Opening this weekend is writer/director Scott Cooper’s (Crazy Heart) drama Out of the Furnace. Shot entirely on location in and around Braddock, Pennsylvania, the film stars Christian Bale as an ex-con steel worker who seeks vengeance when his brother (Casey Affleck) disappears after getting involved with a local crime ring. Out of the Furnace also stars Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard, Willem Dafoe and Forest Whitaker. For more on the film, watch the trailer or read all our previous coverage.
At the recent Los Angeles press day, I landed an exclusive interview with Zoe Saldana. She talked about how she got involved in the project, what it was like to work with the amazing cast (specifically Bale), how she’s changed as an actor, changes on set, J.J. Abrams not directing Star Trek 3, working with James Gunn on Guardians of the Galaxy, having to do four to five hours of makeup every day, and much more. Hit the jump for what she had to say.
ZOE SALDANA: Thank you.
I’m sure it has to be nice when you have to do a lot of press to be promoting something that’s real good, something you’re proud of.
SALDANA: Yeah, and know that all the people that are part of the party are super cool. You’re the coolest crowd ever of serious people ever. I love it.
Talk a little bit about how you got involved in this one. Is this one that they came to you? Did you hear about the project?
SALDANA: I know that Scott [Cooper, director] was gonna sit down with a couple of people, and he asked to meet me as one of them. I don’t know how many people he met for the part, but he and I just met once and we had a cocktail and we talked — about the story, about where we saw Lena, the relationship between her and Russell, why she did what she did. We talked about a lot of things, and I think that he really felt that I was able to channel her in the way that he wanted to see that Lena be manifested and he called me the next day, I think — I think it was that night — the next day, or very early morning, he was like, “Zoe, I want you to do this part.” And I just felt so happy.
When you were first getting involved, when he was meeting with you, did you know the other cast that was already being put together?
SALDANA: Yes. I knew that Christian [Bale] was going to be in the movie. They were talking to Casey [Affleck], and I was really happy and I was hoping it was going to be Casey, ‘cause he happens to be one of my favorite actors — and Forrest Whittaker, Willem Dafoe, Woody Harrelson, all sort of as we were getting to Pittsburgh, all these chips kept falling into place, and you just keep getting happier and happier.
SALDANA: Yes, it is ridiculous! Fucking hell, man.
It really is. Talk a little bit about getting to work with Christian, because I know that he really gives himself to roles with his look, in between takes, like everything. So what was it like working with him?
SALDANA: He’s in character, so the feelings that he’s able to give, not just to you, to the story, are genuine. So that gives you the permission to say, “Fuck off, I’m really going to just be this person, and not jump into her and then jump out.” I’m really just live in and try as much as I can to live in her space. And it was very painful, because there’s such a pure love between these two characters, and there’s so many circumstances between them, and you know they will never be able to be together, but they’re gonna feel very strongly about each other for a very long time. And to know that you’re working with an actor that is incredibly talented, super respectful, and will be in that zone — ‘cause you’re always worried, like, ‘Oh God, I don’t want him to feel that maybe’ — like sometimes you are, because you sense in the actor that you’re working with that they’re not gonna be in that pretend place for a long time. They’re gonna keep jumping in and out of it, so you have always have to be then jumping in and out with them sometimes, because we are working. You know, we are not these characters. We are who we are, and I’m very professional, but I’m also an artist, and whenever I get the opportunity to work with people that will go there — the little girl in me that would get lost in the worlds that I would create gets to come out and be safe, and I love doing that. So that’s why working with amazing actors and an amazing director is like the icing always on the cake of your life’s career, because you really get to believe that you are that person without having to care about what happens after, you know? So he provides that, because that’s who he is. Whether you do it now, that’s what he’s going to do, and that to me is a true artist. Actors like him and Daniel Day-Lewis and Viggo Mortenson and Casey Affleck, they can’t help it: they become what they are. When they say yes to a part, they start shedding their skin and putting on that suit until it’s the end, and that’s amazing.
I’ve spoken to some actors that say that the first time they met the actor they worked with was at the junket, because they never met the person on set. It was just the character.
