This interview was originally published in Radio Times magazine.


With her roles in the Avengers and Avatar franchises, Zoe Saldaña has the unique status of appearing in the three highest-grossing movies of all time. But, despite such box-office clout, the American actor is feeling the creative pull of TV, especially after starring in Netflix romantic mini-series From Scratch.

Now, she appears in Special Ops: Lioness, a high-octane spy thriller created by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Yellowstone) that sees her both co-starring and co-executive producing alongside Nicole Kidman. As Saldaña tells RT, the role was too good an offer to turn down…

What persuaded you to join Special Ops: Lioness?

Taylor reached out. He told me, "I’m writing a character with you in mind" – that doesn’t happen all the time. Then he added, "Nicole is producing." I think he just dropped that in to seal the deal.

The show includes a lot of military detail — how much cooperation did the US armed forces provide?

There was a fount of information on set – ex-paramilitary operatives, people who had served as Marines or Seals, plus people who had worked in the White House or the CIA. A great amount of information was provided to us without over-sharing or exposing themselves.

Nicole Kidman as Kaitlyn Meade, Michael Kelly as Bryon Westfield and Zoe Saldaña as Joe in Special Ops: Lioness
Nicole Kidman as Kaitlyn Meade, Michael Kelly as Bryon Westfield and Zoe Saldaña as Joe in Special Ops: Lioness. Luke Varley/Paramount+

What was it like working with Nicole Kidman, both in front of and behind the camera?

She’s exactly what I imagined and hoped she would be. She’s dedicated, she’s the most prepared on set, knows all her lines. She stays in character sometimes and it’s a bit freaky.

Your character, Joe, is a tireless warrior. Are you the same?

There is something very parallel to me in Joe, working full time for something she is devoted to, having to balance family life and carry it all. I was able to relate to the pressure, the pain you live with missing your family when you have to be away for 14 hours straight, and feeling guilty for loving what you do.

What prompted your move to TV?

My ignorant mind feared it. I felt it would be accepting my fate, saying, "My youth is done, I’m a woman in my 40s, I’m no longer sexy," but that’s not the case. My manager told me, "You need to understand the market. You need to go where good content is, whether that’s a big screen, on stage or on TV."

What are your tools for managing your work alongside family life?

We’re always together. We’re a travelling circus. My husband [Marco Perego, with whom she has three children] is an artist so he can work remotely, although it’s easier for him to be in Europe. It’s a bit harder when we’re in somewhere like Morocco, when the travelling is gruelling. He makes a lot of sacrifices, but he acknowledges that I make them as well. You have to make it work. You have to meet in the middle. One day it will be time for me to pass the torch and hold the fort so he can go and take those leaps. I don’t think I would be able to do this if I didn’t have the support of my partner. I know lots of women aren’t able to say that.

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Zoe Saldaña as Joe in Special Ops: Lioness
Zoe Saldaña as Joe in Special Ops: Lioness. Lynsey Addario/Paramount+

Talking of gruelling, your Avatar director James Cameron says he plans to make up to seven films in the series. Are you in it for the long haul, and which is he - control freak or pussycat?

I signed up. The ink’s already dry. He’s a teddy bear, but he’s a bear. He’s a passionate individual, but extremely collaborative. Jim’s like a fine wine, he gets better with time – a knack for science, a knack for art, and finding a way to marry these two passions. He’s a very important storyteller. If we’re going to talk about his temper, we also have to talk about his contribution.

You’ve appeared in the three highest-grossing movies of all time, but often disguised by either blue CGI (Avatar) or green make-up (Avengers/Guardians of the Galaxy). Can you walk down the street without people recognising you?

I’m a good investment, right?! But yes, I’ve unconsciously created a version of myself that runs parallel to my persona as a daily person. I’m an incredibly private person, I’m very shy. I don’t know what fame or celebrity is.

What’s important to you about making these types of films?

I shift towards a younger genre, because children, to me, mean everything. In entertainment, I think we tend to overlook them a lot. When we make content for children, it’s sometimes tone-deaf – it’s either incredibly violent or solely for marketing. Children need to be inspired, so I like inhabiting that world.

You’ve talked about wanting to produce and also direct. Is this a creative wish, or a way of navigating the still youth-centric film and TV industry?

It’s both. Times will change. I’m 45 and my interests are shifting. If it wasn’t in my heart, I’d just be acting, but as time goes by I have more of a passion for being behind the lens. All the hard work I’ve been putting in continues to put me in a position of power and influence. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to exercise that. I want to create more stories for women. I want to create what I want to see. I just want to make sure that, whatever I’m doing, I’m always on top.

Special Ops: Lioness will stream on Paramount Plus from 23rd July 2023. Sign up for Paramount Plus here.

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