The Secrets Behind Zoe Saldaña's Transformation Into Gamora

Gamora, the superhero character created by Jim Starlin, first appeared in Marvel comics in "Strange Tales" #180 in June of 1975. The last of a species called Zen-Whoberis, Gamora was adopted by the Mad Titan Thanos and raised to be the ultimate fighter and assassin, gaining the nickname of the Most Dangerous Woman in the Universe in the process. Thanos' original plan for Gamora was to assassinate a character called The Magus, an evil twin of Adam Warlock. Eventually, Gamora drifted over to the side of good and was frequently seen fighting at Adam Warlock's side, eventually given one of the Infinity Gems — the Time Gem — to protect. 

Gamora debuted on the big screen in James Gunn's 2014 film "Guardians of the Galaxy" wherein she was still an adopted daughter of Thanos, was still the Most Dangerous Woman in the Universe, but also someone who had fallen in with a group of weirdos and misfits, on a quest to retrieve an Infinity Gem — called an Infinity Stone in the movie — of their own. As played by Zoe Saldaña, Gamora was a green-skinned, red-haired warrior with elaborate silver markings on her face. 

Saldaña's makeup, along with the various other outlandish alien makeup jobs seen in the movie, would earn "Guardians of the Galaxy" an Academy Award nomination for Best Makeup and Hairstyling (It lost that year to Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel"). The process to transform Saldaña into a green, fighting space alien warrior was an elaborate process that involved — perhaps predictably — a lot of training, and a heck of a lot of time in the makeup chair.

The training regimen

As with most actors in superhero movies, Saldaña was required to build up her musculature and learn at least some rudimentary fighting skills. It seems that the modern-day "triple threat" is not an actor who can sing and dance, but an actor who can fight and do their own stunts. Saldaña engaged in an all-around workout that involved a lot of lunges, squats, deadlifts, and planks. In an interview with ABC News, Saldaña pointed out that stamina was key, and that her workout regimen became even more intense to prepare for "Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2," as shooting was to take place shortly after the actress had given birth to twins. Saldaña said she used strength training to build up her shoulders and to, in her words "give length to the torso." Add to this regimen a rather intense vegetarian diet, and Saldaña was able to lose 70 pounds; enough to use her old costumes from the first "Guardians." 

In Women's Health Magazine, Chloe Bruce, Saldaña's fight trainer, talked about what sort of action the two of them worked on to prepare for "Guardians." Fight training consisted of 90-minute-a-day sparring sessions that involved a lot of martial arts kicks. Saldaña, already a trained dancer, took to the balletic nature of fight choreography very well. This was in addition to mere punches and kicks against pads, getting used to the impact an actual strike would have on the muscles.

The makeup

In order to construct the makeup for Gamora, Saldaña had to go through the common process of having a mold taken of her entire head, allowing the makeup artists — led by Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White — to accurately construct facial prostheses for her. Looking close, one can see pronounced ridges on Gamora's forehead and on her cheekbones. The ridges were built from a sheet of silicone that was attached to Saldaña's face, and ran over the top of her head, serving as a bald cap over which her long maroon wig would be placed. The entire cranial prosthetic took two hours to apply

The facial pieces were only a small part of Gamora's makeup, however. Saldaña also had to be painted entirely green, which, like when painting a house or a car, required both primer and several "coats" of paint. On top of the primer was a layer of green base, followed by three additional layers of full-body MAC brand makeup that were airbrushed on. The shade needed to be nailed perfectly, as Saldaña spent a great deal of "Guardians" filming in front of green screens, and a shade too close to the camera-neutral green would serve to erase her in compositing. All told, the cranial prosthetic and the green makeup took about five hours to apply for the first "Guardians" film, but were streamlined down to four for "Vol. 2."

In a recent post on her Instagram account, Saldaña also revealed a moment from the long, tedious scrubbing process required to remove the green makeup at the end of the day. Saldaña didn't reveal how long the removal process takes, but it certainly can't be brief. 

"Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3" will be released in theaters on May 23, 2023.