zoe saldana guardians of the galaxyZoe Saldana is one of the most stunningly beautiful women in the world, full of grace and poise and an intelligence that comes across as both toughly streetwise and deeply philosophical. She also has an uncanny ability to disguise and mask the physical aspects of this beauty under an array of prosthetics, make-up effects, or, in the case of James Cameron's "Avatar" (and the three sequels which are currently in various stages of pre-production) be swapped out wholly for a computer-animated version of herself.

When we spoke to Saldana last year on the set of Disney's "Guardians of the Galaxy" (out August 1), we weren't talking to Saldana. Not really. We were actually speaking to Gamora (see photo above, right), an alien warrior with green skin and cheekbones that jut out in ways that Saldana's normally otherworldly bone structure can't even approach. She, like the lead Guardian Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, see our on-set interview with him here), is something of an orphan, having been trained by the galactic baddie Thanos (Josh Brolin) to be one very evil lady.

In real life, Saldana is far from the fearsome characters she plays: she's quiet, soft-spoken, and thoughtful, even when her skin is the radioactive color of crushed limes or the Wicked Witch of the West.

One of the first things she told the small group of journalists on set was, in fact, that she wanted to retain the character's beauty.

"I think we had maybe seven or eight camera tests we had to do, when it came to all the characters and for mine specifically it was, 'How alien do we want Gamora to be?' And what I was thinking was, 'She just needs to be pretty.' And that's usually a thing that I don't think about with other characters that I play but for some reason because I was going to be green and I was going to be the lead girl, I just wanted teenage boys to find me attractive," Saldana explained. In fact, at some point, she became obsessed with the idea. "I don't know why I was stressing this a lot but I really was when we were testing. That's where I was coming from, everybody else was just like, 'Contacts? Do we dye the hair? Wig no wig? What color hair? 'How long is it?' I'm like, 'Pretty. Teenage boys, please. We gotta get their vote.'"

This was a really interesting concept, especially since she's done so many other movies, from "Avatar" to "Star Trek," that appeal to a similar demographic. But this was the movie that she wanted to make sure she looked cute in. She did have some thoughts about where this anxiety was coming from, though. "Maybe because I'm older and you kind of go, 'Am I losing my sex appeal or something?'" Saldana said, in a way that kind of made us what to scream, Areyoukidding? You'reinsanelyattractive! (We didn't.)

The experience of being Gamora seemed to affect her profoundly, especially when it came to the idea of beauty. "When you're green for four months, it definitely moves you a bit and you do kind of wobble going, 'Okay, what is beautiful?' And then you start to find your character really appealing and very beautiful in how different she looks because you get used to it."

When the closeness, at least in terms of losing herself physically, was brought up, in regards to "Avatar," Saldana didn't exactly bristle but she stood defiant (while sitting down, of course). "To me, it would be no different of a concern than Cate Blanchett, Keira Knightley need to have because they just do primarily period pieces," Saldana said. "I just feel like, just because I've done a film that is considered science fiction, then so be it, I guess. As an artist, I like working with filmmakers that have the balls to imagine the unimaginable. Those are kind of the radicals that I identify with." (For the record, those filmmakers are Cameron and her "Guardians of the Galaxy" shepherd, writer/director James Gunn.)

She is drawn to these stories, in part, she explained, because of her upbringing. "I grew up in a household where there was a lot of stories that were placed in unconventional places," Saldana said. "I found the escape to be much more rewarding, at least for me. And then on the basis of being a woman, by playing an alien, I avoid playing someone's girlfriend here on Earth because that's a bit of a canker sore." (This is the moment when we flat-out fell in love with her.)

Another thing Saldana was unencumbered by was a fidelity to the source material. In fact, she didn't read the original comic books or do any other kind of research (she apparently didn't do it for "Star Trek" either). "She only exists in paper up until now, so whatever I decide to do to give her kind of air-If I read the comics, I would be cheating myself out of the adventure that I find so beautiful, which is conceiving a character and doing all my research," Saldana said. In fact, this process is essential to her. "That's the part that belongs to me that I don't really have to share. That's the part that I remember the most about what I do and I like the most."

