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Zoe Yadira Saldaña Nazario (/sæl?dæn?/ sal-DAN-?; born June 19, 1978), known as Zoë Saldana or Zoe Saldana, is an American actress. She had her breakthrough roles in the 2000 film Center Stage and the 2002 film Crossroads. She later gained prominence for her roles as Anamaria in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the young Uhura in the 2009 film Star Trek, and Neytiri in James Cameron’s Avatar and its upcoming sequels.
Saldana was born Zoe Yadira Saldaña Nazario in Passaic, New Jersey. Her late father, Aridio Saldaña, was Dominican, and her mother, Asalia Nazario, is Puerto Rican. She has often spoken of her pride in being from a Latin culture. Her first languages are English and Spanish. She spent the majority of her early childhood growing up in Queens, New York. Her father died in a car accident when she was nine years old, and Saldaña and her mother subsequently moved to the Dominican Republic. There, Saldaña discovered her love of dance and soon enrolled in the ECOS Espacio de Danza Academy; she studied ballet, jazz, and modern Latin dance. The family returned to Queens after her sophomore year in high school.
In 1995, she began performing with the FACES theater group in Brooklyn, which put on plays geared toward providing positive messages for teens, via themes dealing with issues such as substance abuse and adolescent sexuality. Concurrently, she performed with the New York Youth Theater; her appearance in their production of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat led a talent agency to recruit her. Her previous dance training, and her acting experience, helped her land her first film role, playing Eva, the talented and headstrong ballet dancer in the 2000 film Center Stage.
Saldana at the 82nd Academy Awards, 2010
Saldana was still a member of FACES when she gained exposure in an episode of Law & Order (titled “Merger”) which first aired in 1999. Saldana’s first film role was in Center Stage (2000), directed by Nicholas Hytner, about a group of young dancers from various backgrounds who enroll at the fictitious American Ballet Academy in New York City. She left school after Center Stage, subsequently appearing in the Britney Spears vehicle Crossroads (2002) and the comedy-drama Drumline (2002). She played Anamaria, a female pirate who signs up to join Will Turner and Mr Gibbs for a chance to confront Jack Sparrow for stealing her ship in the 2003 film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Saldana appeared in three films in 2004, including The Terminal, Haven and Temptation. In 2005 Saldana appeared in Constellation, Guess Who with Ashton Kutcher and Dirty Deeds, and in 2006 featured in Premium.
Among other roles, Saldana played Uhura in the 2009 film Star Trek. In 2009, she played Neytiri, the Na’vi chief’s daughter, in James Cameron’s Avatar, a role that raised her profile.
In 2010, Saldana starred in The Losers in which she played Aisha al-Fadhil, for which she was required to gain weight, as she was expected to carry weapons around for eight hours a day. Saldana also appeared in Takers, Death at a Funeral and Burning Palms. In August 2010, her television ad for Calvin Klein’s “Envy” line debuted. In 2011, Saldana starred in the romantic comedy The Heart Specialist, and she also starred in the crime drama movie Colombiana as Cataleya Restrepo, a professional assassin. In 2012, she starred in the drama film The Words.
Saldana reprised her role in Star Trek Into Darkness, the sequel to the 2009 reboot. It was released in May, 2013. In April 2013, Saldana entered negotiations to star as Gamora in the 2014 film Guardians of the Galaxy. She later confirmed her part in the film. It is speculated that Saldana will reprise the role of Neytiri in Avatar 2 in 2015.
In June 2010, Saldana became engaged to her long-time boyfriend Keith Britton, an actor and CEO of My Fashion Database. In November 2011, Saldana and Britton announced that they had ended their relationship after 11 years together. She was in an “on again, off again” relationship with actor Bradley Cooper from December 2011 to January 2013. Saldana then secretly married Italian artist Marco Perego in June 2013 in London.
Saldana is a celebrity supporter of FINCA International, a microfinance organization.