Last year when director Justin Lin’s Star Trek Beyond was filming in Vancouver, I got to visit the set with a few other reporters. During a break in filming, we got to speak with Zoe Saldana. She talked about what Lin brought to the franchise, what it was like to get back on set with the crew, what screenwriters Simon Pegg and Doug Jung have brought to the film, the Spock/Kirk relationship in Beyond, getting to work with Idris Elba, the tone of the third installment, and so much more. Check out what she had to say below. Star Trek Beyond opens July 22.
ZOE SALDANA: It has been. It has been tons of fun, yeah. It doesn’t happen every day, you know, for actors to sort of have that ability to go back and work together, and especially if you liked each other.
I know you are going to be guarded with the story and the details, but what was your reaction when you got that script from Simon or whoever gave it to you, the first time you’re reading the one you are going to shoot?
SALDANA: I was excited. First, I understood the action from the first read. I was like, “Oh, OK. I won’t need 20 days to understand this.” I was also very proud that Simon was one of the cowriters. And it felt like a very fresh way to seeing all of us. I hope it makes sense. I think it will once you guys see the move. I think every installment that we’ve done has been very unique in terms of where they’re at, where each character is at in their own personal lives, and also as a crew.
And here, just when you think, “I don’t know what else they can do with us…” We’ve been working for two years straight. We’re exhausted. I think we kinda need a break. It’s not like we hate each other, but we need a break as people. We’ve just been working and sharing the same space. That’s how you start the movie. That’s where you see us in the beginning. And I thought it was really smart to kind of…because you kind of wonder, “Where is this going to go? Because they are starting out like they are done, like it’s the end. So how can they be challenged this time?” So the firs 10 pages I was like…I mean it’s amazing.
Are you guys…like you can’t just go back to earth…
SALDANA: I mean somebody can quit and then they just put you on a ship and you just go through warp speed and you are home. I don’t think anybody wants to. But yeah, it’s almost like they’ve reached that point in their lives that it’s like…you know, you are no longer immature. You are no longer inexperienced. You are getting really good at what you are doing. You are a little older. You are a little wiser. And you are starting to think about life, going, “What is it that we’re doing here? Why are we doing this? Why are we representing Star Fleet away from home? Is it even worth it?”
I said this before. It’s like once you see one planet, you’ve seen them all. They’re at that point when you see them for the first time.
J.J. is obviously very good with ensembles. But Justin is kind of known for sort of being the defining director of action ensemble casts. Can you talk a little bit about that, about the difference in their styles? We’ve heard the whole cast is, in a way, even more integrated into this story than they were in the previous films.
Can you comment on that?
SALDANA: Well, I mean I’m like pro Justin, by the way. I love J.J. We miss him. But J.J. let us know that he’s too good for us…[laughter] He’s with Star Wars folks. It’s OK.
But Justin is amazing. I feel like with his repertoire of films, we haven’t really had an opportunity to see what he can really do as a director. I feel like this Star Trek is going to give him that chance to kind of seal that stamp, like, “Not only can I do action, I can also follow up, keep up with an ensemble cast of characters and their trajectories, and how they all align together and how they are all individuals as well.” He’s doing a very amazing job.
He’s also very classy. He’s a class act, because he understands that he’s the newbie, and he’s walking into this where everybody is sort of established as a family. So he knows how to stand back, but he’s also very focused. He knows what he’s here to do. He has a very clear picture of what he’s after. And he’s a really good director. He’s a man of very few words, but they are precise. So I speak Justin.
And he also understands that because this is the third time that we’re all coming back to play our characters, he doesn’t need to tell us who we are. But he will direct us, and that’s what he does. I admire just his confidence.
If the Spock/Kirk relationship was the most central in the first two films. Spock/Uhura had to be second. Would you say that still follows through? How does that relationship change in Beyond?
SALDANA: I think that’s going to be there. Every relationship in this movie will be tested on a very, very high scale. The great thing about this installment is that it’s not only Kirk and Spock and J.J.’s Spock and Uhura, his twist, it’s also Chekov and Scotty. It’s Sulu.
