Is ‘Avatar’ Star Zoe Saldana The New Kate Winslet?

We compare James Cameron's newest leading lady to the 'Titanic' beauty.

These days, the one word on every moviegoer’s lips is “Avatar.” With the box-office receipts soaring , the love story and special effects fueling repeat views, and Oscar-buzz building, it’s unlike anything we’ve seen since … well, the last James Cameron feature film, 1997′s “Titanic.”

In the 12 years following that movie’s release, stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet have made good on their promise, racking up instant classics and awards nods with equal aplomb. On Monday, we took a hard look at whether “Avatar” star Sam Worthington could use his momentum to launch a Leo-like career. Now, it’s time to compare Cameron’s leading ladies and look at why Zoe Saldana could become the next Winslet — or why such comparisons could leave the actress feeling as blue as her “Avatar” character.

What They Have in Common

The Breakthrough: Although Saldana seems like a fresh face, the 31-year-old actress is the latest example of Hollywood’s “work for years to become an overnight success” reality. Her real breakthrough came in the 2000 dance film “Center Stage,” a minor hit that led to solid work in everything from “Guess Who” to “The Terminal” to the infamous Britney Spears flick “Crossroads.” Similarly, Winslet had a substantial back catalog before she became a household name — having raised eyebrows in Ang Lee’s “Sense and Sensibility,” Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet” and, most notably, Peter Jackson’s excellent “Heavenly Creatures.”

Unlikely Beauties: Think of the words “Hollywood starlet,” and you’re unlikely to picture either Saldana or Winslet. Both have a unique beauty, which perhaps makes them more memorable. In “Titanic” and during the years since, Winslet has never been shy about showing her body — and defending its ample curves and fluctuating weight. Zoe Yadira Zaldaña Nazario, meanwhile, was born in New Jersey to a Dominican father and a Puerto Rican mother and grew up in the Dominican Republic. Much like Jessica Alba and Vin Diesel, she has an exotic, intriguing and almost indefinable look.

Nice Girls Finish First: If you’ve seen enough of their interviews, you may have figured out the same thing as those of us who’ve been lucky enough to meet both ladies: In real life, they’re exceedingly gracious, polite and eager to please. True, the stereotype in Hollywood may be that nice guys finish last, but there’s a reason why directors and co-stars line up to work opposite these two.

What They Don’t Have in Common

A Blockbuster Mentality: Saldana is an unabashed geek who found her back-to-back roles in “Avatar” and “Star Trek” to be a dream come true. Coupled with work in big films like “Pirates of the Caribbean,” don’t be surprised if her career path looks increasingly more like Rosario Dawson’s or Kate Beckinsale’s — respectable, fun and with a healthy dose of genre films. Winslet, meanwhile, has avoided action flicks, superhero films and geek-friendly franchises so effectively that the decision must be intentional. Instead, she prefers original scripts (does it get any more outside-the-box than “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?”) and conflicted housewives (“Little Children,” “Revolutionary Road”) whose feet are firmly planted in tragic realities.

The Franchise Factor: While it could be argued that nothing Winslet has ever made is sequel-ready, the fact is that she also stays far away from repeating herself. The same is unlikely to be said for Saldana, whose immediate future is likely to be booked up with “Trek” and “Avatar” sequels. It will be interesting to see whether Zoe can define herself outside her franchise commitments — à la Keira Knightley — or become a female Mark Hamill, whose side projects never quite soar.

Oscar Awesomeness: Often called the best actress of her generation, Winslet has been nominated for six Oscars and finally took home the little gold guy last year for “The Reader.” But while “Titanic” earned her one of those nominations, it wasn’t the first time she displayed impressive acting skills; “Sensibility” earned Oscar and Golden Globe noms and a BAFTA win, and her “Creatures” performance blew critics away. Will Saldana — who has never received a major award nomination — prove herself to be as prolific a thespian? Only time will tell.

Check out everything we’ve got on “Avatar.”

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