Zoe Saldaña has starred in three successful film franchises — “ Avatar ”, “ Guardians of the Galaxy ” and “ Star Trek " — yet when Taylor Sheridan approached her to lead his new TV series, “Special Ops: Lioness,” she said no.
“I have ADD and I'm dyslexic, so learning a lot of dialogue was always very daunting,” said Saldaña in an interview prior to the start of the actors strike . “I never thought that I would ever get to be a part of (projects) where the dialog and the writing is most important to the whole story. .. I tend to run away from that. I have a hard time focusing, which is why the action genre was always appealing to me."
She says Sheridan called her and was very complimentary, adding that he was writing a character with her in mind. As exciting as the project seemed, she passed.
“I read the pilot, I loved it so much that I freaked out and I walked away from it.”
A year later she was in Italy filming the limited-series “From Scratch” and found herself once again thinking about that Sheridan offer and brought it up to her husband.
“I guess he was just sick of me always mentioning the show and not doing anything about it. He was like, ‘Just call him, just text him.’ And the thing about Taylor is that if if he’s busy and it’s not something that he considers important, he won’t call you back for weeks. If it’s really something that he wants to really hear, he calls back within seconds, so that’s exactly what he did.
"He said, ‘I’m waiting on you. The script is still here. We haven’t done anything with it. Please say yes.’ And I did,” Saldaña recounted.
After that initial trepidation to take the role, Saldaña says her admiration of Sheridan’s work has only grown. He wrote each of the show's eight episodes.
“I have a great deal of respect of somebody that really, really believes in what they do," she said. "Now, knowing him a little more, he’s very confident about his writing. And that may throw people off (but) I tend to really lean in and revere people that know who they are. If your strength is this, then own it, protect it. And if you don’t want to compromise on compromise, it’s OK as long as we still keep tuning into your stories. It’s working.”
“Special Ops: Lioness” debuts Saturday on Paramount+ and also stars Nicole Kidman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Kelley and Laysla De Oliveira. Saldaña plays Joe, a CIA operative who recruits De Oliveira's character to go undercover in a secret female spy program called Lioness.
De Oliveira befriends women whose boyfriends or husbands have ties to terror organizations. Viewers will also see Joe struggle to balance her very demanding career and her home life as a wife and mother.
Saldaña says the role has helped her to appreciate the special ops personnel who are under-the-radar. The show is based on the CIA's Lioness program.
“These people are no different than doctors. They wake up every day and they give their lives to this profession in order to survive. I commend people like that. It's a selfless act. You’re sacrificing your life for the betterment of others.”