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SYFY WIRE Zoe Saldana

Marvel, 'Trek' & 'Avatar' star Zoe Saldana says she feels 'artistically stuck' by big franchise films

For Zoe Saldana, franchises are a double-edged sword.

By Matthew Jackson
Zoe Saldana

For the last 13 years, Zoe Saldana has had her hand in several of the biggest franchises in Hollywood. In 2009 she debuted as both Uhura in Star Trek and as Neytiri in Avatar, and a few years later she joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy. Each was a role that helped catapult her to international stardom and opened a lot of doors, but looking back on all those blockbuster years now, Saldana definitely sees the drawbacks.

In a new interview with Women's Wear Daily to promote Avatar: The Way of Water and her new Netflix series From Scratch, Saldana opened up about the impact -- both good and bad -- that working on all of those franchises had on her as an actress and creator in her own right. 

“I feel that for the last 10 years of my life, I’ve been just stuck. I felt stuck doing these franchises,” she said. “I’m very grateful for the opportunities that they provided, from collaborating with amazing directors and getting to meet cast members that I consider friends and getting to play a role that fans, especially children, love. But it also meant that I felt artistically stuck in my craft of not being able to expand or grow or challenge myself by playing different sorts of genres and different roles. So this is something that I wanted to do for a very long time. And wrestling, too, with this pressure that society puts on women that your youth is gone as soon as you have children and you go into your 40s."

Saldana is certainly not done with franchise obligations just yet. Next year she'll return as Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and a fourth Star Trek film featuring her Uhura is in the works, not to mention James Cameron's ambitious plans for the future of Avatar. Still, with the benefit of hindsight, it sounds like Saldana has learned how to embrace where she is in life now, and use her clout to chase ideas that are personal to her.

“But today, now that I’m 44, I’ve been able to have these opportunities, and I took control over my aging and I took control over my voice and how I consider myself as a woman," she said. "And I’m so happy that I’m able to collaborate with filmmakers and producers and people in this industry that want that for women, that want women to be ageless and who don’t fetishize women’s youth. And so it’s interesting. It’s really interesting.”

Though it definitely sounds like the franchise grind -- which often includes contracts locking actors down for years in case of potential sequels -- has gotten to Saldana a bit over the last decade, she's also optimistic about Avatar: The Way of Water, the years-in-the-making sequel that returns her to Neytiri as a mother on the planet of Pandora. While it is a sequel, and it does return her to another major franchise, Saldana frames the new film as a kind of revitalization more than a retread.

“The reintroduction is also the refreshing of it. The rejuvenation of it is also very exciting,” she said. “Look, I’m not aiming to get the same results that we got in the first one because that was a surprise. That was a wonderful surprise. We were not expecting it. And the reception was just imaginably beautiful. Obviously I’m hoping for Avatar 2: The Way of Water to have a very beautiful impact on people. But it’s not for the sake of breaking any records or making a ton of money. I think this saga is special. It was made with a lot of love and a lot of work. And it’s an experience worth having.”

Avatar: The Way of Water is in theaters Dec. 16.

Looking for more epic sci-fi adventures? Check out Jordan Peele's NOPE streaming now on Peacock.