HAVEN: An Interview with Zoe Saldana
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HAVEN : An Interview with Zoe Saldana
For actress Zoë Saldana making the indie film "Haven" had a lot to do with confronting her roots as being of Caribbean descent. While she's been through the drill of characters of her age and ethnicity such as "Center Stage" and "Drumline" which put the spotlight on her career, "Haven" gave her a chance to really grapple with the nitty gritty of a character and a culture.
Working with first time feature director Frank E. Flowers, she got to work in a great place, Grand Cayman Island, and with an ensemble of fine actors from Anthony Mackie to Orlando Bloom. In "Haven," Saldana plays Andrea, the gorgeous teenage daughter of a prominent local businessman who falls in love with Shy (Bloom) a poor fisherman who hangs out with other street kids in town and not someone her dad or older brother (Mackie) approve of.
What attracted you to this project--was it shooting in the Caribbean, in the Grand Caymans?
Zoe Saldana: I had already shot that same year another film in Caribbean I knew how wonderful it is to shoot there. I am of Caribbean descent and it was how touching the story was to me and how real the characters were that made me highly interested in being a part of this project.
Your character Andrea comes from a rich family where her father is very protective of her. Did the sheltered family situation have a degree of authenticity?
ZS: Definitely... I got interested in Andrea because the character I played... she was so hurt by the people she trusted the most in her life, the three men in her life--her father, brother and the man she loved. She trusted them and they failed her. That's very popular in a very conservative, traditional culture where the daughter is seen as a prize and her virginity is more like the golden token that the family has either to marry her to good family or to save face that she makes a good appearance of purity. You never stop to realize you are using and exploiting a person.
The perception most people who visit thew Caribbean have no idea about the people who live there. This film offered an authentic look at that.
ZS: At some point you have to become aware that you are visiting this country as a foreigner. Besides the resorts and everything you have to become aware that this country has families that go back seven or eight generations. They're a part of Caymanian folklore. Also it's a target; it's a country where there's no income tax. It became center of a lot of scandal seven or eight years ago along with the Bahamas how people laundered money The laws are now more strict to protect the people that live there. If you go to an island in the Caribbean it's not just beaches and fried fish. You have to respect the culture that's been there been there for years. Haven portrays that well.
You are of Caribbean descent...
ZS: My mom is Puerto Rican and my father is Dominican.
At what stage did you come in the casting?
ZS: I was one of the last ones to be cast. I was arriving from a trip and got the script on sunday; my audition was on Monday I couldn't put it down. I was supposed to meet Frank E. on Monday. Instead of reading we actually had hour and half conversation about film, the character and how I saw Andrea. We actually had a disagreement--that's a way to blow an audition, have a disagreement with the director. We argued different points of views maybe that's what he saw in me. Once I read her, I totally understood her--maybe it was a little tweaking to fix, "Dude she wouldn't have gone that way" Really...? So he said "Prove yourself." It was a very interesting enriching conversation. Once I got the part we worked to find Andrea together.
What was it like working with such a young director as Frank E.?
ZS: One night my mom flew there to stay a few days. I was not shooting one night so I watched him maneuver his way around his crew and the actors and what the vibe was. I asked my mom, "What does he make you feel while watching him work?" He's so extraordinary, so young. She said, "It was like watching a baby boy play with sand for the first time." She put it so beautifully, it describes what it was like working with Frank E.--like watching a boy play with sand. You have all the sand in the world and you are building and building.
You got to work with two hot actors--Orlando Bloom and Anthony Mackie--what were they like, how did you work with them?
What was like having Orlando as your boyfriend--it wasn't a bad thing?
And what was it like doing the more intimate scenes with him?
ZS: The same way it is to do intimate scenes in a movie period. You can only pray to have professional, attractive, good-smelling partner. I've been very lucky with that. Then it is beautiful when you're protected and the person you're working with has your back and is so professional and respectful. Then is does not make it seem like a job. All in all, for me, shooting intimate scenes is a bit uncomfortable; the technicality demands a lot of concentration and lots of work. You're sweating, all these lights are all up in your face you're wearing very few clothes, and everybody's there--the cinematographer, the director and all the crew and he asking you to kiss him in some odd angle--" it's a better angle for the lighting"--and it's all a bit uncomfortable. But as long as looks like it then that's what we were there to do. But I am producing so that's really good for me.
