James Cameron Had Main Avatar 2 Cast Do Underwater Breath-Holding Training

James Cameron had the Avatar: The Way of Water cast undergo rigorous underwater training in order to hold their breaths for several minutes. Much of the original cast from 2009’s Avatar has returned for the upcoming sequel subtitled The Way of Water, including Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Giovanni Ribisi, Dileep Rao, and Matt Gerald. Newcomers include Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, Edie Falco, Jemaine Clement, Michelle Yeoh, Brendan Cowell, and Vin Diesel.

Since some of the Avatar sequel’s scenes take place in the oceans of Pandora, Cameron and his team developed new technology to actually film performance capture underwater, which led to several production delays as they worked on accomplishing this unprecedented feat. Shooting these underwater scenes also required the actors to hold their breaths for extended periods of time. Winslet, who plays a free diver in Avatar: The Way of Water, held her breath underwater for a record-breaking amount of time, beating Tom Cruise’s figure for Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation. Weaver, who now plays Jake and Neytiri’s adoptive teenage daughter, also learned to free dive and hold her breath for an impressive amount of time.

Cameron and the Avatar: The Way of Water cast now chat with The New York Times to discuss filming the sequel’s underwater scenes and reveal some more details about the rigorous breath-holding training they underwent. Each actor also shares their own personal bests, including Winslet, who held her breath for over seven minutes. Weaver did six and a half, while Saldaña almost got to five minutes. Read what they say below:

Cameron: You want it to look like the people are underwater, so they need to be underwater. It’s not some gigantic leap — if you were making a western, you’d be out learning how to ride a horse. I knew Sam was a surfer, but Sig and Zoe and the others weren’t particularly ocean-oriented folks. So I was very specific about what would be required, and we got the world’s best breath-hold specialists to talk them through it.

Saldaña: The first step is you fake it till you make it: You tell your boss, “Yeah, absolutely, I’m so excited,” and then it’s complete horror, like, “What am I going to do?” At best, you’re going to walk away with a brand-new aptitude, but I was scared. I come from generations of island people, and the one thing people don’t know about island life is that if you’re from islands that have been colonized, a great percentage of people don’t know how to swim. Through folklore, you are taught to love the ocean as if it’s a goddess, but you fear it.

Cameron: Kate’s a demon for prep, so she latched onto the free diving as something that she could build her character around. Kate’s character is someone who grew up underwater as an ocean-adapted Na’vi — they’re so physically different from the forest Na’vi, that we’d almost classify them as a subspecies. So she had to be utterly calm underwater, and it turned out that she was a natural.

Weaver: [My teacher] said to get rid of your mammalian instinct to go, “Oh my God, my face is in the water.” So you spend several minutes just putting your body back into that element and letting those land-person feelings dissolve.

During the interview, Cameron and the Avatar: The Way of Water cast reveal some new details about the extensive underwater training, including working with the « world’s best breath-hold specialists. » While Worthington had some prior experience on the water as a surfer, Saldaña and Weaver were not « particularly ocean-oriented folks, » Cameron says, which makes their personal best breath-holding times even that much more impressive. This taps into how Cameron often strives to make his movies as grounded in reality as possible, even when dealing with fantastical worlds and characters.

Cameron and his team put years of work into Avatar: The Way of Water in order for the sequel to shoot motion-capture underwater, and the cast put in just as much preparation in order to hold their breaths and make these scenes possible. Thus, this gorgeous underwater action has been the main proponent of Avatar 2’s marketing campaign. Seeing it actually come to life will likely elicit even more excitement. Hopefully, all the cast and crew’s hard work pays off, and the film’s underwater scenes are equally stunning when Avatar: The Way of Water releases in theaters.

Source: The New York Times

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