: What are some of your favorite movies?
Saldana: Blade Runner. I grew up in a sci-fi environment and am a huge sci-fi fanatic so Ripley [Alien] and Sarah Connor [Terminator] are some of my favorite characters of all time. I am driven toward women who are very strong and commanding and kick alien ass and all that stuff, and also kiss aliens. I would say Blade Runner, and The Hunger, which is one of Tony Scott’s first films. I saw it when I was very young, I think I saw it when I was nine or ten, I fell completely in love with the movie. It felt completely dark and hopeless because these people were eternally condemned and unable to love. And Blade Runner, I knew watching Blade Runner, and Dune, that I wasn’t old enough to understand the concept. But the fact that I was to grow older and be able to one day look at it and go ‘I get this now’ was so exciting to me at the age of five.
TrekMovie: You mention kissing aliens, so I can’t help but bring up something. I would say as a Trekkie it was the most surprising thing about this film. Were you nervous about the love connection with Spock and tell me how you prepared for it.
Saldana: I thought JJ [Abrams] was out of his mind when he and Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman decided to take that route. My concerns was what effect it was going to have on the fan community and whether or not it was going to go according to what they had known for so long. But at the same time there was no way to disprove that something like that had taken place before on the Enterprise. So after I gave myself that permission I allowed myself to go back to the script and read the story and focus on these characters and their journey and it made perfect sense to me. He is half human, half Vulcan, at some point if he was only going to be a Vulcan man, then why even make him half human. You are constantly waiting for him to break. It is that battle that makes Spock who he is and connects Spock to the beautiful friendship he has with Kirk and keeps him connected on a sensitive level when it comes to life. And I felt Uhura was a very commanding and — Nichelle [Nichol]’s Uhura was just so sexy and she always had things together and she had a swagger to her that was absolutely sensuous but confident. And she had already gotten there. I couldn’t necessarily start here there because there would be no journey for her. She was definitely very determined and a very strong woman and really wanted to be on that Enterprise and be the xenolinguistics expert since she was like five years old. So who else but Spock for her to look up to and have an infatuation with, more than Kirk.
Saldana was concerned over how fans would react to the Uhura/Spock relationship
TrekMovie: Did you talk to Nichelle about the love interest?
Saldana: I did not. I was so nervous to meet her.
TrekMovie: As someone so interested in fashion, you got to wear a number of outfits in the movie, what did you think of the wardrobe and [costume designer] Michael Kaplan’s work?
Saldana: Oh, Michael Kaplan is fantastic! I thought it was incredibly witty on his behalf, and JJ, to keep some essence of the 60s. My mom from remembers watching Star Trek when she was a girl and says not only was it special on so many levels, but it was trendy. Like what she wore was hot, from her eyelashes, to the way she styled her hair, to those little mini skirts. And that kind of defines it. So when you think of the Enterprise, you have an overall essence of what it is that they used to wear and the colors are very vibrant. Had they walked away from that, I think it would have been harder for us psychologically to immediately connect.
TrekMovie: OK, so here is a really nerdy question. How can you tell what rank you are and the other women wearing the short sleeve uniforms?
Saldana: Its not the color?
TrekMovie: Actually that is the division you work in. The rank is the braid on the long sleeves, those stripes.
Saldana: Oh god that is a good observation. I am going to ask Michael Kaplan "where was my rank?"
Saldana as Uhura hopes Kirk can handle being Captain, but how do we know what rank she is?
Up Next – TrekMovie talks to Cho
Next up in our final pre-movie series of interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek will be John Cho talking about getting out of the chair and how I (in a small way) may be responsible for getting him the job of Sulu.
Other final pre-movie exclusive interviews at TrekMovie: