How Zoe Saldaña Turned a Small Movie Role into Star Trek Stardom

Zoe Saldaña’s journey into the universe of science fiction was as unexpected as it was impactful. While many know her as the formidable Neyitri in James Cameron’s blockbuster “Avatar” or as the indomitable Gamora in “Avengers: Endgame,” it was her lesser-known role in Tom Hanks’ movie “The Terminal” that paved her way to becoming a sci-fi icon. The 2004 film, directed by Steven Spielberg and earning $219 million against a $60 million budget, featured Saldaña as a dedicated Trekkie—a role that she embraced without initially knowing the depth of the Star Trek universe.

“I didn’t even know what the word ‘Trekkie’ meant. So I didn’t know what conventions were. I knew of Star Trek, but not extensively,”

How Zoe Saldaña Turned a Small Movie Role into Star Trek Stardom: The Surprising Journey
Zoe Saldaña’s Rise to Stardom

she explained. Her role required a deep dive into the culture surrounding Star Trek, leading her to watch episodes and attend fan conventions, a process that ignited a newfound passion.

“I remember watching it and the people around me were sort of laughing at everything and I felt so overwhelmed and I felt so happy that I remember thinking ‘I want to be like that, I want to be so passionate about something that I incorporate it in my everyday life and it is the reason I wake up and it fulfills me,'”

Saldaña recounted.

The Vulcan Salute: A Gesture of Destiny

One of the more serendipitous aspects of her role in “The Terminal” was performing the Vulcan salute, a gesture that would become emblematic of her later role as Nyota Uhura in JJ Abrams’ “Star Trek” reboot. This connection was no mere coincidence; it was Spielberg who taught her the salute during the filming of “The Terminal.” Saldaña humorously noted Spielberg’s pride in this small yet significant contribution.

“Oh my god! He totally flaunted that he was the one that taught me to do [the Vulcan salute]. Because he really did. It took a little bit for me,”

How Zoe Saldaña Turned a Small Movie Role into Star Trek Stardom: The Surprising Journey
Star Trek’s Surprising New Icon

she said.
This preparation and familiarization with Star Trek lore did not go unnoticed. When it came time to cast the Star Trek reboot, Saldaña was a natural choice for Uhura, a character who would eventually share a complex romantic storyline with Zachary Quinto’s Spock. Her earlier role as a Trekkie not only made her casting feel predestined but also eased her transition into the expansive Star Trek universe.

Beyond The Terminal: A Sci-Fi Staple

Saldaña’s career trajectory has been heavily influenced by her roles in science fiction, transforming her into one of Hollywood’s leading stars in the genre. Prior to her ventures into space and other galaxies, Saldaña had appeared in various dramas and comedies, showcasing her versatile acting skills. However, it was her passionate embrace of sci-fi roles that resonated with audiences worldwide, earning her a special place in cinematic history.

How Zoe Saldaña Turned a Small Movie Role into Star Trek Stardom: The Surprising Journey
From Small Role to Star

Her affection for the genre is not just professional but also personal. Saldaña cites “Blade Runner” as her favorite sci-fi film, reflecting her deep appreciation and understanding of the genre. This blend of personal interest and professional involvement has made her roles feel authentic and engaging, capturing the hearts of fans across multiple franchises.

Zoe Saldaña’s narrative is one of unexpected opportunities and passionate pursuits. From a humble beginning as a Trekkie in “The Terminal” to iconic roles in “Star Trek” and beyond, her journey underscores the serendipitous nature of life and the transformative power of embracing one’s passions. As she continues to explore new realms in Hollywood, Saldaña remains a beacon for aspiring actors and a testament to the enduring allure of science fiction.

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