Earlier in the day we had been guided through the movie's prop room, where we saw everything from the classic Walkman that Peter Quill uses to blast his classic '70s and '80s jams (as heard in the trailers), to a wide assortment of fantastical and deadly weapons. Considering, at that point, we had already known Gamora was a bad-ass, we asked about the wild weaponry she gets to wield.

"The sword's heavy, my wrists are very thin, so I have this insecurity that I look wimpy with the sword," Saldana said, in the most charming way you can imagine. Other weapons though, she could handle. "It's so much better to have a gun. I'm more prepared, I've trained with SEALs; it's fine. But the moment I'm with a knife, I'm just like, 'Oh God! Take it, it's too heavy!'"

Saldana then launched into a discussion of contemporary Asian action stars that, if that comment about not wanting to be somebody's girlfriend didn't make us fall in love with her, this certainly did. In terms of designing the fighting style of her character, she said, "Instead of looking like Jackie Chan, why don't we give her an air of Jet Li because it's this form of wushu, which is his form of training? Jet Li is much more graceful than karate, which is what Jackie Chan has trained in. And I find that with women, you have to maintain some kind of grace, at least that's my personal opinion." She also found inspiration in an unlikely spot: "I was very adamant with the choreographers to study the bullfighters. Because I kind of find it very seductive, the way a bullfighter can seduce a bull into surrendering to its own death without touching him at all. Just with the red, it's a dance, it's a very sensual dance that eventually the bull caves in, and basically runs towards this red thing and then there's a sword meeting him behind it. He's basically running to his own death." Saldana explained that she applied this to her character. "I thought that was very interesting for Gamora to have, she's a woman, I'm pretty sure she knows how to use her charms to get what she needs," she said "So, there might be a bullfighting kind of method into how she approaches an opponent."

Gamora is, of course, part of a team that includes Peter Quill, a human abducted at a young age who has grown into one of the cosmos' most notorious outlaws; Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a machine gun-loving raccoon; Groot (Vin Diesel), a sentient tree creature and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), who is on a quest to destroy Gamora's adopted father, Thanos. When we asked to describe Gamora's attitude towards the other members of the team, her answer was priceless. "She finds Quill interesting, but he's such a douche at first. He's very immature and it's inconceivable for her, I guess, to even have a wet dream with him in it," Saldana explained. "I think she's intrigued by Groot, there's something about this -- he's such a human and he's the most inhumane physically."

In fact, she pushed for more screentime with the tree man. "As I was reading the script, I worked with James in terms of, 'How can we get them to interact?' I know Gamora interacts very little with Groot or Rocket but there was something very interesting about Groot that what she needs is to soften herself, then Groot is definitely a subject to study."

Drax is a character that she both understands but is kind of wary about. "I think Drax is such a drama queen -- can't shut up. But, at the end of the day, I learned to understand that I'm not the only victim. I'm not the only one that's had it really hard. We are kindred spirits in that sense. Rocket had a lot of alterations done to his body and so did Gamora, and Quill lost his mom and he was basically taken from Terra. So, there's a lot of things that they all have in common."

In all, the experience seems to have been incredibly rewarding for Saldana, despite the hardships. (And when we talked to her they were a whopping four months into the shoot.) "It's wonderful to come to work and be surrounded by people who take their jobs very seriously," Saldana said. "Because the day that you feel like slacking, you immediately correct yourself. It's like, Oh, we're on day 85 of green makeup. By the time I get to set I'm just like, Ugh. I've worked eight hours, I've been here for eight hours doing hair and makeup by the time I get to set. But to come to set and see happy people and people that are in character, full costume inside and out, it lets you know that you have always bring your game. So, it's good."

And if it's one thing we know about Saldana, it's that she always brings her game.

"Guardians of the Galaxy" opens August 1.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Based on 46 critics

An adventurer (Chris Pratt) must unite four disparate misfits against a cosmic threat. Read More

categories Interviews, Movies