V Girls: Rosa Salazar

V Girls: Rosa Salazar

An alt-rock rolling stone becomes a James Cameron-crafted cyborg in Alita: Battle Angel.

An alt-rock rolling stone becomes a James Cameron-crafted cyborg in Alita: Battle Angel.

Photography: Daria Kobyashi Ritch

Styling: Sean Knight

Text: Maxwell Williams

This feature appears in the pages of V118, our Spring Summer 2019 issue, on newsstands soon!

This time next year, Rosa Salazar will be a household name. Her titular role Alita: Battle Angel, the James Cameron– produced sci-fi saga slated for February, is the sort of guaranteed fast track that comes but once a decade. Salazar wasn’t even acting when Cameron’s last berg, 2009’s Avatar, came out. Much like Alita’s, Salazar has roots in “punk”— not the cyberpunk genre that the original Alita anime helped originate, but in aughts grunge.

“I was a Warped Tour kid,” she says. “I grew up listening to NOFX, Sonic Youth, No Doubt.” At 15, Salazar left her home in suburban D.C., eventually finding refuge in the New York comedy scene (She calls Chris Farley her hero) and TV parts led to supporting roles in the Maze Runner and Divergent blockbusters.

A certain sci-fi “type”—the world-worn journeywoman with a lighter side—tracks with Salazar’s own story. “I mean, it is my story,” she says of her connection to Alita, who wakes up in a scrap heap with no memory of her life hitherto. “I come from nowhere, personally. I come from a not-so-great set of circumstances. I felt insignificant, much like Alita, before I went on a literal and inward journey to discover that I’m actually not powerless; I can make something of myself.”

Rosa Wears Dress Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello

At 32, Salazar beat out hundreds of actors for the role of Alita, who embodies the form of a teenage girl. While Salazar’s age is clearly an anomaly for most Hollywood blockbuster debuts, she sees it as an asset. “It’s rare to have an actress in her early 30s who also has the [reach] to play half her age,” says Salazar. “You need that deep well to draw from, but you also need that buoyancy of adolescence. It was a specific blend, and I saw that and was like, ‘I have that. I can do this. This is mine for the taking.’”

Alita started filming in Austin in 2016, and has been pushed back twice since wrapping in 2017, so Salazar has had time to prepare for stardom. “People will start to recognize me, and it’s changed the way that I’ve made decisions,” she

says. “I have to look at who is around me: are they healthy for me? So I’ve had to bid some people farewell to be in the best place that I can be in, to be surrounded by healthy individuals and be in a healthy place.”

After Alita, Salazar will return to her comedy roots in Undone, an Amazon series by BoJack Horseman creatorRaphael Bob-Waksberg. As the first-ever television series shot in Rotoscope—akind of primitive green-screen technology—the show required Salazar to do her own stunts. “I’m so obsessed withUndone,” Salazar says, which also stars, Bob Odenkirk, another childhood hero. “This is the most intense physical job I’ve ever done, including Alita. I shit you not, we did 28 pages in one day. A page a day is normal.”

A Hollywood angel who came from nothing, Salazar is clearly no poser—dedicated as ever to throwing herself into the proverbial mosh pit—and her resolution to fly even higher is anything but a fantasy.

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