Zooming in on Zoe
Zoe Yadira Zaldana Nazario was born in New Jersey on June 19, 1978, but raised in Queens till her father died in a car accident when she was ten. At that point, her immigrant mother moved the family back to the Dominican Republic where Zoe enrolled in an elite ballet academy.
She returned to America for her junior year of high school, which is when she developed an interest in acting, although she also had to take a part-time job at Burger King. After making a well-received screen debut in a Center Stage, a ballet-driven ensemble drama, Zoe landed lead roles opposite the likes of Kirsten Dunst in Get Over It, Britney Spears in Crossroads, Nick Cannon in Drumline, Tom Hanks in The Terminal, Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean and Bernie Mac in Guess Who.
Here, the rising young star shares her thoughts about Blackout, Vantage Point and some of her upcoming films.
KW: Hey, Zoe, thanks so much for the time.
ZS: Of course, absolutely!
KW: What interested you in Blackout and in playing Claudine?
ZS: Well, as a New Yorker, I’d been there during the blackout. So, when I read Jerry’s [writer/director Jerry LaMothe] script, I just felt like it was pretty much right on with all the things that had happened. And it felt like a grounded script where the characters were very real and tangible. The story between Claudine and James itself, about two people trying to make it work after being left traumatized by 9/11, and experiencing setbacks, seemed so normal to me. So, it felt really good.
KW: What was it like for you during the actual Blackout of 2003?
ZS: I was caught with my entire family in the City [Manhattan], and the girls and I were going to go on like a spa day, and all of a sudden everything just turned off. We were uptown, at like 55th and Park, and we had to walk from there all the way to Forest Hills. It was kinda crazy.
KW: What do you see as the basic idea behind Blackout?
ZS: It was inspired by real events that happened, so it’s designed to show how people deal with pressure in different ways. How some people just break, some take advantage of other human beings, and others are helpful and become completely sympathetic to the less fortunate.
KW: Would you consider Center Stage as your breakout film?
ZS: Well, it was my first movie. It gave me a taste of what it was I could be doing in this business. And I really saw myself doing it, and I kinda liked it.
KW: How did so many great roles immediately start coming to you one after the other in blockbusters like Drumline, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Terminal and Guess Who?
ZS: I think it’s a combination of having a good team behind you, fighting for you, and continuing working on your craft. I like to study, even when I’m not preparing for a role. I think it’s very important. It just keeps you on your toes.
KW: I think even some of your smaller movies, like Premium have been great. I thought that was a charming little love story.
ZS: I’m glad you liked it.
KW: How did you enjoy making Vantage Point surrounded by such a stellar cast?
ZS: What do you think? I was blown away by [director] Pete Travis and by the opportunity to work with all these amazing actors, primarily Forest [Whitaker], William Hurt, Dennis Quaid and Sigourney Weaver. But I was so looking forward to working with this director after seeing a film he did called Omagh. I was so impressed with his touch, how he’s able to make things feel so real without altering anything.
KW: Yes, I loved Omagh, a very moving Irish film about the aftermath of an IRA bombing. I gave it four stars. I see that you’ll be playing Lieutenant Uhura in the next Star Trek movie. Did you discuss the role with Nichelle Nichols, the actress who originated the role?
ZS: Yes, I did meet her, and I was so humbled to have met such an icon. She’s an amazing woman and a strong human being. That was very interesting, as was working with Leonard Nimoy [the original Mr. Spock]. I felt like the entire cast and myself were honored to be filling in the shoes of the original [Starship] Enterprise [cast]. We really hope we don’t disappoint.
KW: Given all the loyal Trekkies, I’d guess that you’ve got a guaranteed hit on your hands. What about The Skeptic which you made with Tom Arnold?
ZS: Oh, yes, that was fun. I made that almost three years ago. I kinda wish for the movie to come out, but we’re still keeping our fingers crossed.
KW: You’ve worked with Spielberg in the past, and now you’re working with another Oscar-winning director, James Cameron, in Avatar. Are you in the process of filming that one now?
ZS: We actually filmed it all last year, and yes, we’re going to come back and do some pick up shots later on this Spring. But it’s going marvelously. He such an amazing director. It’s been a great experience.
KW: Do you still make your home in New York or have you moved to Los Angeles?
ZS: I live in L.A. now.
KW: Where in L.A. do you live?
ZS: [Giggles] I’d rather not say.
KW: Nosy Jimmy Bayan, “Realtor to the Stars” wants to know just the general neighborhood.
ZS: I’m a very private person. You know that. I live in an area where there are too many New Yorkers, and I’m so happy about that.
KW: Can you still go to the mall or the movie theater like a regular person?
ZS: Of course I can.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Would you describe yourself as happy?
ZS: Yeah. I like that question.
KW: Well, thanks again for the interview. I’ve loved your work thusfar, and I’m eager to see what’s in store.
ZS: Thank you so much. Have a good day.