To fans and audiences, 2009’s Avatar reunited actress Sigourney Weaver and director James Cameron, 23 years after Aliens (1986), and while her return to Pandora 13 years later in the upcoming sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water might be the first time she is returning to a franchise under the continued care of Cameron, one thing remains the same – she’s still playing a different character under his watch.
So while some of the cast, including Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña and Stephen Lang, might appreciate the chance to reconnect and breathe new life back into a familiar character, in the hopes that fans will love them just as much, it’s not as clear cut for the British American actress.
“Well, in my case, I was playing a new character, a delightful and challenging one. So I was very wrapped up in that,” said Weaver in a roundtable interview with Geek Culture.
“I didn’t really think about 13 years passing because I was playing a new character and because by then, we had four scripts that told the story of this family in such an emotional, powerful, joyous way – very much reflecting Jim’s feelings about his own family and the way the kids talk to each other and make fun of each other, put each other down, roll their eyes at each other, but then would do anything for each other – we had all that going on.”
The 73-year-old actress first joined Avatar as Dr. Grace Augustine, a xenobotanist in charge of the Avatar Program who unfortunately, died at the end of the film. In Avatar: The Way of Water, Weaver will be playing 14-year-old Na’vi teenager, Kiri.
Weaver had to find various ways to step back into her 14-year old self, including spending a lot of time with young actors of that age group, and attending acting classes with them so that she could emulate the behaviours of children that age.
“I’d had time to do a lot of research, hanging out at kids’ classes because I play a 14-year old – listening to their voices, the pitch of their voices and just kind of unearthing my 14-year old,” continued Weaver.
“I was kind of delighted and relieved that when we started doing the pre-production, I was in all the same classes with the kids so we could develop these sibling relationships. I would arrive – there are no special effects so I was clearly my age – and they just immediately accepted me. I was able to drop this shell away and come in as Kiri. I didn’t want them to look at me and see just an old lady you know. I think they really saw Kiri.”
Though Kiri may be a new character, she’s not entirely disconnected from Weaver’s Dr. Augustine. Kiri is the child of Dr. Augustine’s Avatar, and in the sequel, will be adopted by Jake Sully (Worthington) and Ney’tiri (Saldaña). And just like Dr. Augustine, she loves Pandora – its forest, its animals, its way of life and obviously, its people.
Kiri still remains a unique character for Weaver though, who expressed that her more popular roles – like Ripley from the Alien franchise – are often rougher around the edges whilst Kiri is much softer and sensitive. Though, she does not deny that all of them are powerful female characters in their own ways.
“Well, I think from my point of view, the characters I play, these women, often have to find their power. They’re not innately powerful. Like Ripley is just a normal innocent who believes that everything will be alright and by the book, and then she has to transform into someone who’s a survivor,” explained Weaver.
“And Kiri, in fact, is not a fighter. She does other things, but she is probably the absolute opposite of most things I play. She’s a very gentle creature who feels more at home with the forest, with the animals and the plants and the trees. Same thing underwater. She’s a gentle soul unless she’s stirred up.”
Of course, Weaver gives credit to Cameron for the way Kiri was created and written. The actress is a fan of Cameron’s work and only has good things to say about reuniting with the Avatar creator once again.
“Well, I think he’s such an amazing writer. Somehow he can write these stories that are very personal and very emotional through lines, great characters. He loves women. He’s turned Quaritch into this sort of amazing villain,” shared the 73-year old actress.
“But he also, you know, having started with Roger Corman and worked on so many successful films, he knows every department and what he needs them to do so he’s a great communicator! But I’d say that the biggest difference now from working with him, however many years ago that is, he’s much more playful. So even though we were doing serious scenes, we were like a family and I think he creates a very rare set.”
It goes without saying that Avatar was a visual masterpiece and early special clips released proves that Avatar: The Way of Water will be even more stunning – especially with improved special effects and technology over the years.
On set, Weaver compares it to performing for theatre where actors are stripped down and are acting straight from their guts. And that all the magic viewers see on screen are thanks to the visual special effects that have now been able to pick up even the slightest of facial expressions and movements.
“You know, I felt it was like theater on the first Avatar. For Grace, I did live action but I also had an avatar self, and what I love about it is it’s very freeing for the actor. Everything drops away. There’s no hair, makeup, sets, anything. There might be a few representational platforms, but it’s an empty stage and you come out with your cameras and everything,” explained Weaver.
“When you’re working with the other actors, all of that falls away and you’re just speaking, you know, from your gut to theirs. And so in many ways, I feel like probably all the technology picks up more things. Maybe there’s more sensitivity. My character Kiri is a very sensitive character, quite a gentle character in many ways, and not always a happy character and I’m amazed at how well it transferred,” she continued.
That said, nothing much has changed on set since the first movie, with the exception that actors now carry an additional camera on their helmets.
“Our experience as actors was very similar to the first one, except that it was a little easier to get the dots off. You had to really scrub. But otherwise it was the same. I think we had one additional camera on our helmets but again, all of this falls away when you’re doing the scene,” said Weaver.
“And so it is like an early theatre rehearsal, where you’re jumping around like in a black leotard or something, but definitely, I felt like I was on stage. And I kind of just trusted that Jim, you know, would make sure that whatever he needed to be conveyed would be conveyed.”
Avatar: The Way of Water hits cinemas on 15 December 2022, and what viewers can expect is the continued story between Jake Sully and Ney’tiri as they form a family of their own and do everything they can to stay together. Unfortunately, their family and home are threatened once more, forcing them to not only explore the regions of Pandora, but also fight a difficult war against the humans.
Themes of imperialism run heavier in this sequel, according to Weaver. The actress’ main takeaway from the film is how indigenous peoples continue to be displaced and how humans continue to destroy nature and its forms.
“I think the imperialism message is really, really powerful. You see the sky people coming back and the first thing they do is land their rocket ships or whatever they’re travelling in, and they scorch the entire forest and you see all these different species running and going up in flames right in front of you,” shared Weaver.
“And so I think the message of humans being insensitive to other species, indigenous people, you know, these planets are not to be taken over and made over for men – and so that’s an even stronger theme, I think, than it ever was. And that’s mainly my take away.”