On the marble balcony of a rococo mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Zoë Saldana climbs back into a pair of 4-inch gold-toned Prada heels with a good-natured groan. It’s only late morning, but her feet are already sore. The first day back to work after maternity leave is a rite of passage for many a new mom, and five months after the birth of her twin sons, Cy Aridio and Bowie Ezio, Saldana is on the job, looking beautiful in a high-waist pink Carolina Herrera skirt over a revealing spaghetti-strap Missoni bathing suit. A small constellation of stars tattooed beneath her ribs peeks out demurely.
In the six years since Saldana’s breakout role as a blue-skinned alien princess in James Cameron’s box office powerhouse Avatar, the 37-year-old actress has starred in a series of sci-fi films that, all told, have grossed more than $5 billion. She has also managed to produce and star in the TV miniseries Rosemary’s Baby, found a production company with her sisters, and start a family with Italian artist Marco Perego, a hunky, topknotted former professional soccer player who took Saldana’s name after they married in a quiet ceremony in 2013. “I tried to talk him out of it,” she says. “I told him, ‘If you use my name, you’re going to be emasculated by your community of artists, by your Latin community of men, by the world.’ But Marco looks up at me and says [she puts on a cute Italian accent], ‘Ah, Zoë, I don’t give a sheet.’ ”
With two new movies and those twin boys now in the picture (“truly identical—one placenta,” she says with a measure of both pride and weariness), Saldana is doubling down. In Infinitely Polar Bear (out this month), which is based on a true story, she plays a woman struggling to raise her kids with her bipolar husband (Mark Ruffalo) in 1970s Boston. Then comes Nina, a biopic about the singer and activist Nina Simone. Not only does Saldana portray the mercurial musician, relying on facial and dental prosthetics for a closer resemblance, but her production company, Cinestar Pictures, coproduced the movie.
Next is the march of sequels that stretches all the way to 2019: In Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Saldana reprises her role as Gamora, the green assassin. In Star Trek 3, she plays Uhura. And then comes Avatar 2, 3, and 4.
Now, on the balcony, set on a steep cliff near Malibu, Saldana moves through a series of poses, her delicate features rearranging themselves expertly into expressions of wry delight, inward reflection, sly wonder, sultry heat. The camera clicks and whirs. The flash pops. The photographer asks Saldana to look off to her right.
Standing in her line of sight, in a shady spot beneath a temporary tentpole, a quartet of women fuss over the twins. Bowie and Cy grab at the air with tiny fingers, murmuring and reaching.
The twins are an adorable mix of Saldana and Perego’s globe-trotting genes. “I come from a very physically eclectic family,” Saldana says. “Black. Latin. Lebanese. We were all colors, but we never talked about it. We all ate the same food. I look at Cy, and he looks almost Cambodian. And I look at Bo and it’s like, oh my god, our little pharaoh.”
Saldana breaks character and melts into a mommy smile. She extends her arms helplessly, and the boys are brought to her. “How many moms get to take their babies to work on the first day back?” She laughs with delight, showering them with kisses.
READ MORE: For the full feature, pick up the July InStyle, now available on newsstands and for digital download.