Zoe Saldana's no stranger to action films with roles in Avatar and Losers under her belt, but with Colombiana - the action thriller from producer Luc Besson - she takes on the lead character in a film that rests squarely on her shoulders. Saldana plays Cataleya, a female assassin who's seeking revenge for the murder of her family, and in a press conference in LA to discuss her starring role, Saldana explained the appeal of taking on another physically demanding project. Saldana also talked about her research process and her favorite weapon in the film.
Zoe Saldana Colombiana Press Conference
Did you have a lot of offers for tough action heroines after doing Avatar?
Zoe Saldana: "Actually, [there were], but this one came in the Luc Besson package. If there’s anything that I’ve always said about myself is that that to me it’s much more important for me to get to work with filmmakers that I’ve grown up loving and admiring. Luc Besson is definitely one of the names that was in my bucket list, especially for the iconic femme fatale characters that he’s created because they’re strong on the exterior but they’re so fragile and broken on the inside. I just thought that was such a beautiful comparison of someone that lives in complete turmoil and conflict. There were offers, but Luc Besson took priority."
What was your favorite weapon and how long did it take you to learn it?
Zoe Saldana: "I'm a 45 myself - 22 is too wimpy for me. I like the 9. It's something that I can maneuver and because I have very small wrists, it's a weight that I can sustain and the impact won't hurt me in my joints."
Were there any roles you looked to for inspiration on this film, either other Luc Besson roles or from other filmmakers?
Zoe Saldana: "Besides his films that I knew by heart - I didn't even need to see those - I re-read the The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo so that I could understand what it's like to have undergone such traumatic experiences in your life, and fall like in this spell where you create an alternate personality where you're like this warrior or this punisher, you know? I was watching a lot of animal behavior because, to me, whenever she wasn't playing any of her roles to kill her targets, whenever she was in the comforts of her house, she was such an omega wolf, such an outcast. But when she was killing, she was such a snake that you wouldn't even want her around you. There were so many things that I needed to sort of take into consideration in order to create Cataleya and to feel like I was capturing her, not only physically but mentally."
How much of a balance was it to give her a believability in that she can handle the action and handle herself, but would be squaring off against guys who have more weight or physical leverage?
Zoe Saldana: "I've done enough research and I know enough women that whether they weigh like I do or they're just a couple pounds either lighter or heavier than I am, you just need to not blink when they're around because they can kill you. So I don't believe that was something we should always consider. I think that we're having a hard time distinguishing the fact that as men, because we have mothers, because we have sisters, men can not deal with the reality of a woman getting hurt. Us as women, we know that we have the capability of hurting anything, so to me that's the difference. So, fighting, I didn't want Luc Besson and Olivier to make her look bad-ass. I wanted her to be what she is: she's an assassin."
"I've been trained by people who were in the military - Marines - from Avatar to Losers to now Colombiana and they don't see gender when they see a threat across from them that could possibly kill them. They see a threat, and if they have to kill this woman, this man, or even a person that appears to be much, much younger than them, they have to do it. So I would say watch out whenever you see a skinny girl and she's had any kind of military training, don't blink. They can f--king kill you."
How much did you do your own stunts?
Zoe Saldana: "There were stunt doubles. There were scenes in Mexico we had to shoot outside of the building, because it's a liability - even if I was wired - they were not going to have me jump off the building. I would have wanted to, trust me, but it can't be possible."
How important was it to you as an actress to lay out a reason your character's doing this?
Zoe Saldana: "It was everything. It just made her existence meaningful. Even if it was just in her mind, it was meaningful - and that's how you have a story. If she was just a killer because she had nothing else to do when she didn't make the cheerleading squad, then I say, 'By all means, go watch the other movie across the hall.' But what she had witnessed when she was nine, what was taken from her was so traumatic that whether you saw it physically or you just saw it through Amandla Stenberg [eyes]. Just to see it through her eyes...we're adults [and] you just immediately side with her. You just want her to get whatever it is that she thinks that she needs."
Was the dance you do when you come home to your apartment in the script, or did you bring that to the film?
Zoe Saldana: "That dance moment was Olivier and I that really wanted to incorporate that. When someone’s alone in the privacy of their home, you’re raw. You’re being yourself and to see her throughout the first [part of the movie], she barely speaks as a little girl. Then barely speaks the first time you see her in that car scene and then she goes to jail, just very little words here and there. She’s playing a character, so once you see her come home and she knows that everything is fine, she’s checked every single corner, she unwinds."
"There was a mandala. That was what we wanted to create near that wall. She goes up to that mandala thing. It’s sort of like a map that she’s had but she doesn’t want to write a map because if anybody were to break in, they’d immediately know what her next step is. So she just creates it into a mandala, something that keeps going round and round and hopefully she’ll get to the center one day. So those were all things that Olivier and I just did it, whether people catch it or not, we still did it for us."
What does it mean to you to be the face and the name on the poster for the first time in your career?
Zoe Saldana: "It feels good, but for some reason I have a chip that maybe I work this way so that I can protect myself, I don’t really think about things that way. I just want to be a part of great stories, whether I’m part of an amazing ensemble cast or I’m leading it or the antagonist or whatever. I just want to be part of great stories that are told and for them to be relevant. So this one definitely would have a lot of pressure. I feel like everybody that is a number one on the call sheet feels a pressure, but you can’t let that be the force that guides you."
How often does James Cameron talk to you about his ideas for the next two Avatars?
Zoe Saldana: "Last time I saw him was a couple months ago for dinner and he seems super excited. I think he’s much more concerned to have Sigourney [Weaver], Sam [Worthington] and I read it once it’s done because he wants to hear our thoughts. I already know I’m going to love it, it’s going to be beautiful, it’s going to be great, but he’s excited. He just wants to get the script to where it needs to be before he can say, 'Okay, this is worthy of shooting.' He’s such a perfectionist. That’s the good thing."
* * * * * * *
Colombiana hits theaters on August 26, 2011.