Something that also I would imagine appealed to you about this project is that Hollywood does not produce the gritty realism films of the ‘70s that often. Not that there’s anything wrong with doing blockbusters, because people go to see that.
SALDANA: There’s a lot wrong with doing blockbusters. Let’s be real. And I’m a part of a lot of them, but these are stories that are great. Not just because I’m a part of them, it’s because they are great. But if all you focused on was blockbusters, you’re missing an accurate depiction of life, and art imitates life. So when art starts getting super uber fantastic, and it parts from the reality, it takes everybody with them. So then when you come back to your world, to your life, whether you’re in this business or you’re just a regular person living your life, the gap becomes very big. Sometimes I want to sit down and I want to see what I’ve gone through in my life in my on screen. In order for me to take it as a therapeutic release — that it’s okay, that life is okay with it’s fragility — I’m missing a lot of that in the way we tell stories now. So I do miss the ‘70s and the same way that I miss the saxophone of the ‘80s. When it came — just those sensual movies. I miss a lot of reality.
I’m definitely curious of how you’ve changed as an actor. You’ve been in the biz for a little bit now, and have you changed the way that you prepare for a role, or how you are as an actor over the time that you’ve been doing this?
SALDANA: I really do hope that this is how I’m seen, because the way that I feel is that I have evolved a lot. Part of life is growing. It’s applying all the lessons that you’ve learned as much as you can, day by day. So in my career, I’ve worked with amazing filmmakers and I’ve also gotten to work with amazing actors, and I go home taking something from them with me, and that helps a lot. Because sometimes you’re able to discover things about yourself that were already there, or that you’ve always wanted to do but you were just afraid — you never gave yourself the permission. Like, an example: what I loved about Out of the Furnace is that I didn’t need to try to be nice to anybody, because we are working for a very long time, two-three months at a time, and you always feels like you always have to entertain people sometimes — when in reality, it feels great to just come to work and not talk to anybody and just be with yourself and this character that you’re doing and in this story and in that space, and know that’s it gonna be okay. And I learned that from watching actors that in character, like they say. They’re not mean people, and half the time, you’ll meet them when you’re promoting the movie, and it’s not that that’s okay, that’s the best. That’s the best, ‘cause I go to work to work. I don’t go there to — you wanna walk away with a friend, of course you do. That’s not what drives you to work. I’m not an actor because I want to be with amazing famous people. I want to work and collaborate with them, and then I want to go home to my life, which I find amazing, no matter how small and simple it is. I like my life, and I like everything and everyone in it. So I like being able to just let it all go and come home, and never think about work again, and vise versa. And when you work with people that have that understanding because they’re naturally talented and they also go to work, you feel great. You don’t feel guiltier.
From when you got the script to what people see on screen, how much changed along the way? Sometimes with the rehearsal process, or Scott might be tweaking some dialogue to make you feel more comfortable. I’m just curious how that dynamic happened, or if at all.
SALDANA: When it comes to Lena, she was pretty much there on the paper. And that was another thing too — sometimes when you do big blockbusters, the script keeps changing day to day, and that’s a good thing, because that means that we’re always bettering it. We’re always making it better — actually I know bettering is not a word, but I’m from Queens, so go with it — but sometimes I want it to already be there.
I think most actors want it to be there.
SALDANA: I want it to be there, because you make decisions for yourself, and by the time you get to the set, you are that person, according to all the homework that you’ve done and what you give to the character. You become this character, and when you keep changing, changing, and changing — it’s almost like a child. When you keep moving a child from place to place to place, at some point you have to give a child a little bit of a consistency, ‘cause the child depends on it. It makes them feel safe to know they’re gonna go to bed and tomorrow morning, their day’s gonna be just like today was. Consistency is good, and I’m a perfectionist, I’m a very disciplined person, and I don’t like when you change shit around too much. It makes me very like, “Okay, what’s going on? Okay, I’m leaving.” So this script was already there. Lena was on the paper. It was perfect. That’s why I wanted to do it. That is why when I gave my pitch to Scott, I knew who she was because she was already there. And then when Scott told me, “I want you to be her.” I was like, “That’s great. Let’s just now do the work.” And it’s fun.
