CATEGORIES Hot TopicZoe Saldana may have just barely become a household name, but as Jon Stewart joked last week on 'The Daily Show,' the combined grosses of her recent films, 'Star Trek' and 'Avatar,' are practically keeping the American economy afloat (their combined domestic take: $1 billion). This spring, she's been back on the big screen again, first in 'Death at a Funeral,' followed by 'The Losers,' which opened this past weekend.
'Losers' -- which follows the explosion-heavy mission of a rogue covert-ops unit seeking revenge -- didn't fare as well financially as Saldana's recent films, scoring just $9.6 million, the fourth-biggest earner on the year's slowest weekend so far. It also fell short of the more than $16 million that 'Death' earned when it opened the week prior. Zoe Saldana may have just barely become a household name, but as Jon Stewart joked last week on 'The Daily Show,' the combined grosses of her recent films, 'Star Trek' and 'Avatar,' are practically keeping the American economy afloat (their combined domestic take: $1 billion). This spring, she's been back on the big screen again, first in 'Death at a Funeral,' followed by 'The Losers,' which opened this past weekend.
'Losers' -- which follows the explosion-heavy mission of a rogue covert-ops unit seeking revenge -- didn't fare as well financially as Saldana's recent films, scoring just $9.6 million, the fourth-biggest earner on the year's slowest weekend so far. It also fell short of the more than $16 million that 'Death' earned when it opened the week prior.
Despite the disappointing earnings and so-so reviews, 'The Losers' is significant for Saldana. Not only is it her first starring role in the flesh (no offense to the Na'vi, but they had some work done), but it also showcases her potential as an ass-kicking, versatile star, much in the vein of Angelina Jolie. As Aisha, 'The Losers's' tough-talking female foil, Saldana holds her own in an entirely male cast, going punch-for-punch against Jeffrey Dean Morgan and packing heat like a pro. Yet, as her fame catches fire with recent successes and a slate of upcoming films, it's unclear not only what types of roles Saldana will be taking in the future, but also how Hollywood will cast her in the crowded landscape of actresses who defy easy categorization.
With her potent mix of sultry and sass, unconventional beauty and as-yet-untapped dramatic potential, she possesses many of the qualities that have catapulted Angelina Jolie to stardom. While Jolie has a list of credits that dwarfs that of Saldana in both number and scope -- not to mention an Oscar and that hunky, well-known partner of hers -- there are some striking similarities between the two. As Saldana gains professional momentum and name-recognition, we're comparing notes on their careers, aspirations and, of course, private lives.
Early Days on Stage
Jolie's arrival in the spotlight was nearly inevitable. The daughter of veteran actor Jon Voight, she was born in 1975 into a showbiz family and began her own stage training as a child in Los Angeles, later traveling as a fashion model and eventually dabbling in film studies at New York University.
Saldana, meanwhile, kicked off her performance studies as a young ballet student in the Dominican Republic. She took up acting as a teenager in the U.S., earning her first film role in 2000, as an aspiring ballerina in 'Center Stage.'
Saldana continued to work steadily after hanging up her toe shoes, and scored her first major appearance in 2003's 'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.' Six years later, she landed her breakout role as the smart and seductive Uhura in the 2009 'Star Trek' remake. Her role as the nature-loving Neytiri in 'Avatar' sealed her status, not only putting her on the public radar but paving the way for potential future roles as a leading lady.
Jolie had a similarly unusual trajectory, scoring an Oscar for her portrayal of a teen with mental health problems in 1999's 'Girl, Interrupted,' which she quickly followed up as the titular bad-ass babe in 2001's 'Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.'
As Jolie proved her mettle in the 'Croft' franchise and later 'Mr. & Mrs. Smith' (2005), her growing fame never got in the way of taking out baddies with a kung-fu kick or well-oiled weaponry. In 2008's 'Wanted,' she took on the comic book genre as an assassin in a secret fraternity of sorts, alongside James McAvoy.
The actress didn't learn how to kick butt overnight, however. For 'Tomb Raider,' Jolie said she trained for two months, working on everything from bungee ballet to weaponry, rowing and yoga. A nutritionist and trainer didn't hurt, either.
Saldana has thus far shown similar chops in the ass-kicking department, particularly in her most recent role in 'The Losers.' Much like Jolie's foray into comic-book turf, Saldana stood out amid major male bonding, blowing up a lot of stuff and breaking hearts along the way. And as for the sexy, leg-swinging power moves? She claims she has ballet to thank for the flexibility. Pinning her co-star to the ground, however, seems a little aggressive for the typical ballerina.
