With Avatar (2009), Avengers: Endgame (2019) and Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) sitting snug as the three highest-grossing blockbusters of all time, Zoe Saldana – the only actor to star in all of the above – feels (as she bloody well should) fierce. “When you say it like that, a little fierce!” the star behind Gamora and Neytiri tells GAY TIMES. “But, I still have that kind of, ‘Is this real? Is this really happening?'”
As well as the colourful, aforementioned ass-kickers, Saldana’s roles in Star Trek (2009), The Losers (2010), Colombiana (2011) and The Adam Project (2022) have solidified her status as, arguably, the 21st century’s most prominent action heroine. (Who else, honestly?) Her new espionage thriller series Special Opps: Lioness, from Paramount Plus, carries on that legacy with Saldana stepping into the role of a CIA officer who’s tasked with befriending the daughter of a suspected terrorist.
The series is dark and moody – because, well, terrorism – but we had a lot of fun with Saldana as she discussed her “special credit” within the LGBTQ+ community, whether she’d star in the much-rumoured female version of The Expendables and how her Crossroads co-star Britney Spears inspired her to “remain grounded”.
Zoe, first of all, I wanna congratulate you for being the only actor in the top three highest grossing films of all time… You feel fierce, don’t you?
Thank you. When you say it like that, a little fierce! I feel a little fierce. But, I still have that kind of, ‘Is this real? Is this really happening?’
If I were you, it’d be the first thing I’d say when I meet people, ‘Did you know…’
How fierce you are! I haven’t started telling my kids that…
They don’t know?
Well, the era of progressive parenting is, ‘You’re smart. You’re strong. You’re noble.’ I’m like, ‘You know what? You’re fierce. You’re fire.’
Yes! With an achievement like that, scream and shout about it Zoe.
You’re right! But you know, I do feel that it is not bad for a girl from Queens. So, there are moments in which I do pinch myself and moments where I’m patting myself. It’s been a lot of work. It’s not like I just wake up and luck drops at my door, you know?
Well, let’s get you in number four and five of the top highest-grossing films of all time, yeah? Let’s talk Special Opps: Lioness and Joe. What do you love about this character?
I love that she’s really resilient, that you don’t really know what she’s thinking. Though you fear for her, she can still carry a heavier load. Like, she keeps loading up those logs on her shoulders. She can take it. I think it’s important that we see these accurate portrayals of women. Women are strong because of the capabilities that they have to just undertake and problem solve, and take care of situations. Joe is like that. But, it’s not easy for Joe. What’s difficult for her is that she cannot talk to anybody about how afraid she is, or how she tired she is, or how hurt she is, because she’s created an ecosystem that depends greatly on her strength and responsibility. It’s biting her in the ass.
You’re known for playing badass characters from Catelyna (Colombiana) to Nyota (Star Trek), Neytiri (Avatar) to Gamora (Guardians of the Galaxy). Now, Joe in Special Opps: Lioness. I have to ask, and you may not be able to answer, but do you have a favourite?
Do I have a favourite? They each have something special, whether I saw it in the moment or saw it through other people’s eyes by living vicariously through them. For instance, Neytiri felt like it was my cherry. It was everything that I was working hard for and it happened too early in my life. I thought, from what I had been told, you need to put in a lot of effort for a certain amount of time. I booked Avatar six years after I did Center Stage, and up until that moment, I was working diligently. It wasn’t great all the time but it happened really quickly in my eyes. It was special. Colombiana was amazing because I was the lead! I wanted to experiment and see whether or not I had it in me, as an actor, to carry out a whole story and if audiences were going to receive it well. They did, it became a little culty thing that I’m really proud of. And Guardians, it was a decision based on the fact that I had a phone call with James Gunn and he was just… He was fresh, his enthusiasm and his confidence. So, every film has something special. This one, in particular, it was Taylor Sheridan and Nicole Kidman! Taylor never once created a scene where a female has to argue with a man as to why she has a seat at the table, and he did not create a stereotypical male that is spending all his time just putting a woman down. Everybody is working together – and against each other – to get their missions accomplished.
Catelyna has a special place in my heart. Gays are obsessed with female warriors, and because you have played countless of them, you have a big following in the community. I assume you’re aware of this?
No, but thank you! I think that, because of my background as a dancer, and working with Britney Spears in Crossroads warranted me some kind of special credit in the gay community. It makes me so happy that I am accepted.
I’m glad you brought up Crossroads. You’re speaking with GAY TIMES ‘ere, so we have to discuss. That film has endured time and space as a cult classic. It’s 21 years old this year, so I wanted to ask what your fondest memories were from filming?
It was a girl’s club. Tamra Davis, our director, Shona Rimes, our writer, there was a female producer and the whole cast – besides Anson Mount. All this girl energy was amazing. Britney was the biggest artist at that time. Yet, when you were sharing space with her in the makeup trailer, she was reading The Four Agreements and so soft-spoken. She had this cute Southern accent. She was just a regular girl that really wanted to do a good job, was always singing, was in love with her relationship at that time and loved her family and little sister. I remember walking away from that experience thinking, ‘Wow, if she’s there and she’s unfazed by all of this, then I need to remember to always remain grounded.’
Fuck going back to work, I’m off to rewatch Crossroads.
You have to! We have to love Britney forever.
Last question: a female version of The Expendables has been rumoured for a long time. I assume you’re in because we cannot have a female version without Zoe Saldana. Theoretically, if it did go ahead, what other actresses would you like to be part of it?
Oh my god. Okay. Rosario [Dawson], America [Ferrera], Margot [Robbie], Brie [Larson]. Who else? Eva Green, Monica Belluci… I can keep going, man. I want all ages! Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep. C’mon, man. I’m gonna throw it all out there. Olivia Goncalves, who played in the show that we produced for HBO Max, Gordita Chronicles. She’s only 13 but I think that, by the time we get to do it, she’ll be old enough to hold a gun on set. I admire women. I look up to women. I follow women. I learn from them. I try to guide them, as well, for those that want to be guided. So yeah, I can keep going.
Men are cancelled. The gays can stay!
Always! Gays are always invited.
We’re gonna chat again when The Expendables, whatever they call it, is out in… two-to-three years? It’ll happen.
In 2031, when I’m 53.
Ooh which Avatar will it be then?
Special Opps: Lioness is now streaming on Paramount Plus.