Zoe Saldana on How Nichelle Nichols Made Her Feel Safe to Play Uhura in ‘Star Trek’

Zoe Saldaña “knew she had big shoes to fill” when she was cast as Uhura in J.J. Abrams’ 2009 feature film reboot of the Star Trek franchise, stepping into a role made famous by Nichelle Nichols. But she found a champion in Nichols herself, who offered sage advice.

“Nichelle made me feel safe, told me to play her with all the confidence in the world,” Saldaña posted on Instagram Monday as a tribute to Nichols, who passed away over the weekend at age 89. “My hope is that we continue to keep her memory alive by celebrating her amazing body of work, and by spreading the message of peace and equality amongst all people. She lived a long, impactful life and not only prospered, but helped so many others prosper too.”

Saldaña is the latest star and latest member of the Star Trek family to share a remembrance of the groundbreaking talent who was cast by creator Gene Roddenberry. And she recapped their first meeting, calling it “a very special moment” in her life.

“Her energy was infectious every time I was in her presence. She convinced me in believing that anything was achievable, if you put your heart into it,” wrote Saldaña, who has starred as Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek installments in 2009, 2013, 2016 and the upcoming sequel eyed for next year. “I mean, she inspired Mae Jemison to follow her dreams of becoming an astronaut and that’s exactly what Mae did.”

Saldaña closed the tribute by borrowing words from one of Maya Angelou’s well-known quotes and slightly adjusting it because of Nichols’ impact. “Maya Angelou once said, ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ I agree with this statement with the exception of Nichelle Nichols,” she clarified. “It’ll be hard to forget what she said and hard to forget what she did, and it will certainly be impossible to forget how she made us feel.”

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