So I’m really excited about this because now it’s an ensemble more than ever. Everybody’s relationship, all of their dynamics are tested. Spock and Uhura are going to be tested as well. To what extent? I don’t know. But I mean they made it in the show. They were old in the show. [laughs] What more can I say without giving it away?
After all the action that you did in Guardians, in this film did you kind of find yourself saying…you know, if there was ever a choice, where it was like, “Oh, no, no, give me this. I got this…”
SALDANA: No! This was the first time in my career that I was just like, “Well, they haven’t mentioned it. I’m not going to bring it up.” I just had twins eight months ago. I think I needed that rest. However, Uhura has a very dynamic storyline. It’s not just that I’m hailing frequencies from my station. I am being physically challenged just like the rest of the cast, but not as before.
Are you on this scene with the rotating set?
SALDANA: I am.
SALDANA: It’s fucking awesome. [laughs] That made me want to kind of do a little more. It looks amazing. There is a lot of action, but it’s also witty action. So it keeps you always…it keeps you at the edge of your seat kinda going, “Oh, my god. What’s going to happen? These people are being tossed everywhere.” It was a very challenging shoot, I heard. But it looked amazing.
Could you talk about your first day filming on the bridge set and everyone is there, and what it was like just behind the scenes?
SALDANA: A lot of dub smashing. [laughter] You know, “Oh yeah, the bridge is cool.” [laughs] I’m one of those people that even after having babies, as soon as I’m faced with something that makes me emotional, I kind of go numb because I’m really beside myself.
We are very grateful. We are very happy and excited to be on the bridge. We count our lucky stars to know that, as actors, not only do we have a job, but we’re also going back to the same place where we get to work together. We also have an opportunity as individuals to make right or add whatever layer we wish we would have added to our characters in the installments before. Now we’re having that opportunity to get a second chance, a third chance.
We did take tons of pictures. I wish we could share them, but we can’t. I don’t know. It’s great. It’s really awesome. And this one moved. It wasn’t the kind of set where they are jerking the camera, doing the camera hand job. [laughs] You have to see it. It’s really comical. You always have that one camera guy: “And, action!” [laughter] It used to be J.J., too, [laughing] because he wanted to…it was like, “Oh, I’ll handle this camera!” He’d be like jerking the camera. [laughter] This time the set really moved. So they went all out to kind of give us that experience, and it was cool. So all the sets. There is one set that rotates 360 and there are two sets that shake a lot. So it’s kinda cool.
Did you have a scene with Idris? If so, what is Uhura’s dynamic with his character?
SALDANA: Our dynamic is a little hot. It’s almost steamy. It never gets there, thank God. But I’m happy that I have scenes that a lot of my character’s dynamic is going to be lived with Idris’s character, because…And I’ve worked with Idris on two separate occasions, on The Losers, and also on Takers, even thought my part was very small on Takers.
So I love Idris dearly. I’m a huge fan of his work. So to see him in this movie, I’m so proud. And he’s so ugly to look at. [laughter] It’s like you look at him and you are like, “Oh god!” He could break the camera he is so unhandsome. [laughter]
We’ve heard that there’s a lot more aliens in this film. Can you talk a little bit about that?
SALDANA: Yes. There are a lot of 3:30 call times…[laughs] I heard one time there was like a 1:30 AM call time for somebody. It was brutal for that person and the crew that was handling them. So it’s great. It’s always a fun thing to see just the opportunity that each department has to showcase their work. And you are going to have a lot of aliens.
That’s one thing that I always like to see. If we’re doing a film in space, I don’t want to see just human beings in space. It’s so boring. We must be like the dullest species ever. So we have a variation of a lot of species.
Although it must be nice…
SALDANA: It must be nice to not have a 1:30 call time? Yes. This time is different. I’m used to it. I’m up by 4:00, 4:30…
Ah, well you have twins.
SALDANA: Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? You’re like, “Sleep training much? No? OK.” [laughs]
It’s doubtful anyone involved in these films is as knowledgeable about Star Trek as Simon…
SALDANA: Have you interviewed Karl?
SALDANA: You should. Anton also. Anton, for being still in his 20’s…oh, man! His 20’s! He’s an old soul. And there’s a lot about the series that Anton knows. When he was 18 in Star Trek 1, he knew so much. We were just like, “What?” So, yeah…what was the question?