So you're producing?
ZS: I think it's about time I start. The moment you realize what you want to see on the screen as an audience member and what you feel the people need to see especially for me, I am a Latino, a woman of color and from New York that I don't see half on screen and I have that urge to tell stories. So it's time for me.
So what do you have in mind?
ZS: I am producing a film based on book by Jamaica Kincaid; the novel's called "Lucy"--she one of my favorite novelists. The novel is based on the story of this young girl from the Caribbean. She leaves the island to come to work as au pair and is set in late '60s just as the country is going to war. She works for a wealthy family in New York and the rude awakening at the brink of war and flower power and music and the revolution and the civil rights movement. It's her take on all that.
How did you get introduced to that book and to producing?
ZS: I was familiar with her writings and these producers approached me and wanted me to be attached to the lead role of Lucy. Then we shopped it around for a year trying to get the financing to get the film done. It's a period piece and needs to be done in New York. It's an independent movie and to sacrifice the authenticity and weren't able to so I finally jump on as a producer to get money together.
Did you talk with Kincaid?
ZS: Not yet but she's aware of it and she's very pleased. When it becomes more solidified I can go and stalk her.
What else do you have coming out?
ZS: I have a couple films that are going to festivals. There's "Constellation I shot a year after I did "Haven" that found it's distribution with Billy Dee Williams. There's Premium and it's been going to festivals and getting good response. I just wrapped a film called "Blackout" about the blackout that happen in 2003. It's set in Brooklyn and how it took its toll on a neighborhood with Jeffery Wright and then did a film called "After Sex" directed by Eric Amadio.
Where were you when the blackout happened?
ZS: On Park Avenue getting hair done [laughs]. I had to cross because we were going to my mother's house who live in Forest Hills and it was my sister's birthday--on the 14th. We were all going to Queens had to cross 59th St. Bridge. So we were all together.
You were able to use that?
ZS: Of course [laughs]. I played a very different character but we had to get across the bridge to get to Brooklyn so I used that.
You enjoy doing indie films?
ZS: I do but it's a combination of many components... If nothing is good out there I always want to do material that speaks to me that I can feel proud of, that's different from the one I did before. It doesn't matter whether it's a studio with a big salary or guerilla one with no money that we have no license to shoot on the street, I will do them.
What would be your ideal role?
ZS: I could say that women in powerful positions. These roles I have not played yet; I've done more the girlfriend. I love the evolution we are witnessing in Hollywood not just a cultural one but sexual as well. Women now are getting the roles that were written for men 25 years ago. Now it's a possibility to a see woman in change of national security. That was unheard of years ago. She would be a great wife and support her husband. It keeps me so happy everyday to that there are more roles and producers who want to produce films where women can be portrayed in powerful positions.
Are there women who influenced you like that?
ZS: Playing a role similar to Hilary Clinton--she is such a lady... Disregarding any political inclination, how this woman has managed herself in public when her partner embarrassed her. [I admire] how she kept a straight face and remained a lady and swallowed that. She was married to someone in such a powerful position who goes off flirting with some girl in a closet and everybody is writing about you. You're the poor wife I don't know how it would be like to be in that emotional position. That would affect how she should be in public. She managed to keep her poise and class. That's enough for me to trust her in terms of her wanting be a president one day.
Look at how the right skewers her
ZS: We live in the most hypocritical country in the world. It takes an American to say that. I love my country but we are the most closed minded people. The moment a man who is in touch with his femininity he's gay. A woman who is strong she's a lesbian or she is try to kill her husband. It's so easy to make a quick judgement for a bit of publicity. It kills the class of a nation and makes us look tacky and unreliable. I have an issue with that.
What actresses do you admire?
ZS: There's so many I admire. Whoopie Goldberg and Angelina Jolie are women I admire. Whoopie ever since I've been young, for what she does in front of the camera and how she has changed things she's the only one in her category and for what she does off camera; she's a very powerful advocate for abused women and against discrimination and other charities empowering women to fight. Angelina too who at such young age instead being in spa or in Beverly Hills she's in Africa lending her voice--that's very beautiful and inspiring.
Who was your first role model?
ZS: My mom. She does everything--she managed to raise three girls by herself and live in country not her own and still love and respect it. My mom is the most amazing woman. Nobody tops her she's really cute.
HAVEN opens on September 15, 2006
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