Zoe Saldana was prepared for the waterworks when she hit Sunday night’s Los Angeles premiere of her new family drama, Infinitely Polar Bear. “I purposely did not wear eyelashes, because I didn’t want to cry them off my eyes,” she told us the next day. “And I did exactly what I knew I was going to do: I was crying hysterically. All my mascara was smeared.”
Polar Bear, an autobiographical tale written and directed by Maya Forbes, pairs Saldana with fellow Marvel Cinematic Universe star Mark Ruffalo, playing parents struggling mightily to raise their two daughters in 1970s Boston. Much of that struggle stems from the fact that Ruffalo’s eccentric, alcoholic Cameron suffers from a bipolar disorder. This forces Saldana’s Maggie to head to New York to earn an MBA, leaving the kids under Cameron’s not-always-stable watch.
Saldana, best known for giant interplanetary blockbusters like Avatar and Guardians of the Galaxy, said she always wanted to take a role that was “part of an All-American family” that “have issues, but also are happy and love each other.” (Despite the film’s oft-heavy subject matter, it still has plenty of blissful, quirky moments.)
It’s also a rare matriarchal role for the 36-year-old, who shot the film the summer of 2013. Last December, she gave birth to twin boys with husband Marco Perego. “Of course it inspired me, but I was already inspired since I was very, very young,” Saldana said about how playing Maggie made her excited about having kids. “I always knew that I was going to be a mother. It just convinced me even more that I couldn’t wait until it happened when the time was right.”
Saldana and Ruffalo in ‘Infinitely Polar Bear’
Watching Polar Bear (which draws its title from the daughters’ cute description of their father’s condition) wasn’t the first time Saldana had an emotional reaction to her own projects. “I do all the time!,” she said when asked if she’d ever cried during one of her own movies. “And it’s not because I like my performance… I became an actor, because I love stories, I love being told stories, whether it’s a book or how my great-grandpa used to tell us a story before bedtime. And I love being a part of the telling of a story. I completely get lost in them.”
The actress didn’t even have to see James Cameron’s finished product on Avatar before it touched her: “I remember when I read it for the first time. I didn’t understand the world, I didn’t know how to imagine it — everything was so new. But I was able to understand what all these characters were going through and understand their relationships with each other, and I was deeply moved by that.”
And then there are the films she’s not in that work the tear ducts. Saldana points to a recent viewing of the searing drama Still Alice, which won Julianne Moore an Oscar for playing an author and mother battling Alzheimer’s Disease. “It was right aft the boys were born and Marco didn’t want to watch it, because we were still so vulnerable, [what with] the boys being so little,” she recalled. “And he was like, ‘Please please, let’s watch happy things.’ And I’m like, 'This is my happy thing.’ So I’m watching it by myself in the room while he’s outside with the boys and I cried so much, it was so beautiful.”
Saldana was excited to team up with Ruffalo (“I think he’s such a versatile actor, and he’s such a nice guy”) on their new film, but they never had the chance to bond over their shared experience as green-hued superheroes in the MCU (he’s Hulk the Avengers movies, she’s Gamora in Guardians) because their indie was filmed right before the actress went to off to film Guardians.
But she did give us an update on the current status of Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which is scheduled to open in summer of 2017. “I know that James Gunn finished the script, at least the first draft,” she said, adding that Gunn will likely give her a peek when he returns from a project he’s shooting in Colombia. “I’m dying to read it. I heard that Chris Pratt read some of it and I haven’t, so I was hysterical about that.”
We don’t think she meant hysterically crying, though.
Infinitely Polar Bear opens in New York and Los Angeles Friday. Watch the trailer: