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Interview: Zoe Saldana talks personal indie film ‘Infinitely Polar Bear’

Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana in 'Infinitely Polar Bear' (photo -- Sony Pictures Classics)

By Tim Lammers

The cinematic universe has proven to limitless to Zoe Saldana, who in recent summers has played pivotal roles in the new “Star Trek” movie franchise and last year’s mega blockbuster “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

This summer, though, the acclaimed actress is keeping things down to Earth, quite literally, with the family drama “Infinitely Polar Bear.” But while her role is decidedly different than Lt. Uhura and Gamora, Saldana said signing on to the film was more a matter of happenstance than a conscious decision to play opposite ends of the movie spectrum.

“I wish I was ‘The Man with the Plan,’ but I’m really not that kind of artist. I never have a whole year lined up,” Saldana told me in a recent interview. “Every now and then a project will come, whether it comes in small independent package or in a big studio package, and if I like the story and if I feel like it’s going to be a wonderful experience to be a part of it, then I’ll start pursuing it.”

Now playing in select cites and expanding throughout the U.S. in July, “Infinitely Polar Bear” tells the story of Maggie (Saldana) and Cam (Mark Ruffalo), a once happily-in-love couple  with a pair of young daughters (Ashley Aufderheide and Imogene Wolodarsky), whose marriage eventually falls apart over Cam’s inability to deal with his manic depression.

Separating from Cam and struggling as a single mother with the girls in small apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Maggie, stressed and broke, comes up with a solution: If she can attend business school at Columbia University and earn an MBA in 18 months, she can ensure a better life for daughters. However, she can only do it with the help of Cam — that is if he can take responsibility of his daughters as well as himself  — while she’s away in New York.

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Saldana said once she read the script by writer-director Maya Forbes, she was desperate to do the film.

“I just kept reading the script over and over again — it was so beautiful and spoke to me on so many levels. It was real, so I wanted to be a part of it and do the character justice because it was so special to me,” Saldana said. “It deals with a very heavy subject with bi-polar disorder.  So many people are affected by it, yet we know so little about it. Maya captured it in a very beautiful way because not every scene is about Cam’s condition. Every scene is about her father and her mother, and her sister and herself. The dad has this condition, but he’s a great guy and he tries hard every day. That’s what I loved.”

If that wasn’t enough, Saldana, 37, said stories of father-daughter relationships always resonate with her on a personal level.

“I lost my dad when I was very young, so I’m a sucker for stories having to do with daughters and fathers. I just had to be a part of this,” said Saldana, who just had twin sons in November with her husband, Marco Perego.

“Infinitely Polar Bear’s” approach is unique in that, while the film is set in 1978, it doesn’t draw any attention to Maggie and Cam being a bi-racial couple. In fact, apart from one brief scene where Maggie discusses her black heritage with one of her daughters, race is not mentioned throughout the entire picture. Saldana, whose mother is Puerto Rican and late father was Dominican, said she’s glad Forbes didn’t turn the film into a racial discussion.

In a day an age where the subject of race is broached on many different levels daily, I told Saldana how refreshing it was to see Maggie and Cam not portrayed as a black parent and white parent (and nearly 40 years ago, no less) struggling with their marriage and who both love their children; but simply as parents struggling with their marriage and who both love their children.

“I’m so happy that you mentioned that. I always wait for people to mention race in order for us to talk about it,” Saldana told me. “Race is not a subject that I spend a lot of time with because I don’t want to, unless it’s done in the right way. That’s what I loved about this film, because it reminded me of the way I grew up.  My father was much darker than my mother, but it was never about that growing up at home. They never mentioned anything about color unless we were painting on paper or deciding what we wanted to wear. It was never about the skin color of people.”

Saldana said Forbes grew up in the same way, which gave the film the proper insight of not making an issue out of race.

“We tell more stories where people make an issue out of it, and generally those stories are by outsiders looking in,” Saldana observed. “But the people who were in it — and whatever the case may be, whether it had to do with their race, gender or growing up with two parents of the same sex — it was never about that. When you’re in it, you’re not talking about it, you’re simply living it.”

Effectively, that’s how Saldana could tell how Forbes’ script was authentic — something the actress doesn’t get with every screenplay she reads.

“It’s something I always point out to writers. I can tell with stories when a person of a certain culture is writing about a foreign culture because they point out on every page and every scene something about the foreign culture,” Saldana said. “It’s like when a white writer writes about one character is black. They will have a white character at some point make a joke or a statement about their color. You can tell who the writer is without knowing them.”

But when the writer does get it right, like Forbes does with “Infinitely Polar Bear,” it’s an exhilarating feeling, Saldana added.

“When we’re talking about art and actors, we’re hired to be chameleons. We’re hired to do a job and if we do it well, you’re not going to see me, you’re going to see the character I’m trying my hardest to bring to life,” Saldana said. “So when that can be seen or pointed out, or I’ve been told that I’ve accomplished that, then I know that the writer has gets it and I’m on the right path. It just makes me feel really good to be doing what I do.”

