ZOE SALDANA & NINA SIMONE
“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”
By Kristian Rose-Anderson
(courtesy of Monarch Magazine)
An artist’s role is “…to make people feel on a deep level… And when you’ve caught it, when you’ve got the audience hooked, you always know because it’s like electricity hanging in the air,” noted Nina Simone in her autobiography.
Electrify is exactly what musical storyteller and icon, Nina Simone, did to audiences, making her one of the most extraordinary artists of the twentieth century. Simone’s remarkable talent and amazing body of work fashioned a sense of deliverance, empowerment and love to all who listened. Composer of more than 500 songs and 60 recorded albums, Nina Simone rightfully earned the title “High Priestess of Soul.” There were many sides to Nina Simone. Complicated and passionate, this artist and activist paved the way for people of color and for women alike. It is because of artists like Nina Simone that artists like Zoe Saldana can effectively exist.
Like Nina Simone who was classically trained in music performance at Julliard, Zoe Saldana too took her art form very seriously, classically training in ballet at the prestigious ECOS Espacio de Danza Dance Academy in the Dominican Republic. It was Zoe’s love for dance and appetite for acting that helped land her first big screen role as Eva Rodriguez, the talented and headstrong ballet dancer in the film Center Stage.
If Nina Simone had a chip on her shoulder, it undoubtedly ascended from the daunting difficulties she had to overcome to establish herself as a singer. Like Simone, Saldana has also had to prove herself as a female force in a male-dominated industry.
Since her professional career began, Zoe has held her own in major motion picture productions like Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Trek andAvatar, securing the respect and praise from industry leaders such as Jerry Bruckheimer, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, the late Bernie Mac, Keira Knightley, Ashton Kutcher, Kirsten Dunst, and Orlando Bloom.
Many have disputed the decision of casting Zoe Saldana as the late great Nina. But, as the Nina Simone song states, “Don’t let me be misunderstood,” it is due to intense concentration and resilient determination that Zoe has the opportunity to do projects like Nina; projects that challenge her both professionally and personally. Zoe Saldana discussed with Monarch about tearing down walls in Hollywood and how significant it was to help tell Nina Simone’s story.
Playing the late, great Nina Simone, what inspired you to do a project like this?
Nina was a true genius and an iconic artist. It was a dream job for me. It’s one of the scariest projects I’ve ever been involved with because it was about an iconic figure, and there were so many political [issues] around it from the beginning; but I really wanted it to be a love song to Nina Simone and I wanted it to just come from a place of absolute love. I loved the complexity of Nina and her beauty that she expressed with her music.
I wanted to do right by her and knew it would be challenging. I feel so blessed to have such an amazing opportunity to play a true legend.
How did you prepare for the role?
I did a lot of research to prepare for Nina. I took piano lessons, voice lessons, worked with a dialect coach, and I really invested months of just doing research about Nina – her background, her story, her life. My research ranged from reading books about Nina, listening to her music, watching footage of her.
How did the controversy about you playing Nina affect you?
The Nina Simone story needed to be told, and I’m really blessed that I did it. I’m human. I wish I was made of steel and so certain things wouldn’t affect me. So it did affect me but I couldn’t let that deter me from doing what I needed to do. Just like everybody else I feel very strongly about Nina Simone, and that [this] was a story that needed to be told. I do believe that if everybody had more information about how this all came to be, it might help; but then again, I’m not here to get the acceptance of everyone – I’m here to be an artist first. Hopefully people will enjoy the film and I helped shed some light on this amazing iconic woman.
Click here to read more of Zoe Saldana’s interview!