"The thing about grief is that it's ongoing," the actor tells USA TODAY in a recent interview at Netflix and Elle's Latinas in Hollywood luncheon in Los Angeles. "It will never get better; it just becomes manageable."
In the eight-episode limited series (now streaming), Saldaña plays Amahle "Amy" Wheeler, an American student who studies abroad in Italy with big dreams of becoming an artist. There she meets and falls head over heels for a Sicilian chef, Lino (Eugenio Mastrandrea). After Lino follows Amy back to the U.S. to live out their whirlwind romance, the happy ending is clouded when illness strikes.
"It was a very emotional process to be a part of this project," the actor says. "It wasn't easy to walk in to work every day, knowing you're dealing with this subject matter."
But Saldaña believes themes of grief are "worth exploring deeper."
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"From Scratch" was created by actor Tembi Locke and her sister, Attica Locke, a fiction writer and TV producer. It's based on Tembi's 2019 memoir, which follows her husband Saro's diagnosis of a rare form of soft-tissue cancer, its aftermath and her road to healing.
"We've seen enough stories of the person fighting that good fight but not enough stories of the person that's fighting beside them," Saldaña says. "What are they left with after that battle has been lost? What do they do with the pieces that they're left with?"
Exploring that was important for the "Adam Project" and "Avatar" actor, 44, whose father was killed in a car accident in 1987. "I know what it's like to lose a parent as a child, but I never knew what it was like to be my mom losing a partner," says Saldaña, who shares three children with Italian artist Marco Perego.
Working on the series helped her understand what it meant for her mother to lose her life partner, but those conversations still aren't easy.
"Throughout the years, we've come and gone in terms of our level of openness … according to how deeply it's hurting or how much we've healed from it," she says. "We did revisit conversations and looked at memories (with my father) from a different scope."
And even as "a lot of sadness resurfaced," Saldaña felt it was OK. "It was a different kind of pain now because time has gone by … so much that you forgot a memory, the way certain things happened, or you forget a face or you forget a smile."
Tembi Locke says reliving the death of her husband through "From Scratch" was a "surreal" and "emotional marathon."
"It was also full of grace and wildly surprising joy," she says via email. "I knew from the beginning that I would be inviting others into the most intimate, sacred experiences of my life in order to make art."
Ultimately, Tembi Locke wants people to understand and accept that grief is a universal experience.
"We must name it and give ourselves the grace to be exactly where we are," she says. "There is no right way to grieve. There is only the day-by-day process of moving through the darkness toward a sliver of light and, eventually, more light."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'From Scratch': Zoe Saldana opens up about father's death and grief