When I first met New York native Zoë Saldana in 2000, I had no way of knowing that our paths would ever again intersect, let alone with such significance for us both, nearly a decade later. We were in the apartment kitchen of one of my college classmates who had just finished working with Zoë in her feature film debut, Center Stage. She was following a trail of subsequent opportunities that led her to Hollywood for the first time, had just come from her latest screen test, and was on her way to three other auditions later in the day. I had just come from an audition for a Doritos commercial and was on my way to wait some tables.

I vividly remember being struck by her effortless confidence and calm, in the midst of all these exciting but daunting experiences. It was as though she had been on this path for years, and in some very important but unconscious ways she had, even if she didn’t always know it. As someone who was aspiring to a similar journey at the time—but facing a much different trajectory—she served as a kind of inspiration in that brief encounter.

I went on to cobble together a living as an actor for the next couple of years, supplemented by late night shifts at a neighborhood diner, and she went on to work with the likes of Johnny Depp, Gore Verbinski, Tom Hanks, and Steven Spielberg. Her journey has been impressive by any standard, and she continually challenges herself as an actress and public figure with certitude and grace at every turn. She is respected and sought after by directors, fashion designers, and magazine editors the world over and can often be found in the front row of haute international shows and high-profile industry events like the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, Met’s Costume Institute gala, and CFDAs. She has starred in the single highest-grossing film of all time (Avatar, obviously) and will likely begin working on the sequel of that film in the midst of working—along with me—on the Star Trek sequel, which will be released next May. Her latest film, The Words, in which she stars alongside Jeremy Irons and Bradley Cooper will be released in September.

She is recognized for her impressive resume, her stunning beauty, and her classic style, but to this day she remains true to the quality that was evident from the moment we first met: effortlessness. She lives in the moment, she knows what she likes, and she is very clear about the path she is on and the lines of connection that have brought her to this powerful moment in her life and career. As we sit down at my house by the fire pit on a cool evening in July to talk about work, style, family, and life, I can’’t help but acknowledge the beauty of the moment. Zoë has become a great friend and collaborator in recent years, and as different as our journeys have been to this point, I am abundantly grateful that they have brought us back together in a lasting and substantial way.

ZACHARY QUINTO: What is your first memory of fashion?
ZOË SALDANA:
My grandmother and great-grandmother were seamstresses their whole lives, so when my grandmother moved to New York in the ’60s, she worked for design houses throughout the city. She really loved fabrics and textiles, so it was natural to my family. Fashion wasn’t like a religion to us, but it is in my ancestry. It was never about luxury; it was about art.

ZQ: What is your first memory of feeling like a piece of fashion was gorgeous?
ZS:
I think it was looking at books that my grandmother had of Coco Chanel designs.

ZQ: And what did you love about those; what spoke to you about what you were seeing?
ZS:
It wasn’t too feminine, and it wasn’t too plain; it was just woman, where you saw that the fashion had a personality. It was very androgynous, and that’s what appealed to me because I could inhabit it with everything that comprised the kind of woman I wanted to be.

ZQ: What are some things in the world of fashion right now that you respond to or like?
ZS:
I’m not really a trendy person when it comes to fashion. I never know what’s going to catch my attention, so I really just dress in a way that expresses my mood and my feelings in any given situation.

ZQ: Who are some of your favorite designers?
ZS:
Well, Prabal Gurung is one of my closest friends. We came up at the same time in New York, so he and I were sort of parallel in our trajectory, and we bonded so much because he is a very beautiful person and he felt familiar to me. He is an artist, a true artist. I see his art, and I just truly believe in it. It really touches me. But then, I can also have that same kind of love for classic designers whom I have never met and whom I may never have the chance to.

ZQ: And who are those designers?
ZS:
The designers that I love? Chanel, Gucci, Versace, Halston, Balmain, Ralph Lauren, Alaïa, [she says in her voluptuous Dominican/Puerto Rican Spanish accent]. See, I can’t even say it in English because I am literally saying it the way my grandmother says it, the way my mother says it. My entire sense of fashion is shaped by my family, especially my grandmother, and knowing whom she would think about. And that’s my education, my relationship with fashion is truly inherited.

ZQ: What’s your favorite piece of clothing that you own?
ZS: There’s this Azzedine Alaïa dress I have that makes me feel like I am collecting art. Collecting from certain designers is like collecting art and will always remain as memorable as the very first Chanel bag that I bought myself.

ZQ: What’s your favorite color?
ZS:
Mmmmmmm, I don’t just have one anything. T here a re a t l east three or four, and if I pick one favorite, I really feel like the other ones are going to be upset.

ZQ: Is there a color you won’t wear?
ZS:
Nope. I will wear any color.

ZQ: Who are some of your contemporaries with whom you feel a kindred sense of style?
ZS:
Sienna Miller, Julianne Moore, these kind of effortless beauties. Diane Kruger. I just love looking at their styles and feeling inspired by their choices.

ZQ: Of the roles you’ve played so far, which do you consider the three most profound, and why?
ZS:
Definitely Center Stage because it was the first. Haven because it woke me up to the craft of acting. When I was younger it kept hitting me in phases, and I kept growing and learning so much. By the time I made that movie, I felt like I was really beginning to understand acting as a vocation, and I could sense the impact that had on my process. From there, Avatar for sure; it was a gift to get to play a character like that, to get to play like that in general.

ZQ: What are you most looking forward to in the next year, in terms of your work and your career?
ZS:
Honestly, to continue growing in every aspect of my life because it’s been a long time since I’ve been this happy. I really want that to motivate me moving forward on every level.

Like what you're reading? Get it delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up now for our newsletters >>