Zoe Saldana Shares Why She Agreed to Nina Simone Biopic

By Kenrya Rankin Apr 21, 2016

The Nina Simone biopic, “Nina,” is slated to hit theaters tomorrow (April 22). Ahead of the limited release, star Zoe Saldana attended what The Root describes as an intimate screening in Atlanta on Tuesday (April 19). Joined by “Nina” producer Stuart Parr and Simone’s musical director Al Schackman, Saldana participated in a short convo about the film.

While Saldana did not directly address criticism surrounding her portrayal of Simone—for which she wore makeup to darken her skin and prosthetics to widen her nose—she did discuss how she came to the project, her process for embodying Simone and what she learned from working on the film.

On how she came on board:
I was approached by a filmmaker—you know Cynthia Mort—and she said she wanted to meet me for the Nina movie, and I was really surprised because I thought, well, Mary J.’s doing that, and she was like, “Yes, she was as of recently, but she will not be a part of it, and this was a mutual decision.” …

As an artist, I am going to give you [the] step-by-step of how you approach something or you’re thinking of something, and you kind of go, “Well, I’m not going to touch that unless I get absolute clearing from Mary J. or her camp that this is true.”

Once that came about and I received confirmation, I turned the project down because for various reasons I thought I was not the right age to be a part of this project because of the time frame … which the director wanted to document or talk about in her story of Nina. And obviously—well, the other obvious reasons—but then something else came about once I kept brewing with this, and I thought, “Well, this project has been at every studio, pitched at every studio. It has been offered to a number of excellent, amazing actresses that, for whatever valid reasons of their own, decided to pass on the project. Do I sit on the side and wait and sort of, for my personal fears, do I just sit on the side and just pass this project from my hands to the next hands and just wash my hands of it and be done with it? Or do I make the decision to be a part of the telling of the story of an iconic figure in American history that happens to be a woman, that happens to be Black?” So I guess the good outweighed the fear and the bad.

On how she prepared for the role:
I remember I moved out of my house. I left my mom with my assistant and my dog and my house and I moved four miles away to isolate myself because I just wanted to just live, try to re-create an environment where Nina and I could become, like, roommates. I wanted to be haunted by her. …

So that was kind of like my entrance to Nina. I didn’t want to approach her as this iconic musical figure because that just felt really external to me. I wanted to find some way to identify with her as a woman, as an artist, as a person of color, as an American, and just try to find any similarities in how powerless you can feel sometimes as an artist, when all you want to do is just exhibit your art, create art, and sometimes you have to go through so many layers of bullshit that can impede upon you feeling absolutely free, and I feel like she was really haunted by that.

On what she learned:
I learned that, as an artist, you have to make your own decisions and they have to come from your gut and from your heart, and not from any personal gains that you may think you’re going to get. I think that as a community of color that has bred amazing artists that not only have given us beautiful art that they create, they’ve given us our history, and these are stories worth telling.

Read more on TheRoot.com.