After a 13-year wait for the sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water is finally here! Vital Thrills got a chance to talk to the Avatar cast and crew about the highly-anticipated film.
With Avatar: The Way of Water, the cinematic experience reaches new heights as James Cameron transports audiences back to the magnificent world of Pandora in a spectacular and stirring action-packed adventure.
Set more than a decade after the events of the first film, Avatar: The Way of Water begins to tell the story of the Sully family (Jake, Neytiri, and their kids), the trouble that follows them, the lengths they go to keep each other safe, the battles they fight to stay alive, and the tragedies they endure.
James Cameron was asked if there was a moment when he knew it was time to go back to Pandora. He said, “Well that’s an interesting question, because it seems obvious to everyone, ‘oh, you just made a bunch of money, do a sequel,’ right? Well Steven Spielberg didn’t do a sequel to E.T., highest-grossing film in its time, right? It’s not a no-brainer, do you want to call down the lightning strike again in the same spot?
“The amazing cast that returned and we figured out a way to bring Sig [Sigourney Weaver] back, as well, even though her character from the first film dies, obviously. And we also had this amazing family of artists and troupe players, all the other actors. When you see a crowd scene in this movie of a hundred people, it’s the same ten actors just moved around, right? (Laughter) So it’s a small group and we kind of, yeah, love each other and enjoy the process. And Kate [Winslet] got to join that, and feel that vibe as well. And that was a big incentive for me, to come back and do this all again.”
He continued, “I think it’s important for a sequel to honor what the audience loved about the experience the first time. But also to get them off-balance, you know, do things that they don’t expect. There are a lot of surprises in terms of where the story goes in this film, that we’re not putting into the trailers and the TV spots and all that. You kind of have to experience it.
“But it also goes a lot deeper, in terms of the heart and the emotions, I mean, wouldn’t you guys say? [Avatar] was a much simpler story and the characters were simpler the first time. And I was inspired by the fact that both Zoe and Sam are parents, and I’m a parent of five, and so we wanted to get into the family dynamics, and the responsibilities of having kids. And also what that’s all like from the kid’s perspective right?”
Producer Jon Landau spoke about the themes of the film: “The excitement are the themes that Jim writes into his stories. Themes are what you leave the theatre with, and this movie has heart, has emotion, and it also has a message again about our world, not just the environment, about people, about accepting people for their differences. In the movie Jim wrote in the line, (Speaks Na’vi), ‘I see you.’ And we want people to know that they’re seen and that to see others that same way.”
Sam Worthington is back to reprise the role he made famous in the first film. He spoke about where the character is now. “Well, to be honest, Jim, I’m okay to say this? Gave me a script that was Avatar 1.5, that unto itself is amazing and detailed, and full of what they’ve kind of gone through over that gap. Jim realised that story was about them being warriors and taking on the battles of the clans and things like that. But it almost didn’t feel… as you said, you wanted to explore what this family dynamic is, the natural extension of this love story. But it gave us a good jumping off point to understand how to fill in that gap that’s missing. To be honest, most people would’ve stuck on that one, but not this guy. It was pretty amazing, yeah.”
Zoe Saldaña said of returning to Neytiri that it was “terrifying. It’s so funny, because when something is… very similar to you, you can’t see it. It’s just so close to you that it’s not in front of you. And Neytiri and I, in a way, we’ve lived parallel lives. There is, there’s a level of fearlessness and rebellion that I have, as I guess as a person, that Neytiri had as herself. And I, we were able to sort of find kindred in that.
“But the leap of falling in love with something outside of you, that challenges you to see something that you’ve never seen before, that has always been her dilemma. To surrender to that, and then to bring forward fruits of that love, and… but that presents the challenge for her. Because forcing her to grow, it’s forcing her to love something that she’s been taught to hate. And it’s hard, it’s really, really hard.”
She continued: “Also fear. In my personal life, when I became a parent, fear entered my realm. The fear of losing something that you love so much, you know? And you just spend a great deal of your time creating these hypothetical scenarios that are just unimaginable. When I read the second script, that was her, that was Neytiri. But I didn’t see it then. I see it now. Because my job wasn’t to see it, my job was to be it.
