Netflix’s From Scratch pinpoints a defining Zoe Saldana characteristic
Zoe Saldaña is many things, including the 10th highest-grossing actor of all time, thanks to starring roles in Star Trek, Avatar, and Guardians of the Galaxy. She is a fluent speaker of the Italian language, like her character Amy in the new Netflix weepie From Scratch. She is also, although you may not realise it, 44 years old.
Amy, when we meet her, is in her early-to-mid twenties and has just arrived in Florence. She’s enrolled in an art programme that her overbearing father frets will distract her from finishing a law degree. His fears are well-founded, it turns out. The painterly slant of the Italian light plus the romantic attention of a young Sicilian chef called Lino prove infinitely more interesting than law books.
At first, I was confused when the chyron read “Fall 2000” and Saldaña appeared in a twee matching cami-and-cardigan set. On screen, she calls her sister in Los Angeles on a landline. Was this a brief flashback to the past? Perhaps it makes sense then to cast an older actor in the role, because we’ll chiefly see her in a timeline closer to our own, I surmised.
But it was not a fleeting flashback! The sprawling series eventually sees Saldaña’s character age, but we spend most of the time with Amy in her twenties and thirties. The creators of the hit tear-jerker – Tembi Locke, author of the wrenching memoir From Scratch is based on, and her TV writer sister Attica Locke – simply didn’t care that Saldaña was much older than Amy. Once I got over the initial surprise of it, I didn’t care either.
Saldaña is an interesting actor. She does not appear in much, but she’s memorable in everything she touches. That’s why I have such a clear idea of her age in the first place. Saldaña already seemed like an adult to me when she popped up as Eva in the 2000 cult-favourite ballet movie Center Stage. She was the sidekick best friend in that film – the bad girl ballerina with perfectly turned out feet.
It’s not just that Saldaña looks young for her age now (although, she does). It’s that she’s always looked ageless. Even in Center Stage, the 22-year-old star didn’t look like any 22-year-old I knew. Does she look 25 in From Scratch? Not really. But I bet Saldaña has never looked 25.
The eight-part series is a full-on melodrama, in which Amy confronts the realities of a broken family and the tragedy of a husband with cancer. She does it with the kind of grace that’s much more common to TV depictions of loss than actual loss, which is to say that Amy feels outside of time, as well. After my first glimpse of Amy cramming her non-wheeling luggage into a Fiat – sidenote: I’m pretty sure luggage already had wheels in 2000 – I never thought of Saldaña’s age again.
And maybe it’s telling that the roles she’s most famous for – an 18-year-old alien in Avatar, an intergalactic linguist in Star Trek, and a comic book hero in Guardians of the Galaxy – occur outside the normal human ageing process. When I’m 44, I hope to have half the poise Eva did.