On the set of Guardians of the Galaxy at Shepperton Studios in Surrey, England last September, we had the chance to meet one of Marvel’s most lethal characters, Gamora. We actually interviewed Zoe Saldana who plays Gamora, but since we spoke in between scene set-ups, she was fully decked out in Gamora’s green skin, reddish hair, facial markings and costume.
In our conversation with Saldana, we talk about designing Gamora to be both alien and attractive; crafting a deadly and stealthy fighting style with swords; Gamora’s role on the team as a moral compass; Gamora’s first impressions of the “douchey” Star-Lord; relationships with the other Guardians; Gamora’s history and similarities to the villainous Nebula and Thanos; Adding Guardians of the Galaxy to a sci-fi resume that includes Avatar and Star Trek; and leaving some character backstory for Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
We had seen during the day various concept renderings and makeup tests to find the right look for Gamora and her facial design when it came to the unique markings.
The treatments, did you try various versions on yourself or did they get to the final design before you came on board?
Zoe Saldana: No, 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 look like?” 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. 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.”
You’ve done other properties too that also appeal to that demographic. It’s interesting that that would come up on this one.
Zoe Saldana: Maybe because I’m older and you kind of go, “Am I losing my sex appeal or something?” 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.
Was there any hesitation for you, having done Avatar, which is such a complete physical immersion role, to then step over and play another alien role? Or was that really ever a consideration?
Zoe Saldana: 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. I just feel like, just because I’ve done a film that is considered amongst the masses that like to categorize things as science fiction, then so be it, I guess. As an artist, I like working with filmmakers that have the balls to kind of imagine the unimaginable. Those are kind of the radicals that I identify with and I grew up in a household where there was a lot of stories that were placed in unconventional places. 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.
Chris [Pratt] said that he was told by James Gunn not to look back at the comics and to not do any research. Did you have the same experience with him or did you get a chance to look at some stuff?
Zoe Saldana: No, no. I didn’t do it for Star Trek. As actors you have this trait to imitate very easily. I don’t want to imitate anything or limit myself of finding this creature, this woman because I’m looking at magazines and I’m reading comics, and I’m asking people that are avid readers of The Guardians. 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. 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.
This is the first time you’ve been a different color while physically on set. How is putting make up on and being fully green on set change the way you perform, act, and move?
Zoe Saldana: It’s so funny. For this one, when it came to Gamora, it was very different. My approach was very different than the one I had with Neytiri. I understood that for Neytiri the dehumanization of myself was absolutely crucial because these creatures, the species came with very specific requirements by James [Cameron]. In this one because it’s sort of like a dark comedy, we’re kind of like The Rolling Stones of the whole Marvel Comics that I find so fucking appealing, we’re like the ones who always fail in class but for some reason we can burn the house down, and I like that.
There was a sense of contemporariness that I didn’t want to tamper with and I liked it. So, I didn’t focus that much on making her a very distinguished alien. I feel like, you’re going to kind of lose a lot of other things and this movie runs really fast and it’s an action movie. And for the demographic that it’s geared more towards, if I get to intricate they’re gonna be like, “What? She’s kind of weird.” Part of doing this and aging, now that I’m 35, is that you do take all those things into consideration—not a great deal but you do kind of factor them in when you’re bringing a character together.