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Rooker, Sorbo talk fans, fame at Minneapolis Comic Con


By Tim Lammers

The Wizard World Comic Con  is all about the fans, an event that originated with the San Diego Comic Con and now travels nationwide and around the world to bring the stars to fans.

Interview: Lee Pace talks ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’

Of course, writer-director Peter Jackson and WETA Digital have created some pretty amazing special effects with their films based on the legendary works of J.R.R. Tolkien since the first “Lord of the Rings” movie in 2001. But sometimes, as acclaimed actor Lee Pace discovered in “The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies,” nothing beats practical effects — like riding an elk.

Well, sort of.

Pace, who reprises the pivotal role of the elven king Thranduil in the final installment of “The Hobbit” trilogy, revealed to me in a recent call from London that the four-legged beast he’s riding in the film is doing a bit of play-acting himself.

“The elk was played by a horse named ‘Moose,'” Pace said, laughing.

Lee Pace in “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” (photo: Warner Bros.).

There’s no question that Pace has done a bit of shape-shifting himself throughout his career. Whether he was playing Ned, an ordinary pie-maker who has the extraordinary gift of bringing the dead back to life in the brilliant but under-appreciated television comedy, “Pushing Daisies,” or the blue-skinned villain, Ronan the Accuser, in the summer sci-fi blockbuster “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Pace said he’s always been up for, well, a change of pace.

“I play characters for a living, that’s all I do. I don’t have to market things and I don’t have to cut the film together. I connect to the character and try to find a way for other people to connect to the character and bring it to life,” Pace said. “There are some characters like Ned, who’s a human and in many ways very close to me, and then there’s Ronan and Thranduil, who are very far away from me. They look different than I do and behave and think differently than I do. I love that opportunity to get away from boring me and play something extraordinary.”

Opening in 2D and 3D theaters nationwide on Wednesday, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” finds Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the Company of Dwarves in a deadly conflict with the monstrous dragon, Smaug (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch), and other evil forces. The dwarves might have to battle their enemies to save the Lonely Mountain alone, though, unless they can overcome differences with the elves and humans, who could possibly aid them in what will certainly be a fight to the death.

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The film also stars Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee as the wizards Gandalf and Saruman, respectively; Richard Armitage as the dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield; Evangline Lilly as the elven warrior Tauriel; and Orlando Bloom as the elven warrior Legolas — the son of Pace’s Thranduil.

Pace, 35, said he relates to the enormous fan base of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” books and movies, mostly because his love for the material stretches b

ack to his childhood.

“I read ‘The Hobbit’ when I was a kid. I feel like it was one of the first books my dad put in my hands,” recalled Pace, an Oklahoma native who grew up in Texas. “I also have real clear memory of being in high school and reading ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ Reading that was like a door of nature opening up to me, and suddenly I was aware of trees and how they’re an important part of these stories.”

Naturally, as a part of the production and still a deep admirer of the source material, Pace said he feels a responsibility to help get the story right for the fans on the big screen.

“A part of you does the role for the fans, because it’s no fun rehearsing the role for yourself in your bathroom,” Pace said, laughing. “So you want to honor the character that Tolkien wrote, but I also think it’s important to honor your own artistry and express the character as the character inspires you.”

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Pace noted again that while the elven king is very far from who he is in real life, as he watched the films, he saw more of himself than he ever expected to witness.

“I see his quest for isolation, which is a condition that Tolkien wrote into the book. It’s not what the story is about as a whole, but it became what the story is about to me,” Pace said. “I think that’s expressed in this last movie, because we see a little bit into why he is so isolated, why he is so hard-hearted, and why he is trying to shut his doors to the rest of the world to keep his people safe. The more I do interviews about the role, the more I understand that sub-conscious thing that the character brought out in me — about being fearful of the danger outside and wanting to protect what’s important to me.”

On the lighter side, given the far-reaching impact of “The Hobbit” films, Pace said while he’s recognized a lot more in public now, he doesn’t let the notoriety fill his ego.

“I actually think people are actually pretty disappointed when they see me in public because, in the movie I have this beautiful, long hair, piercing blue eyes and wearing incredible armor riding a giant elk,” Pace said, laughing. “When they see me on the street, they’re only seeing boring me and are disappointed.”

At least the reaction isn’t as strange as when Pace is recognized as Ronan from “Guardians of the Galaxy,” as fans try to mimic with him one of the final scenes in the movie.

“They sing to me, ‘Ooh, child, things are gonna get easier …,'” Pace sang with a chuckle. “It’s like they’re trying to start a dance-off.”

Tim Lammers talks summer movie hits, misses on ‘Overnight America’

Tim Lammers recently joined “Overnight America” guest host Dan Deibert to talk about the weak summer box office, as well as the films that were hits and misses with moviegoers. Hear the audio below.

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Click image to pre-order the 12-inch (1:6 scale) figure of Gamora from “Guardians of the Galaxy” from Hot Toys/Sideshow Collectibles.
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