Zoe Saldana is adorable and charming and as hot as the sun on an August beach, but pray you never get on the girl's bad side, because she would most definitely hand you your ass on a platter. I do not say this because of the excellent career that Saldana has built playing intergalactic heroines on the big screen—from the blue tail-swinging Neytiri in Avatar to Star Trek's steely-eyed Uhura to the green-skinned assassin Gamora in this month's Guardians of the Galaxy. I say it because, over the course of our lunch together, she describes herself as an "iron-fisted lady," a woman who "will not take any bullshit," and someone who was known during her teenage years in the Dominican Republic as a "bad seed." "You cross me as a lady, it's over," says Saldana, dark eyes flashing.
Fortunately, I've never crossed Saldana as a lady, so I get the other side of her, which is sweet and elegant and funny. Quick to laugh. Devastatingly frank. We are sitting in the sumptuous, red-upholstered gallery of New York City's Carlyle hotel, sipping cucumber-apple juice, and although Saldana was out till 2 a.m. (first at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute gala with Michael Kors, then scarfing cheeseburgers with her husband, Marco Perego, at Bemelmans Bar), she looks downright luminous. L'Oréal Paris recently signed Saldana as a spokesperson, and this seems like a move of supreme intelligence.
Saldana has the kind of rare, otherworldly beauty that you only ever see in movie stars, supermodels, and, like, orchids. Her bones are as tiny as a sparrow's, her neck endless, her cheekbones downright supernatural. The girl is pure space princess. Also, she wears clothing like nobody's business: dressed today in a soft oatmeal-colored J Brand cashmere sweater, tight Citizens of Humanity jeans, brown Chanel lace-up boots, and a whopping Colombian-emerald engagement ring that Perego had made for her. At first, her voice is low and husky and extremely polite. But then her mom calls, and Saldana starts chattering away in Spanish, and the long, skinny arms start gesticulating, and her whooping laugh fills the room.
"I love coming to New York because my family is here," says Saldana, 36, who spent the first nine years of her life in Queens, where her mother, stepfather, and grandmother still live. "But I'm always busy working, so I make them all come sleep over with me." "Them" includes her two sisters, Mariel and Cisely, with whom she runs the L.A.-based production company CineStar Productions, and from whom she is virtually inseparable. "They bring their pillows, and we get extra beds," Saldana continues. "My grandma lies on the couch. It's just delicious."
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On her relationship with husband Marco Perego: "I don't do the ABCs. I do what my heart says, what my heart feels. So from the moment I met my husband, we were together. We knew."
On the biggest thing she's learned about relationships: "Not to settle. If you're not happy with a person, leave. And wait until you find that one person who makes you feel good about yourself every single day and is not expecting you to change, but to grow."
On disrespect: "I have been in relationships where a man has disrespected me, and I don't need to be friends with that man anymore. I don't want to be the one going, 'I'm cool, because I'm friends with all my exes.' There's a reason why you're called an ex. I crossed you off my list. Moving on. You cross a line, you need to know that you're going to walk this earth knowing that there's an individual who has no respect for you."
On dream roles: "I would love to play Nefertiti or Cleopatra or the Queen of Sheba. We preserve more male history than we do female. We have to preserve it. No more complaining. We have to do it."
On growing up in Dominican Republic: "I had many female bullies growing up who wanted us to be submissive and to follow and to kiss ass, and that's the last thing any Saldana will ever do, honestly."
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Photo Credit: Boe Marion