Before I run out of time with you, I just want to touch on a few other quick things. I’m a huge fan of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films, big fan, but I’m secretly a little happy that he’s not doing the third one, and I’m gonna tell you why.
It means it’s gonna get made sooner, because J.J. would bounce into something else.
And then it would take a little time to get that third film going, and now, from what I understand, it’s filming next year, or at least that’s the goal.
With J.J., it would never have happened that quick.
SALDANA: Yes, exactly, ‘cause I think Star Wars is definitely gonna take a lot of his time. I know that it’s a great thing that we won’t have to wait. I’m gonna be bummed because I love working with that man, but I know whoever’s going to step up to the plate is gonna kill it. And there’s an array of actors in this business right now that can really deliver, and so I’m excited to see who’s gonna come onboard.
I am too. I just saw Roberto Orci recently, and he said he was busy writing. So I was just very excited.
SALDANA: That’s a good thing. They’re always writing! Bob is always writing.
Exactly. One last thing: obviously, Guardians of the Galaxy, big movie.
SALDANA: I’m excited about Guardians. Very excited about Guardians.
I know you can’t talk about the specifics of the story, nor will I ask, but I’m definitely curious about what it was like playing that character, working for director James Gunn [director], and the experience.
SALDANA: I loved working with James. I want to work with him again. It’s that thing. I loved the dynamic, the energy that he has. I like his kooky nature. He’s a kooky artist, and he’s unconventional, he’s unique, he has his own voice. He’s cult-y. I have a passion for it. You know, Heathers and movies — I come from that. I love movies that are unique, like the Quentin Tarantinos of them all. Whether they’re A, B, or C, however people like to consider talent in this business, which I hate. Like, A movies, A actors, A directors — fuck that. Sometimes a C movie made by a C director is brilliant.
Yes, I agree.
SALDANA: He’s a very unique person, and I like that.
He’s also never had the opportunity to do something so big as this.
SALDANA: And now that he did, you realize that he was made for it. That he can handle it, that he can take it, that he can create it, he can manifest, and I felt very, very good working with him. And also, for a person of his caliber with a very strong personality like he has, if you’re willing to go there, he’ll go there with you, ‘cause he believes very strongly in what he does, and he likes to be surrounded with people that also believe. And I’m a very outspoken person, and there are times in which like, “Okay, we got it Zoe.” And then there are also times where he’s like, “Zoe, I know that–” “But, but, but!” “Yes, yes. Well what about this?” And then he’ll go. He and I will go there. “But this– but I did it–” And at the end, sometimes it was the way I saw it, and most of the times it was the way he saw it, but I felt a part of something. I felt respected, I felt seen. I felt like a collaboration. I loved it, and I’m really excited about the film. The whole crew behind it — they were top notch people, and I know that Marvel kept getting more and more excited as weeks would go by and they would see what we were doing. The make-up was challenging.
I think that’s the nice word. There’s definitely an R-rated version of that word.
SALDANA: Oh my God, yeah. It was fucking challenging. Four to five hours a day — that’s fine. It’s the tweaking. It doesn’t stop there. It’s not like once they make you, they let you go, and then you just see them when you have to remove the make-up. It keeps moving, it keeps shifting, because the skin is an organ, for the love of God; that will perspire, that will breathe, that will do this, that will crack, that will be dry. And especially if you’re hormones changes, and as woman, we often know we change every two weeks — it would alter the state of how you look, and it was just — it’s the tweaking. Every take after take, everybody would come, and there were moments like, “Don’t! Just go away! Just don’t look at me, please. Don’t touch me, please. Don’t touch me, people.” Because you just want to be in character. You want to be doing this, you want to be talking to James Gunn about this — and they’re gluing something, and I’m like, “Lord, they need to, by the time we go to the sequel, they need to have perfected some technology for make-up, ‘cause I’m gonna go crazy.”