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Zoe Saldana Tells R29 About Raising Her Children In A Corrupt System & #OscarsSoWhite

Photo: Vera Anderson/Getty Images Portrait.
As the female lead in three wildly successful action- and special-effects-heavy franchises (Avatar, Guardians Of The Galaxy, and the rebooted Star Trek series), Zoe Saldana has gotten used to being the only female actor on set for long stretches — but that doesn’t mean she likes it.

“I'd rather have a young, gorgeous, fucking perky titty girl actress, full of fucking piss and vinegar, right next to me trying to nail me every second she gets, especially when the men are around, than to just be by myself in a room filled full of men," Saldana told Refinery29 during an interview last week in Los Angeles to promote Star Trek Beyond, her third walk in Lieutenant Uhura’s moon boots.
"I’d rather have that catty competitive energy around me, because being the only female feels very lonely,” the 38-year-old admitted. “I don't care what men have to say in front or behind cameras. I'm bored half of the time as the only girl. I can say that freely, because if it was just a whole bunch of messy women, they’d be bored too.”
She didn’t always feel that way, though.

“Back [in the day], oh my God, it was the best [to be the lone actress]. I was like, 'I'm the only girl. Everyone pay attention to me,'" Saldana continued. "When you're young, you get really insecure when there are other women in the room, because we've been conditioned to believe that we're supposed to compete to the death and be against each other. We're just always tearing each other apart. I’m just not interested in that anymore.”

It is just one of the many revelations that has come with age and the realization that, now, 16 years after dancing her way into the public eye in Center Stage, she’s often the veteran on set. It is also just one of the many truthbombs Saldana dropped from the sofa of the Four Seasons hotel. She shrugs, “Another beautiful thing maturity gives to you is honesty."

There are so many terrible things about getting old. You forget words. Your knees hurt all the time for no reason...
"Yes! Truth!"

And gravity is your enemy. Nothing stays up anymore. Damn you, boobs!
"It’s my ass. Fuck."

But one of the great things is the wisdom that you know you've earned your seat at the table and you start to care far less about the trivial stuff and unimportant people’s opinions.
"When you're younger, you're so much more into pleasing others than pleasing yourself. And then, you eventually reach a certain place in your life and with your career that you just go, 'I don't care. I just don't care what you think. I'm just going to do it anyway.'

"Men don’t really have that struggle, because they have always been brothers. They've always been amazing colleagues, so whenever they feel intimidated, that's when they lean in. And they're generous with their information, with their space, with their knowledge, everything."
I would hope, given that this is the third time you have worked with this cast, that there is a mutual admiration and that you are treated as an equal. Is it different now versus on the first film?
"Yeah, it is. You know what to expect. It's safe. There's a mutual respect. There's also trust. There's less fear you’ll be criticised if you try something new. If anything, you're embraced for trying. You're supported and you're celebrated if it's good."

It must have been a nice change of pace with Sofia Boutella around so much as Jaylah.
"I appreciated the fact that Sofia was there. I really did. Our experiences, our common interests, our biology just naturally functions together; and every day I saw something about what she was doing, and I was just like, 'Oh, God. Yes, yes.' She was just this beautiful art piece in my museum of life at work that made me happy and proud to be a woman.

"So, I've been carrying that to every project that I've been doing after that. At Guardians of the Galaxy 2, I was really happy to see Karen [Gillan] again. And now, to have Pom [Klementieff] a part of our team, it's just like, 'Yes. Yes!' I'm making it my goal to reach out, to basically say, 'No cattiness. Let's just chill. Let's fucking burp and be ourselves and talk about life and what you are going after? Oh, you have to go on tape, because you still have to audition? I do, too.'

"I think it's so much better for us. I like knowing that I'm not the only female anymore. Because you're bored. You're like, 'Nobody will talk to me.' Thank God there was Anton."
I’m so sorry for your loss. All of my interactions with him were good ones and he always seemed like a bright soul. I’m sure it is hard to promote a movie you did with someone mere weeks after they passed away.
"It's bittersweet. A loss is a loss and you’ll grieve, especially when you loved and you respected that creature. We're all here, getting dressed up and forcing ourselves to smile sometimes. And at other times, we’re genuinely smiling because of him. We're proud of what he did.

"Anton was a very important key, because he was that little brother that kept us all together. He was like, 'Hey, guys, come on. Let's all hang out!' Sometimes, you would walk away feeling the youngest cat here is the smartest one. I have to honour his parents for that, because they really did an awesome job. It's a life cut too short and it's a life worth always remembering."

