LOS ANGELES — Zoe Saldana is trying to grab a bit of lunch during a long day of interviews to talk about her work in "Out of the Furnace." The actress, best known for her out-of-this-world work in "Star Trek" and "Avatar," plays a very grounded character in the new feature film from Scott Cooper.
"Out of the Furnace" looks at how people in a small, hopelessly economically depressed town deal with life. The main focus is the dramatic turn taken in the lives of the characters played by Christian Bale and Casey Affleck. But Saldana's character faces just as many challenges in her own way as a woman looking for some type of security that's driven more by the biology of wanting a child than the chemistry she finds with the men in her life.
Saldana sees the character as being very fragile.
"God knows what she's been through that's created a fear of being alone," Saldana says between bites of food. "When I first read the script, I thought I would have slapped her. She's a very dependent creature. What I also liked about this story was that she was loved by a man who truly, truly knew her and understands she's in pain."
This type of history is the kind Saldana creates for every character she's played. The way Saldana looks at it is, if a character is 28 years old, then she's had 28 years of life experiences to bring her to the point an audience sees her.
Saldana says it helped that the movie was shot in the Pennsylvania town of Braddock, which has been financially hit by the collapsing steel business. Saldana's stomach hurt as she drove to the location because of the heavy burdens everyone in the city is carrying. The fact she could sit down with real people going through the same trials her character's facing all went into Saldana finding the right notes to bring the role to life.
Saldana says the history lessons are necessary because she can't judge a character but has to be that character. That means decisions made are not those based on the actor's life but the events in the character's world.
If she had to base a character on her own life, all her roles would be about a young woman who grew up in Queens, N.Y., and the Dominican Republic. She got her first taste of performing through dance, which led to her being cast as a ballet dancer in the 2000 film "Center Stage."
Since then she's gone on to star in "Drumline," "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," "The Terminal," "Guess Who" and "Dirty Deeds" before seeing her career explode with the "Star Trek" and "Avatar" films. Saldana has a very definitive plan when it comes to how she handles a role once cast. She's a little less certain when it comes to picking the scripts she wants to do.
"I never know. I can say, 'I want to do comedy now!' and another science fiction movie falls in my lap. You don't want to read it, but you do, and it's amazing. Then you sit down with the director and he's amazing and the cast is going to be amazing," Saldana says. "At the end of the day, I can't have a superficial perspective of what I do. Yes, this is a business, but I'm an artist.
"I don't want to be strategic in any other way than my heart. With this film, I couldn't get the characters out of my head."
Next year, her script decisions move Saldana into the world of comic book-inspired films with "Guardian of the Galaxy." Now, along with being the object of attention for "Star Trek" fans, she'll be dealing with comic book enthusiasts.
"I hope they are just as nice and just as passionate and just as outspoken and eccentric as the 'Star Trek' fans have been for so many years," Saldana says.
See Rick Bentley's interview with "Out of the Furnace" star Casey Affleck on Page 16.
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.