Zoe Saldaña is an undocumented immigrant fighting the cartel in 'The Absence of Eden' trailer

Zoe Saldaña is an undocumented immigrant fighting the cartel in 'The Absence of Eden' trailer

"The movie is not about the border, the movie is about humanity. It is a question about human beings," says first-time director (and Saldaña's husband) Marco Perego.

Zoe Saldaña is tapping into her family's immigrant roots for her latest film, The Absence of Eden.

The intense trailer for the film, which EW is debuting exclusively above, introduces us to her character, an undocumented immigrant, who finds herself working with a morally conflicted ICE agent to save the life of an innocent girl from a ruthless cartel.

"Your crops, your children, your future. We make it all real. And what do you do? You just stand there and take and take and take and take and take," she screams in a poignant moment.

The project marks the directorial debut of Saldaña's husband, Marco Perego, a visual artist, writer, and producer. The film was inspired by a sculpture he did in 2017, where he filled 714 shoes with concrete to represent children fleeing from Syria to Italy.

Like the artwork, he was drawn to telling a story "about humanity" but wanted to do so on a bigger scope. "I think from the artistic perspective what was interesting to me was why history is always coming around, and why human beings don't really try to look inside themselves and try to really advance in the next level of human behavior," Perego tells EW. "The movie is not about the border; the movie is about humanity. It is a question about human beings."

Perego also drew from his and Saldaña's real-life immigrant experiences. In fact, the film is dedicated to Saldaña's late maternal grandmother, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic in the 1960s. "I was very honored, and I was deeply moved when he decided to dedicate the movie to her," she says. "We were everything to her, and she was everything to us. All the things that shaped me as a woman come from her."

Perego and Saldaña continue to honor her grandmother's legacy by sharing her story with their three sons. "For us as a family, immigration is a topic that we celebrate and is a topic that we normalize and we always share with our children the same way our parents shared with us."

She adds, "So I'm not surprised that Marco, for his first movie, chose such a sensitive topic because he is a sensitive creature and he's such a profound artist that this was his way of adding something positive to this conversation."

<p>Roadside Attractions/Vertical</p> Zoë Saldaña in 'The Absence of Eden'

Roadside Attractions/Vertical

Zoë Saldaña in 'The Absence of Eden'

Much like he would when preparing to do a sculpture, Perego spent two years researching his subject. This included visits to the U.S.-Mexico border, where he listened to immigrants tell their stories. He also brought his experience as an artist to specific frames in the film. As seen in the trailer, there's a shot of immigrants sitting down as they wait to cross the border. Perego says the image was inspired by the artwork of Spanish painter Francisco Goya. "They actually sit down like a Goya painting because the idea is to give them beauty, to give humanity to these people, not just through [the] conversation [of the film], but also the picture of it," he says.

As for his leading lady, Perego says he was filled with immense gratitude that "she wanted to say yes to collaborating with me." He adds, "It was a big responsibility, and I learned a lot from her in every aspect and it was a very, very special experience."

Saldaña echoes the sentiment, naturally, saying that being on set with Perego was an "out of body experience" and "a gift." "One of the things that I love about my partner is that we have a great deal of respect for each other and each other's work," she adds. "And Marco is very much that writer, creator, visual artist, producer, director, storyteller. He's the whole package.

"And so getting to work with him, knowing how hard it was for him to put this together, but also knowing his true intention as to why he wanted to tell a story like this, I feel honored that he still chose to work with me," she says, pausing to add with a laugh, "I mean, he doesn't really have a choice, but..."

In addition to Saldaña, the thriller also stars Garrett Hedlund and Adria Arjona. The Absence of Eden is based on an original screenplay by Perego and Rick Rapoza.

The film is produced by Julie Yorn, Perego, Robert Kravis, Karl Herrmann, and Alexandra Milchan. Martin Scorsese, Rick Yorn, Cisely Mariel and Saldaña's Cinestar Pictures, Ingenious Media, Ashland Hill, Sycuan Tribal, Ruben Islas, Jolene Rodriguez, and Stanley Preschutti serve as executive producers.

The Absence of Eden hits theaters April 12.

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