“I didn’t even know what the word ‘Trekkie’ meant”: How a $219M Tom Hanks Movie Landed Zoe Saldaña Her Star Trek Role

The actress was reportedly taught to do the Vulcan Salute by director Steven Spielberg.

tom hanks, zoe saldaña in star trek


  • Zoe Saldaña played the role of Nyota Uhura in JJ Abrams' Star Trek reboot.
  • However, the actress was associated with the sci-fi franchise much before when she played a Trekkie in Tom Hanks' The Terminal.
  • Saldaña mentioned that she had not idea what a Trekkie was before the film and director Steven Spielberg taught her the Vulcan salute.
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Zoe Saldaña is one of the only actresses in Hollywood who has been part of multiple highest-grossing films. The actress played the role of Neyitri in James Cameron’s Avatar franchise, which was the highest-grossing film upon release. She then beat that record with her role as Gamora in Avengers: Endgame. She reprised her role as Neyitri in Avatar: The Way of Water.


Saldaña has been a part of multiple sci-fi film franchises. Apart from the MCU and Avatar, the actress has also appeared as Nyota Uhura in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. However, that was not her first association with the franchise as she played the role of a Trekkie in the Tom Hanks starrer The Terminal. In fact, she did so much research for her role that it made it much easier for her to be cast in Star Trek.

Zoe Saldaña Played A Trekkie In Tom Hanks’ The Terminal

Zoe Saldaña shares a scene with Tom Hanks in The Terminal
Zoe Saldaña and Tom Hanks in The Terminal | DreamWorks Pictures

Tom Hanks starred in Steven Spielberg’s drama The Terminal in 2004. The film was based on the life of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, who lived as a refugee in France’s Charles de Gaulle Airport from 1988 to 2006. The film was partially inspired by the Iranian refugee and saw Tom Hanks play the role of Viktor Navorksi, a Krakozhian native who lives at JFK airport.


The film then shows Hanks’ character helping many of his friends in the airport in different instances, including assisting the food delivery guy Enrique Cruz to approach the Customs and Border Protection Officer Dolores Torres, who Zoe Saldaña plays. The film was a commercial success, earning $219 million against a $60 million budget.

Zoe Saldaña does the Vulcan Salute as Dolores Torres in The Terminal
A still from The Terminal | DreamWorks Pictures

Zoe Saldaña plays a character who is a Trekkie, a Star Trek fan. This information is used by Hanks and Cruz to approach her in the film. Saldaña mentioned that she researched a lot about the IP before going on set despite not knowing anything about the universe before. She said in an interview with TrekMovie,

I didn’t even know what the word ‘Trekkie’ meant. So I didn’t know what conventions were. I knew of Star Trek, but not extensively.

So part of doing my research to have the feel of being a Trekkie and to go to these conventions, I saw a couple of the episodes and I saw Trekkies 1 and 2, and I remember watching it and the people around me were sort of laughing at everything and I felt so overwhelmed and I felt so happy that I remember thinking ‘I want to be like that, I want to be so passionate about something that I incorporate it in my everyday life and it is the reason I wake up and it fulfills me.’

The actress also does a Vulcan salute in the film, which seems a bit clairvoyant since she ended up playing Nyota Uhura in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. The actress was paired up with Zachary Quinto’s Spock, a Vulcan native. In a way, her preparation for Tom Hanks’ drama seemed to have made her the perfect fit for the franchise.


Steven Spielberg Reportedly Taught Zoe Saldaña The Vulcan Salute

Zoe Saldaña and Zachary Quinto in Star Trek
A still from Star Trek | Paramount Pictures

Zoe Saldaña has been in multiple sci-fi films in her career. Though beginning her career in dramas and comedies, she quickly became one of the biggest stars due to her appearance in films such as Avatar, Star Trek, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Saldaña was also a huge sci-fi nerd before she starred in these franchises and cited Blade Runner as her favorite (via Trek Movie).

Despite her love for sci-fi films, the actress revealed that she was unaware of Star Trek and its fandom until she starred in the Tom Hanks-starrer The Terminal. Director Steven Spielberg reportedly taught her how to do the Vulcan salute in the film, where she played a Trekkie. She said that Spielberg even dropped into the sets of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek,

Oh my god! He totally flaunted that he was the one that taught me to do [the Vulcan salute]. Because he really did. It took a little bit for me.

Saldaña reportedly got into the show so much due to the fans’ love that she was initially uncomfortable with her romantic angle with Spock as he was not an emotional being.


JJ Abrams’ Star Trek films are streaming on Paramount+. The Terminal is streaming on FuboTV.


Written by Nishanth A

Articles Published: 1089

Nishanth A is a Media, English and Psychology graduate from Bangalore. He is an avid DC fanboy and loves the films of Christopher Nolan. He has published over 400 articles on FandomWire. When he's not fixating on the entire filmography of a director, he tries to write and direct films.