EXCLUSIVE: Zoe Saldana on Playing a Cubana in 'Live by Night' & Reveals Why She's a Gangsta

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Zoe Saldana is channeling her inner gangsta in her new film, Live by Night. The actress plays Graciela, a Cuban living in Florida that runs her own molasses business with her brother. The film stars and was directed by Ben Affleck. We spoke to the 38-year-old all about the film and why she is a gangsta is our book. Check out what she had to say and make sure to catch the film out January 13. 

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Can you talk to us about your character Graciela?

I play Graciela Suarez, along with my brother Esteban, I own the biggest distribution company for molasses that in turn makes rum. We are Cuban immigrants that basically came from our mother land into Florida with our family.

In what ways would you say the two of you are alike and in what ways are you different?

I think there's a moment when Graciela looks into Joe’s eyes and tells him that she knows that he's a gangsta but she doesn't see any cruelty and he wants to do everything in his power to convince her otherwise. I think that very early on she sees the kindred spirit in Joe in terms that they live lives that are in darkness because they are all creatures of night. They are dealing with so much corruption but they're good people at the core.

Would you say that Graciela is a gangsta?

I think so especially because she's her own boss. She works with her family, she's also able to navigate in a world that's not women friendly, it’s not color friendly, it’s not immigrant friendly and she handles everything with so much poise and strength so yea she is gangsta. 

We are total fans of yours and think you are gangsta because you are very woke and when you have an opinion you say it and you're not afraid to stand by your words. Would you say that you relate to her in that sense?

I'll let you consider me a gangsta but I can't really call myself that but what I will say that I do consider myself a woman. I do feel very true within myself and what I believe in and what my life has been so far. I like owning everything that I am and I try to a sincere life as much as possible.

What is it like for you to play a Cubana and have to put on a Cuban accent?

I was just trying to speak the way my mom speaks, like everybody in my life, from my grandma, my step dad, and my step brother. Everybody speaks broken English and in a different category and so I want her accent to be thick. I wanted to give the feeling that she was an affluent individual and I wanted her to stand out. What I read about her and her brother is that they're very young to be in this business because they inherited it from their parents who inherited this from their parents and so forth. I grew up in Latin America so you live and you know that land is everything.  Land is the aspiration, land is the affirmation that you're affluent, that your cultured. I just thought about my upbringing mainly accessed Graciela from that point. I didn't want the accent to be from a person who just learned it in the States. I had a feeling that she probably went to school, traveled with her parents at some point and that's when she learned English or maybe some other language.

As an Afro Latina, why do you think it's important to play one on screen?

I think it's important to depict it in an accurate way. Whether I play a Latina or I play a woman that is black or a green one. I don't care as long as I play a woman that possesses traits that I see in women.  Women are so versatile, so complex, so grounded, so solid, so vulnerable, so weak. I like the bulk of dimensional characteristics that make up a woman. I don't like when women are ready to just cater to be serviceable characters, and it's not that I'm evading the direct question that you're asking but I take great pride in whatever heritage of the characters that I'm playing are from especially the Latina characters.  They will always be something that I'm proud of and will embrace with grace and humility because it’s my heritage. I just feel that I would represent a stronger example to women if I play a woman that has traits, as opposed to a woman that is defined by her body or her face or racial background. 

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