Los Angeles (AFP) – She is emerging as the go-to star for big budget action blockbusters, knocking human and alien heads together in “Avatar,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Star Trek.”
But 38-year-old US actress Zoe Saldana isn’t averse to giving her real-life adversaries a kicking either, with “Star Trek” grandee George Takei and English “James Bond” novelist Anthony Horowitz the latest in her firing line.
Takei — in the headlines last week for criticizing the upcoming “Star Trek Beyond” for giving his old character Hikaru Sulu a gay back story — ought to get out more, according to Saldana.
“I think that he’s still too personally attached to this character that he created and I think that he needs to find that line between his personal life and this character,” she told AFP ahead of the movie’s July 22 US release.
Openly-gay Takei took to Facebook on Wednesday to say that while he was “delighted” with the idea of LGBT characters in “Star Trek,” he didn’t think writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung should “tinker with an existing character.”
Pegg, along with current Sulu actor John Cho and other cast members have defended the decision, but have been less forthright in their responses to Takei’s criticisms than Saldana, who suggested she found them insulting.
“Maybe that’s not the way (Takei) played him, but that’s the way we decided to go,” the actress, who took on the role of Nyota Uhura from series original Nichelle Nichols, told AFP.
“It is an alternate universe and maybe Uhura is gay too and that’s why her and Spock maybe may not work. Is Nichelle Nichols going to come and insult the whole franchise?”
‘I am black’
Saldana, born in the United States to Puerto Rican and Dominican parents, grew up in New York before moving to the Dominican Republic at the age of 10 when her father was killed in a car crash.
Although ballet was her first love, she got into acting on her return to the US as a teenager and began bagging TV roles by the late 1990s.
She appeared in more than a dozen films over the following decade, including “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” in 2003 and, fittingly, as a “Star Trek” fan in Steven Spielberg’s “The Terminal” in 2004.
Her big break came, though, in the 2009 movie reboot of the “Star Trek” film series by J.J. Abrams.
She has since been exploring the far reaches of the universe as blue-skinned Na’vi heroine Neytiri in James Cameron’s “Avatar” (also 2009) and green alien assassin Gamora in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
It was another kind of skin tone alteration that caused her the most controversy, when she became embroiled in a “blacking up” scandal earlier this year for her portrayal of African American singer Nina Simone.
“There’s no one way to be black,” the mother of 20-month-old twin boys told Allure magazine in response to the criticism that she had darkened her skin and worn facial prosthetics in the widely-panned “Nina.”
“I’m black the way I know how to be. You have no idea who I am. I am black. I’m raising black men. Don’t you ever think you can look at me and address me with such disdain.”
‘No more space’
In fact, Saldana has spoken frequently about prejudice in Hollywood, whether it be the backlash against the gay Sulu storyline, sexism, ageism or racism.
“Star Trek Beyond” is Saldana’s third film with her friend Idris Elba, who found himself at the center of a controversy last year when new James Bond novelist Anthony Horowitz described the actor as “too street” to play the spy.
Saldana brings up the episode unprompted as she is singing Elba’s praises, her expression darkening and her contagious smile contorting suddenly into a defiant sneer as she lets off a volley of one-syllable words you’d never hear Uhura use.
“What kind of ignorant comment to make is that? Just say ‘I don’t see James Bond as a black man.’ I would respect that more than hiding behind some cowardly, stupid answer,” Saldana said.
“Star Trek Beyond,” a swash-buckling return to the knockabout fun of the first of the new films, looks likely to enjoy a generous reception from the critics, who gave a press screening in LA this week to an enthusiastic ovation.
With the “Guardians of the Galaxy” sequel coming in 2017 and the announcement of a new “Avatar” movie, it seems Saldana’s place in the stratosphere is safe for the foreseeable future.
“Hopefully that will be enough space for me for now. No more space,” she said.