Soon after playing Mrs. Smith, Jolie undertook several more serious roles, starting with a CIA wife in 'The Good Shepherd' (2006) then moving on to 'A Mighty Heart' (2007), in which she portrayed the real-life wife of a journalist who went missing in Pakistan. Her casting for the role was controversial, but Jolie campaigned and the results were mostly lauded. Two years later, she was again nominated for an Academy Award, this time for her portrayal of the mother of a missing child in 'Changeling.'
Saldana's future as a dramatic lead has yet to be determined. 'Avatar's' nuance-less script and graphic-motion rendering obscures whatever subtleties she may have displayed on screen, while 'The Losers' focuses more on her bare skin and guys with guns than a deep storyline. In 'Star Trek,' Uhura's calm, collected and driven -- but far from a dramatic focal point. Ditto for Saldana's role in 'Death at a Funeral,' in which she plays the beautiful Elaine in a movie that's all broad comedy, no big drama.
With so much as-yet-unseen potential and being relatively new to the movie business, there's a lot we don't yet know about Saldana's dramatic abilities. But it doesn't hurt to hope that, as the interplay between politics and race evolves in Washington, maybe Hollywood will soon follow.
Behind the Scenes
Jolie's fame skyrocketed when she partnered up with Brad Pitt, but she started making headlines long before "Brangelina" came to be. Her early antics helped fuel the media frenzy, such as scrawling actor Jonny Lee Miller's name on her shirt with her own blood for their wedding day in the mid-1990s, and wearing a vial of ex-husband Billy Bob Thorton's blood around her neck. These days, it's her humanitarian work as a U.N. goodwill ambassador, gaggle of six children and famous BF that gets headlines -- especially when the tabloid rumor-mill targets her and Pitt.
Saldana, in contrast, has reportedly been dating boyfriend Keith Britton for ten years. The actor and entrepreneur frequently accompanies her on the red carpet, but hasn't appeared on-screen himself since 2007, according to IMDb. While the couple hasn't been the object of salacious headlines, there's always time for scandal in Hollywood. For her part, Saldana's already opened up about her views on sexuality."I love sex," she reportedly told Essence. "I love skin. I don't believe the body is something to hide. I think in American society we're messing up our kids by taking away the education on and awareness of our sexuality and replacing it with violence, guns and video games -- and we're breeding little criminals."
While Saldana's relationship details don't often appear in the press, she has gotten ample ink when it comes to talk of race and ethnicity. "When [Hollywood casting agents] say, 'We want to go white,' they have a very smooth way of saying it, and the recent one is the word traditional," she told Nylon recently.
Similarly, she told Glamour in March that "traditional" is "the new N word. So when [someone says] I look 'dark,' I say, 'Dark compared to whom? This is just my skin.'" In still other publications, she has spoken of her Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage, but eschews labeling herself. Some fans have pointed out that it's possible that she's already been kept from more prominent offerings, given the undeniable dearth of roles for actors who aren't Caucasian, much less female. Still, as President Barack Obama asserts that the country is now in a "port-racial" era, it remains to be seen if and when that memo makes it to Hollywood.
This summer, Jolie again returns to the bad-guy battling spy role in 'Salt,' in which she plays a CIA agent on the run. Following her jaunt into on-screen espionage (maybe), her development slate is chock full of cinematic fare with plots that are still largely under wraps, but which apparently range from adult drama to children's fare. At this point her career, Jolie's reputation is cemented as a versatile actress who's comfortable and capable across genres.
Saldana, of course, still has a long road ahead of her before she can take her pick of parts, but she is poised for bigger and better opportunities -- it may be simply a matter of the right script at the right time. Her current development slate has a few upcoming releases, including 'Burning Palms,' which co-stars Shannen Doherty, among other notables, and focuses on interweaving stories in Los Angeles, from a script by 'Dirty Sexy Money' alum Christopher B. Landon. Saldana's other upcoming release is 'Takers,' a shoot-em-up, bank-robber flick in which her primary activity seems to be posing as eye candy for the many men that round out the cast, including Chris Brown, T.I. and Idris Elba.
Saldana herself has fueled curiosity about her future moves by doing her best to keep everyone guessing -- including herself. "The perfect role today is different from the one that I did yesterday," she told Moviefone Minute at 'The Losers' premiere. "As an artist, I owe it to myself to remain neutral, and not box myself in any category. ... I mean, if they want me to play in a Jane Austen movie next, guess what? I'll do it ... I don't give a s**t."