As Adelina Fortnight, Dominican-American actress Zoe Saldaña simultaneously added a feminist edge and cultural diversity to the animated adventure Missing Link. In the newest film from Laika, the Portland-based stop motion studio, Saldaña debunks the outdated notion of the damsel in distress and acts as her own heroine in a movie that takes her across the globe with a British cryptozoologist and a cuddly sasquatch.
“[What] I love about Adelina is that she is curious, she is firm, and she is very independent,” says the actress in a featurette about the movie. At first, her journey’s purpose is to fulfill what her late husband couldn’t achieve, but as she overcomes countless hurdles, the global trek transforms into a personal turning point for her. Throughout the movie, as the clip shows, she stands her ground and expertly evades Lionel’s (voice by Hugh Jackman) romantic advances, because her journey is not about finding love, but about self-discovery.
Though we never learn her maiden name or other specifics about her origins, Adelina is suggested to have Latin American roots, as she lives in Santa Ana, California, and is bilingual, though we only hear her speak in Spanish a handful of times. The character is heard expressing her anger in that language following an argument with Lionel, and sporadically during the rest of their outing.
In an interview with Remezcla, director Chris Butler explained he always wanted Adelina to have a unique identity and a subplot of her own unrelated to her partner’s quest. “I wanted it to be a Latina. Rather than just being the token romantic interest, I wanted Adelina to have a richer backstory,” he said.
Butler also revealed it was Saldaña who chose to speak in Spanish for the scene where is fuming. “I would ask Zoe, ‘If you were really that angry at this guy, what would you say?’ All I asked for was no swearing, and so she’d just come up with a few different versions,” said Butler. “I think it was informed by her family as well, certain conversations with her grandma and her mother. She brought some of that into the character too.”
Her choice to enhance her interpretation of Adelina with Spanish-language dialogue for her most visceral scenes signals the importance it has for her personally as a way to connect to something more intimate.
To date, Saldaña’s sole role fully in Spanish was in the 2005 Dominican comedy La Maldición del Padre Cardona (The Curse of Father Cardona) directed by Félix German, where she plays a girl from a small town whose sights are set on seducing a young priest visiting to solve a supernatural mystery. In this movie, she is rightly credited as Zoe Saldaña, in a rare appearance for the “ñ” in her last name (her IMDb page and most roles leave it out).
Saldaña returns to the screen later this month for Marvel’s highly anticipated Avengers: Endgame reprising her part as Gamora.
Missing Link is now in theaters nationwide.