‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Actor Sam Worthington Opens Up About Underwater Challenges – ABC News | Episode Movies

When shooting the upcoming James Cameron film Avatar: The Way of Water, the actors involved faced a unique challenge: Much of the film was shot underwater.

The sequel to Avatar, which became the highest-grossing film of all time at the box office at US$2.9 billion (US$4.3 billion), will follow the story of a refugee family displaced by war.

Actors underwater swim close together in CGI wetsuits, with film operator with camera in background
The actors took on the challenge of performing underwater and without words.(Supplied: 20th Century Studios)

Directed by James Cameron, Avatar: The Way of Water stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Cliff Curtis and Kate Winslet.

It is scheduled for release on December 15th.

The cast had to act through performance capture – in which the actors wear tags and record multiple cameras simultaneously to create a 3D character and place them in the film’s fictional setting.

Worth as Jake Sully, closeup of a blue man with dreadlocks
Sam Worthington as Jake Sully. (Supplied: 20th Century Studios)

They also had to trade underwater.

The film’s star, Australian actor Sam Worthington, told ABC News it means using true emotions and true feelings.

He said a high-stakes scene of a father and son bonding emotionally needs to be acted out without words.

“Now for me the scene where I realized we were 30 feet under water and we were out of oxygen. And that freaked me out a bit — my heart rate was through the roof and that means you’re losing more oxygen,” says Worthington, who plays the protagonist, said Jake Sully.

“And then the kid just kind of looked at us and we reconnected and ended that heartbreaking scene and I think these things are incredibly difficult, even on dry land.”

Worthington said the actors were challenged to convey emotional scenes through facial expressions and gestures.

“For some crazy reason we decided to shoot them underwater and the whole movie takes emotional scenes and puts them in a foreign environment,” he said.

The actors had to undergo rigorous underwater training, including underwater breath-holding for minutes and freediving.

Avatar The Way of the Water scene
Ronal (Kate Winslet) and Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) in Avatar: The Way of Water. (Supplied: 20th Century Studios)

Winslet held his breath underwater for seven minutes, breaking a record set by Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.

“Jim raises the bar for storytelling because when you’re underwater you can’t put these heartbreaking scenes into words. You have to use true emotion and true feeling and a tactile response to get that message across,” Worthington said.

Cameron sits next to Worthington, who is wearing a CGI wetsuit outfit during filming
Sam Worthington and Director James Cameron on the set.(Supplied: 20th Century Studios)

The first avatar was celebrated for its groundbreaking CGI and visual storytelling techniques.

With a number of sequels in the works, the series has become one of the most expensive franchises ever made.

Avatar characters flying on giant wings look like dinosaurs
The Avatar films focus on themes related to capitalism, climate change, the endless cycle of war, colonization and displacement.(Supplied: 20th Century Studios)

Little has been revealed about the plot of the upcoming sequel, but the film will focus ten years after the first film on the Sully family as they face yet another war.

Released in 2009, the original film is set in the 22nd century, where humans colonize a habitable moon called Pandora to mine a valuable mineral.

The film tells the story of Sully who eventually falls in love with a Na’vi woman, Neytiri, from the local indigenous tribe.

Zoe Saldana and Sam Worthington star in a scene from the movie Avatar.
Zoe Saldana and Sam Worthington star in the original avatar. (www.imdb.com)

“[In the first film] Jake, he found an affinity with one culture and an affinity with another planet. In it he found himself. Personally, for me, Avatar: The Way of Water is about protecting all of that,” Worthington said.

The Avatar films focus on themes related to capitalism, climate change, the endless cycle of war, colonization and displacement.

According to Worthington, Cameron often uses his films to explore these issues in a conscious way.

For example, 1997’s Titanic dealt with class, while the Terminator series explores enemy technology in an apocalyptic future.

Sully holds Neytri by the shoulders while holding a large crossbow and fires burn behind them
Neytiri (Saldana) and Jake Sully (Worthington) return in the sequel. (Supplied: 20th Century Studios)

“So one of the key issues is, can we afford the life we’re taking away from our environment?” New Zealand actor Cliff Curtis, who plays new character Tonowari, said.

“You know, what does it take as a human to get an ounce of gold? What is the impact of what we do on our environment so that we can maintain our quality of life?”

In the sequel, Sully now has children with Neytiri and navigates fatherhood with a growing brood.

When war causes his family to be displaced, he seeks the help of Tonowari, the leader of a reef clan.

“We live as reef people in the ocean. So we have a whole new world to explore and discover. And we’re taking in these refugees – the Sullys.

“They show up to seek refuge, and culturally we have to accept them whether we like it or not, and then we have to show them the way of the water, how to live happily among us, and Jake brings a lot of baggage,” Curtis told ABC News.

The sequel will be released 13 years after the original film and has been delayed several times due to COVID-19 and other production setbacks.

James Cameron stands at the edge of a large pool in which actors swim in scuba masks
The film’s stars had to undergo rigorous underwater training. (Supplied: 20th Century Studios)

Cameron previously said he would have to wait for film technology to develop in order to be able to film the motion capture sequences underwater.

“Will he remain the great warrior he has become? Or did he just want to be a father? And that’s his kind of journey in this film: what’s more worth fighting for?” Worthington said of his character, Sully.

“This is a fight because it’s the Na’vi he chose and love he chose, so it’s like you have that ruthless kind of mad warrior, but now he has such scale of responsibility and it’s how you make up for it?”

blue avatar swimming in a scene from the sequel
With a number of sequels in the works, the series has become one of the most expensive franchises ever made. (Supplied: 20th Century Studios)

For Curtis, the central focus on family and parenting makes the film universally relatable, especially when children are being raised and decisions as a family can sometimes be a process of trial and error.

“You try to figure it out over time. And I think Jim captured that really well,” he said.

“It’s like, we want love, we want the love of others, [it’s] when we want to express love. We want to be meaningfully networked. But nobody gave us the rule book of relationships.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re on Pandora or in Sydney, Australia or wherever you are. We’re all trying to figure it out.”

Worthington said the family’s experiences were all too familiar.

“Yes, this family is displaced and on the run from war, but their arguments revolve around common domestic issues that we can all identify with…but it happens, coincidentally, during an intergalactic war.”

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