Zoe Saldana knows her priorities. "Please excuse me," she says politely, returning a moment later and explaining: "I had to finish blow-drying a friend's hair. I'm the stylist to everyone in my life," she laughs. "We are all fabulous women, and I'm so against anyone walking out the door not looking her hottest and best. Every woman should feel great about herself, no matter what, and we have to lead by example."
The actor, 36, certainly does her part. Known for her sophisticated red carpet style, Saldana plays strong women onscreen, including Lt. Uhura in Star Trek, the warrior princess Neytiri in Avatar, and the mysterious Gamora in the adaptation of Marvel Comics' Guardians of the Galaxy, opening nationwide in August.
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"That kind of character feels natural to me," says Saldana, who lives in Los Angeles with her artist husband, Marco Perego, who she married last year. "I've played women who are confused and struggle, but that damsel in distress, the one who can't do anything or unconditionally loves a man who doesn't care about her, that character is dead to me. I don't see it as a fantasy or appealing, and it's not an accurate portrayal of women."
Saldana's Childhood in the Dominican Republic
Saldana comes by her confidence naturally. The child of a Puerto Rican mother and Dominican father, Saldana and her two sisters, all born a year apart -- "we are spiritual triplets" -- lived first in New York City and then in the Dominican Republic, where they moved when she was 9 after her father died in a car accident. Her house was one of strong female role models.
"It is normal for me to fight for what I believe in, normal for me to be opinionated," she says. "My sisters and I are very strong-minded. We come from a very conservative Caribbean Latin culture, and we were raised by my great-grandmother and grandmother when my mother was away because she was working to support us. But the minute they would say something about how we had to learn to please a man, all we had to do was call my mother and she would get on the phone with them. She raised us to be comfortable saying no."
"No" is not a word she's heard very often. After studying ballet in the Dominican Republic, she moved back to the United States at age 17 with an acting career in mind, quickly winning the role of an aspiring ballet dancer in 2000's teen drama film Center Stage. Parts followed in movies such as the box-office smash Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and Steven Spielberg's The Terminal. By 2009, Saldana's name was engraved on the A-list, thanks to her role in Star Trek (which she reprised in the 2013 sequel) and her unforgettable turn in James Cameron's Oscar-winning Avatar.