Zoe Saldana loves playing unconventional female roles

(From left) WWE wrestler Bautista, director James Gunn and Saldana were in Singapore last month for a cast visit. -- PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
(From left) WWE wrestler Bautista, director James Gunn and Saldana were in Singapore last month for a cast visit. -- PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
The characters in Guardians Of The Galaxy include Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Drax The Destroyer (David Bautista) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). -- PHOTO: WALT DISNEY
The characters in Guardians Of The Galaxy include Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Drax The Destroyer (David Bautista) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). -- PHOTO: WALT DISNEY
Actress Zoe Saldana is no stranger to science-fiction movies, having appeared in Avatar and the rebooted Star Trek series. -- PHOTO: WALT DISNEY
Actress Zoe Saldana is no stranger to science-fiction movies, having appeared in Avatar and the rebooted Star Trek series. -- PHOTO: WALT DISNEY

Zoe Saldana, who plays a green-skinned alien in yet another sci-fi movie, prefers unconventional female roles

Actress Zoe Saldana rolls her eyes a little when she is told that the biggest movie of the summer Transformers: Age Of Extinction features a female lead whose main job is to scream and show off her posterior.

"That's Michael Bay. That's a different story. Ugh. He's part of a dying breed," she says of the director helming the franchise.

Saldana thinks Bay is the exception in the science-fiction genre. She should know. She has appeared in three of the biggest science-fiction hits of recent years - Avatar (2009) and the rebooted Star Trek series (2009, 2013)- and now, stars in Guardians Of The Galaxy, a new movie based on a Marvel comics series about a team of superheroes. In each of these films, her character is anything but cheesecake.

In Avatar, the dance-trained Saldana's movements were motion-captured for her part as the tree-leaping warrior Neytiri. In the two Star Trek films, she has a supporting part as officer Uhura.

The 36-year-old told a movie blog that "the best roles for women are in space". In Singapore for a cast visit earlier this month to promote Guardians, she followed up that statement by adding that "here on Earth, women are usually having babies".

"That's great, but out of 250 movies a year, you don't want 225 of them to have females assuming females roles, and always from a male perspective. It feels limited," she says.

While she is not against women characters looking good - she thinks women should look as attractive or sexy as they want - she believes too many films are written by males fantasising about "the girl they wanted to date in high school".

In too many scripts that cross her desk, the female character is not a whole person, but an adjunct to the male lead and a plot device used to reveal backstory to the audience.

"The woman is not the one who comes up with the solution of how to save the universe, she's not the funny one, she is just there to ask the questions. I've read scripts where every line of the female's is a question, so the male can explain what's happening," she says.

Just before the interview, she is wiping her mouth and apologising for eating. In Singapore, she has reconnected with an old friend, the jambu air fruit, which she used to eat "by the bucket" when she was growing up in the Dominican Republic, where her father was born and where she lived as a child.

She has been unable to find the fruit in the United States. She will smuggle some back home, but doubts they will survive a customs inspection, she says with a laugh.

Her character in Guardians is Gamora, a green-skinned member of an alien species, an assassin boasting great physical strength.

Gamora is a brooding character and co-writer and director James Gunn, 43, was able to add plenty of odd-couple humour in the interactions between Gamora and Peter Quill, the happy-go-lucky galactic adventurer played by Chris Pratt.

Pratt, of TV's Parks And Recreation fame, is primarily a comic actor and comedy figures strongly in the film. One of its heroes is Groot, a tree-like being voiced by Vin Diesel, and another is Rocket, a raccoon genetically engineered to be a warrior and voiced by Bradley Cooper.

Gunn tells Life! that he is aware of how comedies are a risky proposition for a big-budget superhero movie in the major markets of Asia, given how poorly jokes travel. This is why major action films, if they have any humour at all, feature the blandest, broadest jokes.

But he is not about to ditch his comic sensibility, honed through years working at B-movie house Troma Entertainment, where he had worked on comedy-horror classics such as Tromeo And Juliet (1996).

"There will always be things that are funnier in one country than they are in another," he says, but he is certain that jokes here will have cross-cultural appeal. "This is a movie for everyone. When you see a raccoon and human arguing, hopefully it works in whatever language you are watching it in," he says.

The interplay between the motor-mouthed, cheeky Quill and the taciturn alien Drax The Destroyer is the source of the film's many comedic moments

Drax is played by David Bautista, a mixed martial artist and professional wrestler with the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) who put a successful ring career on hold to focus on acting. Guardians is his biggest part yet.

While the part of the bulked-up Drax is an unsurprising one for a wrestler-turned-actor, he says it required a high level of acting, especially when the literal-minded Drax squares off against the smart-mouthed Quill.

In Singapore, one year after shooting Guardians, it is apparent that Bautista has lost some muscle mass. That slimmer profile is no accident, he reveals.

There is one career path he wants to avoid - that of the catchphrase-dropping, muscle-bound action hero, as personified by someone such as fellow former wrestler Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock.

"I get asked a lot by people if I want to be the next Rock, I tell them I want to be the next Mickey Rourke," he says in a calm, quietly determined voice. Bautista admires Rourke's ability to convey deep currents of emotion in an understated, masculine way.

"Coming out of the WWE, I could have done those bad, straight-to-DVD films where I kick down doors, shoot someone, jump into a cool car and drive away. I've dieted to lose weight so I won't be typecast as That Guy, because I really don't want to be That Guy."

johnlui@sph.com.sg

Guardians Of The Galaxy opens tomorrow. The movie review will be out on Friday.

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