Does it discourage you from coming back for another sequel, because he can’t be there to play Chekov?
"I don't know if you've ever had loss on a deep, deep level. It's a pain that will never go away. You learn to tolerate it. The only perfect healer of pain is time. I don't think it will ever stop hurting, and I'm very grateful for that, because he's worth remembering. But I would come back, because I love being a part of something where the mission — to spread peace and unity — has been special and is going to live forever. I like to be immortalised in that way. And I would also come back for him because I know that he would have kept coming back until he was 70. He loves Star Trek." [She starts to tear up.]
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you cry.
"Grieving is just that. You're grieving one moment. Then, you're laughing. In the next, you're consumed by sadness. You just have to be present. We lost somebody very beautiful and very dear to us, so it's okay to grieve him. You have to allow yourself to grieve. I have to let myself be sad and let myself think about him. I feel like he deserves that. Everybody's been super-emotional. But every now and then, somebody will imitate his laugh and we'll start laughing like we can't even breathe because he was just...Anton."

Do you tweak the character for each edition or is she the same old Uhura?
"No. I have to give her something else. We're living through beautiful times as women. There's this unspoken word, this action. It's just like I'm not going to explain why, because I don't have to. We're taking our place. We're sitting in our positions quite nicely. We're not asking for permission. We're not needing the approval. We're not wanting to fight.

"I wanted Uhura then to have that. Now that [she and Spock] are coming into town and going to have some downtime, I think she also needed her space. They've been a unit for a long time. But he's also an authoritative figure. Maybe she wants to see what it's like to be on her own. Not because she wants to be with somebody else, but because she just wants to be one. I think that that's okay for women to want that and important for women to have that."
We are coming off the year of #Oscarssowhite. You, more than most, seem to have really been cast in one colourblind role after another. Have you struggled or ever been pigeonholed or marginalised?
"Of course, for every role I've booked, I've been turned down for three others that I really loved and wanted more, because the director or the producer wanted to go traditional. And that's so offensive, but I'm not going to waste my time trying to change other people. I'd rather live my life and knowing that, as a unit, if we're considered all units in this big bucket of life, then whatever I do and whatever I think and feel matters. It won't be on a larger scale, but I can only hope, if there are millions doing this, then that action will speak louder.
"I have no animosity over anybody that wants to discriminate. We're all victims of a bigger system, which is [filled with] ignorance and selfishness. We all know that it's wrong. The Academy basically represents Congress in a nation that basically represents every nation. And you're looking to discriminate somebody based on race, gender, religious preference, sexual preference. In order for you to realise that's happening, you have to also realise that if the system wasn't corrupt, everybody would have access to vote. And if people did have that right, then we would be voting for things that represent us more. Because we're all personally biased. The Academy is not balanced. As an Academy, you're the company, the institution that picks the movies that are sent out to voters and you pick the voters? What movies aren't you seeing that your filter is just completely unbalanced?

"#Oscarssowhite, that's just tacky complaining. If it really mattered to me what a group of high school rejects now in positions of power and abusing them, if it really mattered to get that stamp of approval, I think I would quit my job as an actor and find a way to get into the Academy — which I already am; I'm a voter — and into a position of power, so that I can change these laws.

"But I have bigger fish to fry. I have a bigger world to change beside Hollywood. It's much more important for me to raise my kids [twin toddlers, Cy and Bowie] not to become those people. The system's broken, but that system's a reflection of bigger systems that dictate our society, our nation, and they are broken too. In order for us to fix this system, we have to fix a bigger problem. It's our plumbing that's off."

What's next?
"I already finished By Night. Next, I go do a film called I Kill Giants. It is based on a graphic novel. It's an independent movie. The director's really great and this is his passion project. He's Scandinavian. We shoot in Ireland in September and I’ve never been.

"It's about this little girl that's coping with trying to process what's happening in her world. It's basically like My Life as a Dog, but it's this little girl. Her mum is dying of cancer and she doesn't know how to process, so she creates these giants. I play a counsellor that is aware and understands there's a problem. I'm trying to find a way to reach her, because she's in her warrior mode. It is a great story."
This summer, we're celebrating the biggest movie season of the year with a new series called Blockbust-HER. We'll be looking at everything film-related from the female perspective, interviewing major players in the industry and discussing where Hollywood is doing right by women and where (all too often) it is failing them. And now...let's go to the movies!