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October 14, 2012 | 12:00 AM

My first movie was Center Stage, which came out in 2000," Saldana says. "The 12 years since then have flown by, and it's been one wonderful experience after another. I'm never going to be one of those people who says, 'I want more' or 'It wasn't good enough.'

"I try not to get anxious about the business," she continues, "because this is something that I started doing by choice. It didn't happen by accident. I was looking for roles, and I always want myself to get to that time where I say, 'I should continue, because this makes me happy.' So I've always felt very, very blessed with everything that has come my way.

"Even things I went after that went to other people, just the fact that I was considered was a privilege for me," Saldana says, speaking by telephone from a friend's home in Los Angeles. "Parts I get, that I've had to fight for, I appreciate them even more. I feel like my trajectory has been what I was expecting.

I don't like to move too quickly, but I don't like to move too slowly either. So the pace of what's happened, it's all happened at the right time in my life, where I've had the maturity to understand certain roles that would give me bigger acting challenges."

The 34-year-old has made some good choices through the years, proving herself a versatile leading lady who can handle drama, comedy and action like. She has been seen in such major-studio features as Crossroads (2002), Guess Who (2005), Star Trek (2009), Avatar (2009) and Colombiana (2011), but also works in indies such as Haven (2004), After Sex (2007) and Death at a Funeral (2010).

Up next for Saldana is The Words, a drama co-written and co-directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal that will open nationwide on September 7.

Bradley Cooper plays struggling writer Rory, who finds an old, yellowed manuscript, types it into his computer and subsequently takes full credit for what turns into a runaway best seller.

His supportive wife (Saldana) is impressed, as are literary critics and legions of readers. It's time to face the music, however, when an Old Man (Jeremy Irons) appears to claim authorship of the story. The Old Man then proceeds to regale Rory with tales of his youth, which appear as flashbacks.

"The Words is sort of a story within a story within a story," Saldana says, "but it's really about a man's quest to find his own meaning. He's trying to do that without losing himself and without losing the things that are the most pure in his life, which, in all three situations, are the women that love them and the love that they get from being in these relationships."

As with any film, she says, portions of The Words came to life only on the set, once the camera rolled. However, most of "The Words" was in, well, the words — in the draft script that she read and very nearly passed on.

"This script got me really excited," Saldana says. "It was so well written. All the characters were very, very rich, but I thought at the time that the movie was not what I looking for, to be honest. I had a couple of meetings with Brian and Lee, the directors, and they kept insisting that I should do it and giving me reasons why I should do it.

"I'd say, 'It's not really what I'm looking for,"' she continues, "but really it was a character that I absolutely needed to do because, for the past five years, I was either holding a guy and jumping out of buildings or living on a different planet. The characters were very strong and, at their core, they were sensitive. You'd see that through their vulnerabilities.

"This film, Dora is a regular person and the sensitivity is there on the surface," Saldana says. "To play an unconditional character like her, who will give up everything for love, who will be completely supportive and who will be the one who keeps everything together, that was very new for me.

I was very intrigued by that."I thought, 'OK, let me just do t

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