Zoe Saldana on ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, Color-Blind Casting and Why She Went Back to TV

It feels like old news now when an A-list actor makes the jump to TV. But there’s something surprisingly fresh and genius about Zoe Saldana’s leading turn in the retelling of Rosemary’s Baby. The 1968 original starring Mia Farrow became a horror classic, however with Saldana, who’s Dominican and Puerto Rican, the movie’s being reintroduced to a new generation.

Rosemary’s Baby, which premiered eerily on Mother’s Day and ends tonight. Saldana spoke recently on her decision to come to TV, color blind casting and getting the hang of Twitter.

ESSENCE: You have an amazing film career, so why go back to TV?
Zoe Saldana: Television is creating amazing material right now. You have a lot of directors who are jumping from film to television, but you also have a lot of networks that are getting very savvy and understanding. If Rosemary’s Baby would have been on the silver screen, I still would have jumped at the opportunity of working with director Agnieszka Holland because I’ve been a fan ever since I was very young. Also, my sisters and I were able to jump on board as producers. That was a good opportunity for us as well.

ESSENCE: Do you remember the first time you watched Rosemary’s Baby?
Zoe: Yeah, I was with my mom. It was at our apartment in Queens, and they were watching it. I don’t know if it was dubbed in Spanish; I don’t know if it was on Univision or something. I remember feeling so scared, because I didn’t understand. I remember watching going, “What’s in the crib?  Where’s the baby?” You never see the baby.

ESSENCE: Has Mia Farrow sent you any notes like, “Oh my God, I’m thankful you’re taking the role.”
Zoe: No, and if she ever did on Twitter, I wouldn’t know how to find it. I’m learning. I’ve been learning for three years, how to send a tweet, and it’s very difficult. I know that she is aware of it.  I just hope that she likes it when she sees it.

ESSENCE: Was there always the idea the new Rosemary would be a woman of color? Was it always planned?
Zoe: No, I think that the people they had gone to before were Caucasian. They tossed my name and they all said, “Sure.” They sent me the script; I said no. They said, “Read it. We’ll talk with Agnieszka. These are the changes I want.” I met the NBC executives. I had dinner with the Lionsgate executives and with my sisters, and that was the last thing we ever covered.

The fact that it was one of the last things for us to go, “By the way …”, and it was after the second glass of champagne, it felt right to me that it wasn’t that we were making an affirmative, active decision. It was just based on people respecting my body of work, and me respecting the network and the studio.  I did like them a great deal.

ESSENCE: Are you a fan of horror stories?
Zoe: I am, but the older I get, I get very soft. The other day, I was watching “In Dreams” again, with Annette Bening and Robert Downey, Jr. It gave me nightmares. I couldn’t sleep that night. I used to be crazy obsessed about horror movies.

ESSENCE: What was your favorite one growing up?
Zoe: Nightmare on Elm Street, definitely. I never liked films that dealt with exorcism and things like that. They were just a little too scary, and now I’m doing Rosemary’s Baby. Shooting it is a lot different than watching it. It’s fun. The technicalities of, “Look at the cat. Now remove the cat.  Zoe, bite the sweet thing. Now remove it. Now yell at nothing.” It takes away the heaviness of the story.

ESSENCE: Was there anything spooky that happened on set?
Zoe: No, thank god. If it was, I told people, “Don’t let me know anything.” I was worried about that. There were a lot of mothers around me, from my older sister to my mom. A friend gave me a chain of a saint, of Saint Benito, to take care of me. I would always wear it.

ESSENCE: Do you have any other TV projects in the works that you can talk about?
Zoe: My sisters and I sold a show for AOL, but it’s a Web series. It’s called “My Hero,” and it’s literally about gathering as many entertainers as we possibly can to talk about their mentor; the person they consider their hero, that was responsible for a lot of great things happening in their lives. There are other series that we have in the works with Lionsgate, and we’re excited. My younger sister is the one that’s more passionate about television than I am. I barely have time to know what’s going on. I just have to sit through dinner and hear them go, “Oh my God, Game of Thrones was so amazing.” I’m like two seasons behind.

ESSENCE: What shows do you watch?
Zoe: When I was able to watch shows, 48 Hour Mystery, Anthony Bourdain, Nurse Jackie, Game of Thrones.  I did see a couple of episodes of True Detective, and it was really, really good. House Hunters International.

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Part two of Rosemary’s Baby airs on NBC tonight at 9pm ET.