Algerian-born actress Sofia Boutella plays a bold alien in Star Trek Beyond (out July 22). Here, she reflects on learning English from Madonna and her journey to the final frontier.
Boutella immigrated to France with her composer father and architect mother during Algeria’s brutal civil war in 1992. “My family were nomads,” says Boutella, who spent her early adulthood in Los Angeles and now divides her time between California and London. “I envy, in a way, people that have that connection to a stable, solid community.” But the 34-year-old also considers her bohemian background an asset. “I have loved ones and friends all over the map,” she says. “And I find lovely people and gypsies at heart wherever I go.”
Taking the role of Star Trek’s feisty combatant Jaylah—which required two months of training with a Japanese staff—was a welcome challenge. “She’s a survivor,” says Boutella. “She’s strong, independent, and self-sufficient.” Boutella is cagey about plot details, but there have been hints that Jaylah helps the Enterprise crew against Idris Elba’s villain Krall. “It’s all very secretive,” she says. “I remember having to wear a cloak going from my trailer to set!” And though filming for three-plus months in Vancouver and Dubai cemented her love for the 50-year-old franchise, she wasn’t exactly a fan of the TV series growing up. “I thought it felt spooky,” she says.
Boutella took English classes while growing up in France, but it wasn’t until she began working as one of Madonna’s backup dancers during the singer’s Confessions tour in 2006 that she realized just how much she didn’t know. “Everybody used to have to talk to me at times in sign language,” Boutella says. “Being at work with Madonna taught me the most English.”
After working for 12 years as a dancer—and starring in the Michael Jackson music video for “Hollywood Tonight”—Boutella decided to pursue acting. “I just went with my heart,” she says. Two years later, she landed the role of a razor-legged assassin in 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, where she sliced and diced her way to rave reviews. Next, Boutella will star as the monster in an upcoming reboot of The Mummy, opposite Tom Cruise. “He’s teaching me a tremendous amount on and off set,” she says. “I feel very lucky.”