Crafted in the vein of La Femme Nikita and The Fifth Element comes Colombiana, the type of rich, moving story lead by a heroine that still remains rare in action movies. Zoe Saldana embraces her first lead role playing a Latina in yet another physically demanding project (you'll remember her kicking butt in Avatar, Star Trek and The Losers) as Cataleya, a young woman who, after witnessing her parents’ murder as a child in Bogota, grows up to be an assassin bent on revenge. As she commits vigilante murders, her only goal is to kill those responsible for her parents' death. The film was produced and written by Luc Besson, notorious for featuring powerful but emotionally damaged women--and Cataleya is no exception.
The Dominican-Puerto Rican star spoke with Movies.com about her inherent attraction to lethal characters, the badass women in Hollywood who have influenced her career, and why she’s feeling a bit nervous about the release of Colombiana.
Movies.com: It’s fascinating to watch you kick butt in this film. How long was your training process?
Zoe Saldana: Not long--it was just two months before we started shooting. I usually like to have a lot more time. I don’t like to force my body into something and shock it. I like going through a gradual process that way it’s more natural.
Movies.com: You seem to always go for the "badass" characters. Is that how you see the women you’ve portrayed?
Saldana: I don’t see these characters as badass. I see these characters as physically stealthy but internally it’s always either out of fear, insecurity, loss or pain. They cover all those emotions with an exterior that is agile.
Maybe…it’s because they remind me a lot of me in a very subconscious way. I don’t know. There is no such thing as a human being that can just be "badass." Cataleya was not immune to that; she lived constantly mourning and she was so alone. It was consuming her so much that she lost track, concentration, and people continued to get hurt. I saw somebody that was thinking by getting these men back she was going to then be OK--and it wasn’t true.
Movies.com: As you began to move forward with the project and immerse yourself in the world of Cataleya, what did you fall in love with?
Saldana: What I loved the most about this movie was the fact that Luc Besson, whose been known for creating roles where women play very androgynous characters, created Cataleya, who is no different from the La Femme Nikita, Mathilda [Leon] and Leeloo [The Fifth Element]. They’re lethal on the exterior but on the inside they are so frail and they live such sad and solitary lives. This movie will have the action that everybody wants; it will not compromise the level of violence that a film about revenge would have just because it’s seen through the eyes of a female, but it also has a lot of heart.
Movies.com: It’s not often that you see a Latina playing the lead role in an action film. Is there an added pressure for it to be a success?
Saldana: I’m happy that this is an action movie that has a woman as the lead. It’s really major. I usually never get nervous and I always have hope that people will receive well whatever it is that I am a part of but for some reason with this movie I am a little nervous. It means so much to be as a person of Latin descent that this film gets acknowledged and seen because that will mean studios will finally see that it’s something worth investing in. Hopefully they’ll say, “We can continue to invest in women of any ethnicity.”
Movies.com: Are you surprised when people are stunned to learn that you’re Latina?
Saldana: Not surprised and it’s like why would they? I can’t expect the world to not know that I’m Latina. I’m an American woman therefore I am equal to anybody and anything, not more and not less.
Yes, you will still encounter ignorance but don’t always assume that the ignorance you’re encountering is only going to be bad. Sometimes people are ignorant because they simply don’t know about our culture. They might be living next door to [Latinos] but they still don’t know that there is a difference between Mexico and Costa Rica—they’re two different countries, food is different, the way they speak their Spanish is different, they’re heritage is different, they’re composition is different.
[On the other hand] when you watch TV in Latin America all you see is people of light skin and you think immediately that in that country you’ll only find people of light skin. When you look at the big picture you realize they only make up 5% and the rest of the population looks very different. I’m not going to hold anyone responsible but I am going to say that I don’t lose hope that one day my culture, my Latino culture will learn to accept themselves and not be so ashamed of their other compositions. And will learn to embrace their Afro heritage, their indigenous heritage as much as they embrace their Spanish heritage.
Movies.com: Do you consider yourself a role model?
Saldana: I really hope that I inspire women and not just of a specific demographic, just women, period. [Inspire them] to be more physical and to see themselves in more than in just fragile or nurturing roles because that’s a given, that’s in our anatomy. I want women to see themselves in roles that are predominantly designed or made for men. In the same way that I would love to see men play more vulnerable roles that way they won’t feel so much pressure to always over-perform. That’s why you hear so many sad cases of husbands that the moment they lose everything and they’re going through a financial rut they commit suicide.
Movies.com: Who are the "badass" women that have influenced your life or performances?
Saldana: Sigourney Weaver, who can hold a gun the same way she can hold a stage. Linda Hamilton, when she played Sarah Connor, I was so inspired. I was such a little girl when I saw Terminator. Angelina Jolie, obviously. Jessica Biel, who is such a beautiful woman and contemporary, she really likes characters that are androgynous and if they’re not written that way she’ll find a way to incorporate that. And Pam Grier, who was pretty awesome before I was born, I’ve been told. Also, Uma Thurman. I’m really inspired by women who can play amazing characters and be physical. Charlize Theron can also do that.
Movies.com: Michelle Rodriguez comes to mind.
Saldana: Michelle is my girl. If anything I was inspired by Michelle’s style for this character, Cataleya. The character wears a lot of leather and tank tops but it’s still sexy in a very feminine way.
PHOTOS: Check out more of our favorite "Badass Latinas"