After spending months trotting the global red carpet with the director James Cameron and her co-star Sam Worthington during the awards season, Zoe Saldana grew a little weary of the "Who's she?" whispers from Avatar fans.
Saldana, of course, famously spent more than two years rehearsing and performing the role of Avatar's beautiful Neytiri, although ultimately she is a blue motion-capture version of herself for the entire film. Not that she is complaining. The sci-fi 3D film has since broken all box-office records, taking in a staggering $2.72bn (€2.14bn) worldwide, and sending her career spinning into outer space in the process.
But, lest anybody still fails to recognise her face, she hopes to change that forever by starring in two films released within the space of a few days -- Sylvain White's action flick The Losers and, alongside Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence, Neil LaBute's comedy remake Death at a Funeral. (She also recently wrapped Burning Palms, a dark ensemble drama set in Los Angeles, in which she stars alongside Nick Stahl and Rosamund Pike.)
Rivalling Angelina Jolie as Hollywood's go-to girl for tough female action roles, the 31-year-old actress is proving a formidable adversary. "I love working with the boys, and I probably do that more than most actresses. I got to do it on Star Trek, Pirates of the Caribbean and now this," she says, clearly relishing her position as the only female cast member of The Losers, starring opposite Jason Patric, Chris Evans and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. "It just makes me feel sexy, I guess. And these kinds of films -- sci-fi and action -- with all-male crews, are just the kind of films I want to make. I love girls, don't get me wrong. I'd do a Jane Austen film any day. But, as a woman, to get to play rough characters that are usually part of more male-driven stories, gives me a lot of freedom and versatility in terms of my career."
Don't imagine that working with the boys makes her job any easier. "When you're the only girl in a cast, I almost feel like you have twice as much work to do because you don't want to be singled out. You're already the only girl, so if you're the one that says, 'I can't do this' or whatever, it's gonna be like 'Oh, my gosh, she's wimping out because she's a girl', so I toughed it out. I feel like I can hold my own and Jeffrey [Dean Morgan] was absolutely amazing in the fight scenes.
"It also helps when you get along with the actor and Jeffrey was such a gentleman and so respectful because -- trust me -- as a woman, try doing that with a frickin' pr**k! Been there, and it's not a good day at work. You're the only one that's naked and you have to act like you're not aware that you're naked and, not only that, you have to flip your hair and have an orgasm. It's really no fun. So when you work with a good director and a good actor, that makes it seem like a regular Tuesday, and then love scenes are like any other fight scenes."
No wimp when it comes to punishing training schedules, she was thrilled when the former martial-arts champ Garrett Warren was hired as stunt coordinator on The Losers. "He trained me on Avatar, so he's the one who beat me up and knows exactly what my body can do at times when I didn't even know I could do it."
Like any actress who gets to play tough women, Saldana's success has been dogged by the inevitable lesbian rumours, which she shrugs off. In her private life, she has enjoyed a romance with the actor Keith Britton for the past five years, having met him in 2004 on the set of the crime drama Haven, a film which ignited Saldana's career, if not Britton's.
Discussing her recent giddy career high of Avatar, she says: "You wouldn't believe how validating it's been; to get the acknowledgement and respect of your peers, of directors like Steven Spielberg or Sylvain White, takes years. You have to be patient, but it also brings it back to, 'Why did I become an artist?' I didn't become an artist because I wanted people to recognise my face before they recognised my work. I wanted them to know my work," says Saldana.
Having brought a whole new sexuality to the role of Uhura in last year's Star Trek, she is understandably anxious to get back on the bridge of the USS Enterprise but -- like the millions of Trekkies out there -- she is still awaiting news of a sequel: "Trust me, I email JJ [Abrams] every other day, just like the rest of us, and we're just like, 'What the f**k, dude?' JJ is an amazingly talented man, full of surprises. As for Uhura and Spock? Everyone's putting in their two cents. I don't care as long as I get to kick some ass."
The Losers is released on May 28 and Death at a Funeral on June 2