Cameron added, “You’re onto it, I mean you may be fearless when you don’t have kids. You learn fear when you have kids, when you have something greater than yourself that you could lose. And that’s what both of your characters are dealing with, right? Sam plays a character that would leap off of a Leonopteryx, go flying through the air with no parachute, to land on the biggest, meanest predator on the planet, to solve his problem. Would he do that as a father of four? I’m thinking probably not.” (Laughter)
Stephen Lang is back in the Avatar cast as well despite the fact that his character died in the first film. He said, “It was very exciting to come back and I was just so honored to be able to deepen and expand on the vision that Jim had for this character. I think in the first film he’s very, very colorful – he’s got personality, he’s got some great qualities. But essentially he moves through like a mindless shark, in a way.
“But in this iteration of it, first of all there’s the absolute magnificent irony that Jim has written of coming back as the very thing he has been trying to destroy. And having to make the adjustment to that, to adapt to that. And I think it was a total pleasure for me to continue to massage this character, and find the depth, and maybe some of the humanity that’s in him. He’s such a warm character, and beloved by so many… (Laughter) You should stop me.”
Kate Winslet joined the Avatar cast for The Way of Water and spoke about her experience. “Well I have to say, I mean with it being Jim, you know, I expected the absolute best of everything. Because it’s precision, it’s thought through, it is thorough, it’s meticulous and I think the thing that pulled me in most of all, above everything else, is the characters that he’s created.
“Jim has always written for women, characters who are not just strong, but they are leaders, they lead with their heart, with integrity, they stand in their truth, they own their power. They have physical power that is admirable, and to be part of that, and included, it was just so flattering that Jim asked me, because Jim does not suffer fools, and I knew that he was asking me because he knew I was too damn foolish not to say, ‘oh, you see that in me? Well guess what… I’m going to show you that I can do exactly that thing, and maybe that thing, and maybe that thing, and maybe that thing.”
She continued, “And of course he expected no less. So I was just thrilled to be asked. And when I got there, welcomed into this world that was created by these guys and Zoe and Sam, what they did the first time around was to create that heartbeat. It’s one thing for Jim to write it, it’s quite another to find it, and to give it a life and a pulse and real blood in those veins.
“But it’s really, really extraordinary to be around that. It’s not a performance. It’s not things they came up with on the day. It is a universe. It is a love, it is something that is palpable, and you feel it, you step into that space, it’s an empty space, but it is absolutely loaded with truths and dynamics and pulses that these guys built. They built that, and they shared it, and it’s honestly very, very special to have been part of it.”
Kate Winslet learned to hold her breath to the point where she passed Cameron’s ability while shooting. He joked, “I’m still pissed off, because I’ve been a free diver for 50 years. And you smoked past, you know, me and everybody else. But Sig was very close. We have to say.”
Winslet responded, “Well can I just say, Sig yeah… and actually what I, what I want to know is, people keep going on about smashing Tom Cruise’s record, which people are saying is six minutes something. How do we know that you have not actually beaten Tom Cruise as well? Because you were like six thirty. Right? Yeah. So we can we find that out by the end of this press conference, someone needs to tell us.”
Winslet said, “But when I surfaced, I actually have a video of when I surfaced from that breath hold, and I, the only reason I have it is because my husband snuck in. And I knew that day that Kirk had said to me, ‘we’re going to go for another one today, Kate,’ and I said to Ned, ‘look, please don’t come, because I just don’t want you like videoing and I’ll just feel all pressure-y and whatever. Just please don’t be there.’
“He snuck in, and I have the video of me surfacing saying, ‘Am I dead, am I dead, have I died?’ And then going, ‘what was it?’ Straight away I wanted to know my time. And I couldn’t believe that it was seven fifteen. But then, having been told it’s seven fifteen, you want to know what the next thing I say is? (James: Champagne). We need to radio set. I wanted Jim to know right away, that’s the first thing I wanted to do.”