Can you give an example of ways in which you’ve seen Simon bringing that knowledge to the story, to the script?
SALDANA: We see it every day. You know, because being that he co-wrote this script, whenever he’s not in front of the camera, he’s right behind it, right next to Justin and Doug. And they are talking about, you know, the lines. They are talking about the following scenes. They are talking about the scenes they just shot. They are talking about whatever observations any character, any of us, made about their character for the following scenes. And it’s just flowing out of him.
So for him to have this opportunity to be able to create based on something that he’s so passionate about because he’s such a loyal, unconditional fan of the series, it’s just like watching a kid play with sand. I always use that reference every time I see a very passionate artist enthralled, like really into what he’s doing. And Simon is in it and it’s really great.
Is there anything you can say about the tone that he’s bringing to it that might differ from the last two installments?
SALDANA: There’s a humanity now here. Not to say that it wasn’t there before, because J.J. Abrams is the one writer that was known to sort of melt the ice-cold sterilization of action movies. So J.J. did that with Star Trek. And by him setting that tone, Simon was able to pick up from where sort of J.J. left off. And Simon is known for being a very human and sensible artist in the characters that he creates, and the characters that he creates around his character in the films. I’ve been a fan of his work for a very long time. And I’ve always believed in him. And he’s British. It’s like they fucking know big words and…They’re made to write. It’s like, “Oh my gosh! Shut up already!”
One of the things I loved about the first movie was the character moments and humor. The second film was darker, so you didn’t have as much humor. Is there more humor in this film than Into Darkness?
SALDANA: I think there’s going to be just as much humor as there was in the first one, maybe a little more. Because now it’s our third time coming around, there’s a lot less pressure. And also, there’s a lot of trust. Now that we kinda speak sci-fi [laughs], we are able to add to our lines and improv sometimes, and Justin welcomes it when the time is right for it. So we’ve been having a lot of fun.
One of the best scenes in the first film is that little elevator beat you and Spock have. It gets me every time I watch it. Is there anything on the emotional scale for you in this film with that?
SALDANA: Yes. I mean it would feel weird if it wasn’t there. The only two times that you’ve seen them…not the only two times. When you’ve seen them in the prior two films, they are involved. And even if this is a disolvement…Is that a word? Or not, they are in each other’s lives in a very passionate way. So you will see that. To what extent? I don’t know. But I think Spock is absolutely in love with Uhura. I think he’s crazy about her. And if Uhura is done with him, it’s going to kill him. [laughs] I’m joking. But he really loves me more than I do him.
One of the things about the first one was Abrams’ willingness to depart from canon. That was a big deal that Spock and Uhura got together, and you could feel love and you guys would have this relationship that’s ongoing. Are we still in a place where we can continue to depart from what came before in a big way like that?
SALDANA: It’s big. And they are very much in each other’s lives. I don’t know how else to say it to make you feel like good about the fact that they are going to be…It’s Spock and Uhura.
Even beyond Spock and Uhura, just story-wise, can Star Trek continue to do different things, where, in the old show, that wouldn’t have happened, Spock and Uhura together, or example? Are we still able to chart new territory?
SALDANA: New romance, new involvement…
SALDANA: Yeah, I think so. I certainly hope so. You are seeing a very human side to each and every one of these characters that you are going to like a great deal. You get to know a little bit more about them, and it’s not just of Kirk and Spock, and a little bit of Uhura when it concerns Spock. You are going to see how they are going to be tested on a very personal level, because…I think in the first two movies we raised the bar so high that we can only go higher. I think that’s what the writer did with this one.
So we’re comprised, like Leonard Nimoy said. Remember in the first movie? He’s like, “I am compromised.” So we are all compromised, yeah.
For more on Star Trek Beyond:
- Simon Pegg on ‘Star Trek Beyond’ and the Difference between ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek’
- ‘Star Trek Beyond’: Chris Pine on Kirk’s Psychological Battle
- ‘Star Trek Beyond’: 30 Things to Know About Justin Lin’s Film From Our Set Visit
- We’ve Seen 10 Minutes of ‘Star Trek Beyond’; Here Are Our Thoughts
- New ‘Star Trek Beyond’ Trailer Scatters the Crew