It’s funny how life imitates art. Upon wrapping her first high-profile role as Britney Spears’s bitchy pal in the 2002 drama Crossroads, 23-year-old Zoe Saldana faced her own fork in the road: Opt indefinitely for teen-friendly studio flicks as the “blonde girl’s best friend” or forsake Hollywood production perks-the goodies-laden craft-services tables and the tricked-out trailers-for the down-and dirty world of independent film?
At first, Saldana was undecided. She appeared in Drumline, Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal and the first Pirates of the Caribbean adventure. But after the “really great and really bad things” that came with making that summer blockbuster, Saldana strode confidently down the other path. Between 2004 and 2008, she appeared in nine indies, including Haven, Premium and Blackout. “I picked roles that reflected the everyday life I experienced.” she says. “I don’t want to be a small fish in a big pond-I’d much rather be a big fish in my own little pond.”
In 2009, that path leads Saldana, now 30, to big, big things. On May 8, she’ll explore the final frontier board the retroffited USS Enterpise in J.J. Abrams’s highly anticipated Star Trek as the ship’s communications officer, Uhura. December will bring the science-fiction adventure Avatar, James Cameron’s firs feature since Titanic. Both are gigantic productions that, combined, will require a year of grueling international press tours, junkets, red-carpet appearances and convention visits. – ETHAN ALTER