Sigourney Weaver spoke about how she came back for the new role after her own character died in the first film. She said, “Luckily there is a connection, and when we first talked about it, it was 2010, and we just had this idea, a girl who was more comfortable in the forest with the creatures and the flora and the fauna. But I think, all power to Jim, he wanted to create a complex character. Wonderful things about her, but she also has some deficits. And so I loved that I had the opportunity to play someone I consider a real adolescent in most ways, and then she has these other bright spots that she’s learning about.
“But I was very honored, too, and thrilled, excited, terrified. But luckily there was a long time to prepare, and I went to high school classes and a few other things, so I could hear the pitch of their voices, and there’s a big range of who an adolescent is between twelve and fifteen. And once I saw that, I was like, okay, I can let Kiri come out. Whoever that is, combined with who I was at fourteen.”
Cameron was asked about his powerful female characters. He said, “It was easy enough with Zoe’s character, Neytiri, because she’s very strong in the first film. But then what happens when she’s a mother and there’s something outside herself that she puts herself beneath, in terms of her priorities. Her pride, and so on, as the chief’s daughter, princess of the clan sort of thing. And what’s her new social standing?
“So it’s really interesting to see how Zoe, with all the innate strength and intensity that she comes in, to see her with the shoe on the other foot, when she has to go before Ronal and the Metkayina, and she has to kind of eat crow, and she has to be kind of submissive, but that doesn’t last very long with her, as you might imagine, and major sparks are struck between the two alpha females very quickly. And then that resolves over time, not just within this film but across into movie three as well.”
He continued, “And so it was important for us to talk about what the arc is across the films. And of course, what a pleasure to work again with Sig. And it was by design, I mean, her character’s dead. Dead, dead, dead, from the first movie. There’s not much you can do…
“Yeah, everybody knows that, no spoilers, but how to bringing her back? Well Grace’s avatar was still alive, it has no mind of its own because it needed to be infused with Grace’s, you know consciousness in order to move around and talk and so on. But was, turned out to be pregnant, a vessel for this little baby. That’s Jake’s problem and Neytiri’s problem, and so she becomes the adoptive daughter.
“Jake had a kind of mother/son relationship with Grace in the first film. She took him under her wing and so of course she’s going, he’s going to protect her child, and raise her child as, as his own. So she’s the daughter, but she’s also a bit strange, there’s something…. There’s something unknown about her, something enigmatic about her, and I think Sig walked a beautiful line of classic teenage awkwardness, and yet as she comes into her power, as she comes into her strength, she’s not a warrior.
“She’s not somebody who would react in a situation like Neytiri would. She’ll react very differently. And she’s not really that much of an alpha, really, until we see her manifesting her power. So to me, I thought we had the opportunity to speak to teenage girls in a way that might make sense to them. I was very well aware of this problem, I read ‘Reviving Ophelia’ and all that, I have daughters of my own. I’ve seen them go through it, I see their confusion, and the sense of ‘who am I?’ identity. Who’s listening to me, all the things you go through when you’re a teen.
“I had sort of researched that for Titanic, and then I had lived it as a father after that, right? And so we thought there are different ways to be strong, there are different ways for a female to be strong. And Kate’s character, she goes into battle — I don’t think this is a spoiler, because we show it in the trailer — Kate goes into battle six months pregnant and she does not hesitate.
“When her kids are in jeopardy, boom, she’s on the move. And it’s instantaneous. There’s a close-up of you, and the decision is, one one thousand, she goes and gets her weapon. It took her that long. You know? And her husband, Cliff Curtis’ character, tries to hold her back, puts his hand gently on her belly, and says, “Honey… honey you… don’t go…’ And he… and Kate says, “We ride, I go.” It’s instantaneous.”
Disney’s 20th Century Studios will release Avatar: The Way of Water in theaters on December 16, 2022. The film is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence and intense action, partial nudity and some strong language.
Jenna Busch has written and spoken about movies, TV, video games, and comics all over the Internet for over 15 years, co-hosted a series with Stan Lee, appeared on multiple episodes of “Tabletop,” written comic books, and is a contributing author for the 13 books in the “PsychGeeks” series including “Star Wars Psychology.” She founded the site Legion of Leia and hosted the “Legion” podcast.