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    Lioness’ a Spiritual Successor to ‘Sicario’ – The Hollywood Reporter

    Zoe Saldaña may be in four of the biggest films of all time, but that doesn’t mean she’s immune to a sudden loss of confidence. That’s why she initially said no to Taylor Sheridan’s offer to center Special Ops: Lioness around her. However, just a year later, on the advice of her husband, Saldaña followed up with Sheridan, only to discover that he was still waiting for her. So she took the plunge, becoming the latest in a long list of movie stars to lead a Sheridan-verse television series.

    Saldaña plays Joe, a CIA Special Activities operative who sends other female operatives undercover in order to gain the trust of terrorists’ wives, girlfriends and daughters. Lioness even has shades of Sicario, the film that reinvented Sheridan as a writer to be reckoned with, and paved the way for his mega-popular Yellowstone TV franchise. Saldaña’s character also operates in a bit of a gray area, which is similar to Josh Brolin’s own CIA character in Sicario. So Saldaña is optimistic that Sheridan’s Lioness will scratch the same itch that Sheridan and Denis Villeneuve’s 2015 thriller did.

    “I do know that [Sheridan] has a great deal of admiration for the real work that gets done when we’re all sleeping, so he takes it upon himself to highlight this world,” Saldaña told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike.

    Saldaña also open up about the conclusion of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which saw Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and Gamora go their separate ways. Saldaña played an alternate version of the character since the original Gamora died at the hand of Brolin’s Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War (2018). And while she had a different outcome in mind at first, she appreciates that writer-director James Gunn didn’t force a new romance between this alternate version of Gamora and Peter.

    “It was a bittersweet decision,” she said. “I wanted to know that in the final chapter, Gamora stays on and finds a way to become a Guardian again, but this felt like the right way to end things for her.”

    Below, during her conversation with THR, Saldaña also discusses how she found her way into such a controlled character as Joe. 

    So, where did Lioness fall on your timeline of conquests? Did you go from Gamora right into this? 

    I went from isolation in my house during the pandemic to Gamora, to Amy in From Scratch and then to Lioness. Taylor Sheridan approached me in 2020, when we were halfway into the pandemic. He sent me the pilot, and I couldn’t put it down. I hadn’t read something as intense and as good in a while. So I was instantly hooked. And he told me, “If you respond well to this and you want to become attached, I want to write this for you. I want to write this with you in mind to play Joe.”

    And that came at a time in my life where I just wasn’t prepared to hear it. I didn’t really have that much faith in myself. I also felt a little stuck, and a lot of us can relate to that. So I said, “No, thank you.” But a year later, I finished a project for Netflix, I was in Italy and my husband said to me, “Just call and see where he’s at with the project.” So I did, and Taylor still hadn’t cast it. They were still waiting for me, and then I decided to take that leap. I was like, “Well, what if I have it in me to be a part of a Taylor Sheridan show and do a good job?”

    Zoe Saldana as Joe In Special Ops: Lioness

    Zoe Saldaña as Joe in Special Ops: Lioness.

    Greg Lewis/Paramount+

    Joe is a CIA Special Activities operative who runs the Lioness program on the ground. She handles female operatives who go undercover to get close to the wives, girlfriends and daughters of terrorists. Since she’s a rather guarded and closed-off character, what was your way into her? 

    I think I needed to have her intentions very clear in my mind. For me, she’s a straight shooter. She’s clean. There’s nothing dirty about what Joe does. If Joe goes off the grid, it’s because she’s going to do the right thing and save people. She’s incredibly responsible. So that needed to be very clear because you can play poker face for the sake of just looking mysterious and unreadable, or you can know why you’re being reserved.

    You’re controlling your emotions and you’re five steps ahead, and as I was doing my research into the world of espionage, that’s what kept coming up. These people go through arduous training to anticipate and be five steps ahead at all times. Because at any given time, they have to make life-threatening decisions that will either save many lives or sacrifice one, and they have to be able to carry that out with great responsibility. 

    Josh Brolin, who you’re vaguely familiar with, played a relatively similar CIA operative in Sicario. Do you get the sense that Taylor is trying to pick up where he left off in those movies, at least to some degree? I’m not suggesting they’re in the same universe, but could Lioness be a spiritual successor to Sicario?

    I hope so. I love Sicario. I thought Sicario was a very interesting movie where normal people are trying to do the right thing in very bad ways, and so in a way, that felt very similar. My belief, based on the little that I know from Taylor, is that he does know, and he surrounds himself with people who have either served in militaries or been a part of programs such as the Lioness program, as well as retired Navy SEALS and CIA people. And I do know that he has a great deal of admiration for the real work that gets done when we’re all sleeping, so he takes it upon himself to highlight this world.

    He finds it important that we don’t just stay in the black and white of things. This all lives in the gray, and it’s very complex. These politics are very complex, and that’s what I was really hooked on. I just wanted to know what it was like to be in this world and be in these rooms where these life-threatening decisions are made on a daily basis. And I wanted to understand whether or not these people had a pulse. (Laughs.)

    From James Cameron and J.J. Abrams to James Gunn and now Taylor Sheridan, you continue to wind up with creators who have the power to build entire worlds in a way that few others can. I presume this pattern is not lost on you? 

    No, it’s not lost on me. I feel grateful that they see something in me and believe in me, in moments where I can’t believe in myself. I love what I do. I try really hard. I enjoy what I do, and I just try to pick projects that I’d like to watch when I’m not doing my work. These are the kinds of themes and genres and films that I’m exploring, that I’m watching, that I’m giving great reviews on, that I’m criticizing, that I’m rooting for. And so it only makes sense that I stay true to what I love and what I like.

    (L-R): Zoe Saldana as Gamora and Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord in Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

    Saldaña as Gamora with Chris Pratt in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

    Jessica Miglio/MARVEL

    Lastly, I thought it was really well done how Gamora 2.0 and Peter (Chris Pratt) parted ways with mutual respect, rather than some forced romance in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Did you also appreciate the fact that James Gunn did not take the obvious path? 

    I did. It was a bittersweet decision, obviously. I wanted to know that in the final chapter, Gamora stays on and finds a way to become a Guardian again. But this felt like the right way to end things for her, because of what she had been through. At the end of the day, any multiverse that she would’ve come from, she was still going to have the same experience with Thanos [Josh Brolin], and she was still gonna have the same guilt and the same trauma. So she finally found solace with the Ravagers, and she felt more open than she had ever been.

    I think the whole thing with Peter bothered her, because even though she had no recollection of who he was, she had a sense that it must have been special. And I appreciated that takeaway because it kind of gave us the hope that if the Guardians seek help again from the Ravagers, maybe Gamora and Peter will find a way back into each other’s lives, even if it’s just as friends.

    Special Ops: Lioness premieres July 23 on Paramount+. This interview, conducted prior to the July 13 SAG-AFTRA strike, was edited for length and clarity.

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