Q&A: Zoe Saldana on Juggling 3 Hit Franchises and Her New Media Brand for Latinx Millennials

Guardians of the Galaxy star spotlights untold stories with Bese

Zoe Saldana stars in the Guardians of the Galaxy, Avatar and Star Trek franchises. Getty Images
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Many stars aspire to nab a hit movie franchise, but Zoe Saldana has three of them. She plays Gamora in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy films (and will appear in April 27’s Avengers: Infinity War, alongside every other major character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe). She also appears as Uhura in the Star Trek movies. Next, Saldana is reprising her Avatar role of Neytiri in four announced sequels to the James Cameron blockbuster, which are in production now.

On top of her numerous hefty roles, the actress is also branching out into media with Bese, the digital and social media brand she launched earlier this month to empower Latinx millennial and Generation Zers and spotlight untold stories in America. (The name comes from the verb “to be” in two languages: the English “be” and Spanish “se.”)

Saldana talked with Adweek about how her kids inspired Bese, juggling three sci-fi franchises and what she looks for when partnering with brands.

Adweek: What inspired Bese, and why was it such an important project for you?
Saldana: I was inspired during my pregnancy with my first son. There’s a lot of reflection that happens when you’re about to become a parent. My American experience has been great, but it does carry bittersweet events that made me feel excluded from the American narrative at times. I wanted so many things for my kids, and I also wanted to change so many things for them, because I didn’t want them to go through that experience of being excluded from a conversation. I wanted to participate in broadening the narrative for my country, and I wanted my country to be worthy of my son. So observing throughout my career how mainstream media can be a tool or a weapon—that can either guide or misguide its audience—made me understand the power [of] communication, and the power of creating good content that is positive, that cultivates aspiration.

Even though you’ve been thinking about this for years, given everything going on politically, this seems like the perfect time for a platform like this.
Absolutely. Had I stayed in New York and pursued another career and never traveled across America, I think I would have believed all that the media was feeding me about stereotypes. Not just within my community, but within other communities across our nation. I feel like mainstream media can make or break bonds amongst our American communities, and that is frightening for me.

How often will we hear from you personally on the site?
I’m not looking to be the face of Bese. I will share stories if they are relevant in relation to a series we’re creating, but I feel like the people across America will be the stories that we showcase.

Bese doesn’t have any advertisers right now. Are you looking for brands to partner with?
Absolutely. Before Bese was launched, as we were creating our business deck, I was sitting down with brands like Coca-Cola and Bank of America and Target, brands whose missions are very much aligned with the missions of Bese and its core value of highlighting underrepresented communities and empowering underrepresented communities across gender, race, class and language of origin. I feel like the more Bese continues to grow, the more we will be able to prove to many brands that Bese is a platform [with which] they should be in business.

You launched Bese shortly before your next Marvel film, Avengers: Infinity War. Your character, Gamora, has the most personal connection to the film’s villain, Thanos, out of anyone in that universe.
Yeah. She’s his daughter. He raised her. So I really liked that the Russo brothers [who directed the film] and their team of writers, in order for them to extend the whole narrative of Thanos, they looked to explore his personal life. And I feel like that’s what makes him a lot more mischievous as a villain: the fact that as a father, he just was pure evil.

Compared to the Guardians movies, did making these next two Avengers films feel as big as every marketing element of the campaign has felt so far?
It felt big, but also it felt very mom-and-pop-shop. All of these actors that have been reprising their characters over and over again in their respective franchises were all coming together, so there is a sense of familiarity. And also, the Marvel team of producers are unlike any producers in this town. They’re warm, and kind of cuddly.

What was it like to see yourself on that Infinity War poster alongside so many others?
It feels amazing, and I’m just so happy that I can see my face—that I’m not so far in the background it. Inclusivity has been something that I’ve yearned for and always look for in everything that I do, because I know what being excluded feels like. So feeling included in this amazing, big-ass saga makes me feel proud and honored.

You’re in the middle of filming four Avatar sequels now. How long of a shoot will that be?
We’re going to shoot two now and then two later. We started shooting in September, and I think we’re probably going to shoot all through the summer and fall. It’s a very technical movie, so it requires a lot of time creating all the algorithms and that digital space for us to play in. But I look at Jim [Cameron] and I’m in awe of how much his brain is able to process and how much he’s just able to create out of this natural curiosity to learn and grow. Every time I work with him, I feel like I’ve gone to college all over again.

Between the Marvel, Avatar and Star Trek franchises, you devoted a big chunk of your career to science fiction films. What has been the appeal?
I love science fiction. I understood very early [that] if I was in space, I was going to be able to play more versatile characters besides just being someone’s other: someone’s girlfriend, someone’s daughter. I was going to be a warrior, I was going to fight, I was going to do action scenes. That’s kept me relevant and connected on a global scale, and it’s also given me the ability to appeal to a younger generation. And I really like staying connected with younger people, because I’m truly inspired by them.

You’re worked with several brands in the past, including Campari and L’Oreal. What are you looking for in those partnerships?
I’m looking for truthful collaboration. I have a very adverse reaction to feeling objectified, and also, my sense of responsibility to the consumer is just too big. I don’t like to misguide people because I don’t like to be misguided. I’ve only had one experience in my past where I really took a chance on a very big brand and I was deeply disappointed, so I couldn’t wait to be out of my contract. Every collaboration I’ve had after that has been absolutely blissful.

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.