'Star Trek Beyond' Actress Sofia Boutella on Going From Madonna's Backup Dancer to Big-Budget Movies

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The actress left the world of professional dancing at the age of 29 to pursue acting for two fruitless years before landing one role of a lifetime after another.

Sofia Boutella, star of Edinburgh Film Festival charmer Jet Trash, is preparing for the release of her second major motion picture, Star Trek Beyond. Boutella’s first major film role was in Kingsman: The Secret Service, a role she landed after giving up her lifelong dancing career to pursue acting full time. Kingsman is the first movie that I got after I stopped dancing,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “I hadn’t worked for two years, and then boom, I just got Kingsman.”

She acted in a few small films between the ages of 17 and 19 before landing a dancing gig with Nike and then joining Madonna's team as a dancer. “I remember I was doing the Super Bowl,” said Boutella, “and I told Madonna, ‘I think I am not going to keep dancing anymore… Even if it takes two years, I need to stop now. I’m done.” Boutella said Madonna supported her decision, worried that she would go a long time without work, but admired her vehemence in following her dreams.

“In a way, I was hiding behind the fact that I was successful at being a dancer and I never really took the leap. And then one day I was like, 'I really love [acting],' and I had to feel brave. I just realized that I was done dancing, because I could have become a choreographer, but I never felt the fire for that. Acting felt more natural for me, so I just went for it,” said Boutella.

She has been consistently cast in big-budget studio films (in addition to Kingsman and Star Trek, she is working alongside Tom Cruise in The Mummy as the title role), but she praised the smaller film Jet Trash, saying, “It was so unusual and different than what I am used to. It took place in India with people that were just genuinely trying to make cinema. They were trying to tell a story that’s not necessarily profound, but entertaining, and it turned out to be profound, in a way, depending on what angle you wanted to look at it from. I just enjoyed it.”

Although her discipline and physicality certainly puts her in a different class of talent, with many of her screen roles being highly physical, Boutella said, “I don’t set myself apart from other actors. I think actors are a palette of colors and one color doesn’t make you better than the other one.”

“I’m not as disciplined as I used to be,” she said. “I have decided, deliberately, to just give myself a break. There are actors that I am working with at the moment who still have the discipline, which I find remarkable.”

“With dancing specifically," she told THR, "you have access to body language and body movement. That is a massive part [of] acting. How does your character move around in space? How do people walk? How do they carry themselves? Because I was a dancer, I observe people. Being a dancer gave me that eye. I will use my background as a dancer forever.”

She does not, however, let her training as a dancer influence her selection of roles. “To me the physicality is as attractive as the psychology, if not the psychology more, because I treat the psychology first, and then I treat what the physicality is about the character.”

She expressed worry that she has started to over-intellectualize her work, and wondered when she would have to let go. When it came to dancing, she said, “I like the fact that I just let go. I noticed as a dancer that when I danced at my best is when I let go of all the rules that I’ve been given.”

Sofia Boutella stars in Jet Trash, directed by Charles Henri Belleville, along with Robert Sheehan and Osy Ikhile.

Star Trek Beyond, directed by Justin Lin, stars Sofia Boutella, Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Idris Elba and the late Anton Yelchin. It hits theaters July 22.

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