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Zoe Saldana Almost "Quit the Business" After Being "Disrespected" on "Pirates of the Caribbean"

The actor played Anamaria in the first "Pirates" movie in 2003.

Today, Zoe Saldana is the only actor to appear in all three of the highest-grossing movies of all time. (That's Avatar, Avengers: Endgame, and Avatar: The Way of Water.) But none of that would have happened if she had quit Hollywood 20 years ago like she almost did. While Saldana has now starred in numerous franchises, including Avatar, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Star Trek, in 2003, she appeared in her first franchise with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

In the first Pirates movie, Saldana plays a pirate named Anamaria. But, the actor didn't return for any of the four subsequent films and has said that she almost "quit the business" altogether after a difficult experience on the Disney hit. Read on to find out why she's called the production "elitist" and why it made her rethink her career.

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Saldana felt disrespected as an up-and-coming actor who wasn't yet a big star.

Zoe Saldana in "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl"
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

In 2014, around the time the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie came out, Saldana spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about her career up until that point. Prior to appearing in Pirates of the Caribbean, Saldana had been in a few movies, including Center Stage (2000), Crossroads (2002), and Drumline (2002). The feature film adaptation of the Disney attraction was her first big action movie. And she didn't like the way the set was run.

"Those weren't the right people for me," Saldana told THR. "I'm not talking about the cast. The cast was great. I'm talking about the political stuff that went on behind closed doors. It was a lot of above-the-line versus below-the-line, extras versus actors, producers versus PAs. It was very elitist."

It was such a difficult time for her that she considered walking away from acting. "I almost quit the business," she continued. "I was 23 years old, and I was like, '[Expletive] this.' I am never putting myself in this situation again. People disrespecting me because they look at my number on a call sheet and they think I'm not important. [Expletive] you."

She felt like she was "lost" in the commotion.

Zoe Saldana at the premiere of "The Island" in 2005
Everett Collection / Shutterstock

Saldana has also opened up about the experience more recently. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in October 2022, she said, "It was my first exposure to a major Hollywood mega movie, where there were just so many actors and so many producers and so many crew members."

The 44-year-old actor also explained that there were different locations and environments that "were not that agreeable" to her. Being in her early twenties and new to the industry also added to her feeling of being overwhelmed.

"I was very young, and it was just a little too big for me, and the pace of it was a little too fast," she said. "I walked away not really having a good experience from it overall. I felt like I was lost in the trenches of it a great deal, and I just didn't feel like that was okay."

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The film's producer apologized to her.

Zoe Saldana at the London premiere of "Avatar: The Way of Water" in 2022
Fred Duval / Shutterstock

In the Entertainment Weekly interview, Saldana shared that a Pirates of the Caribbean producer talked to her about her concerns after the fact.

"Years later, I was able to meet with Jerry Bruckheimer, who apologized that I had that experience cause he really wants everyone to have a good experience on his projects," she told the publication. "That really moved me—the fact that he remembered that I had mentioned that during press, I guess, or an engagement I had done years before and that he felt compelled to bring it up and to take accountability."

She gained clarity on how she chooses roles.

Zoe Saldana at the premiere of "The Adam Project" in 2022
lev radin / Shutterstock

Saldana told InStyle during a December 2022 interview that she got advice from Steven Spielberg—her director on 2004's The Terminal—to be more selective about the movies she chose to make.

"I join projects because I believe in the people behind them," she explained. "When they're magical and thoughtful, thought-provoking, and collaborative, that's what changes my life for the better. It gives me experiences that raise me, that help me grow, that make me feel good about people."

Similarly, she told EW that her priorities changed after Pirates. "To feel seen and heard as an artist, throughout the years, or even just as a person, means so much," she said.

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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