While much of the hype surrounding the release of James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water is around the return of leading stars Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldaña — as well as others like Kate Winslet, Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang — we now turn the attention to the next generation of actors set to inhabit the wondrous world of Pandora.
With three more sequels already announced and in development, Cameron has clearly decided to explore several more stories set on the lush alien moon. Two young actors who will make their Avatar franchise debut in The Way of Water — and are set to play prominent lead roles in the films to come — are Bailey Bass and Jamie Flatters.
Bailey Bass plays Tsireya, Ronal (Winslet) and Tonowari’s (Curtis) teenage daughter, who struggles to understand her ties to the family once Jake and Neytiri’s middle child, Lo’ak, enters her life. Meanwhile, Jamie Flatters as Neteyam is described as the eldest of Jake and Neytiri’s boys, and the “golden child” who can do no wrong.
Both the actors are relatively new; teenager Bailey is best known for the thriller Gift of Murder, while Jamie starred in the Netflix film The School for Good and Evil, alongside the likes of Charlize Theron and Michelle Yeoh.
Now, the duo is set for international attention, as their big Hollywood ticket to fame opens in cinemas this week. Ahead of the film’s release, they talk to us on a Zoom call about a filmmaking experience that has changed their lives for good. Excerpts:
What is it like collaborating with James Cameron? The ‘Avatar’ franchise is, of course, his baby. How did he work with younger stars like you?
Bailey: There are quite a few emotional scenes in this movie as expected. We were trying to touch every emotion you can possibly feel, and I was trying to evoke Tsireya to the best of my ability.
What I love about Jim [Cameron] is that whenever I’m doing an emotional scene, he will come and whisper to me. He understands the tone, but that makes me feel very protected, because there is a fine line between the actor and the person. And if I push it too far over the edge, then the experiences are going to affect me and my mental health personally.
Jamie: He likes his actors to be people that have the audacity to make bold decisions. Jim then takes it all and adds chaos and risks to their performance. Sometimes he would want something extremely specific and precise, a really micro detail, and that was always interesting.
Bailey, your character is described as someone who takes after Zoe Saldaña’s Neytiri in the first part…
Bailey: Yes, Tsireya is actually very similar to Neytiri, and I was aware of that. I would watch the first film, often to pay attention to Zoe’s performance. In fact, all the Na’vi… their movement and dialect were heavily influenced by Zoe. Also, my character is the only daughter of Tonowari and Ronal, who are the king and queen of the Metkayina clan. So Tsireya’s responsibilities are very similar to Neytiri’s from the first film. And then of course, there is the matter of her developing feelings for a certain someone… (smiles)
The trailer seems to indicate that the level of physical action in this sequel has been amped up from the first part. How much training did you guys have to undertake?
Bailey: Absolutely! We did three months of training before we even stepped foot into starting a scene. That included free-diving, archery, dialect coaching and I got scuba-certified as well. We went to Hawaii to understand what it’d be like to be in the ocean, touch sand and be in the forest. And then there were these intense gym sessions, where we are doing burpee challenges learning how and to do new workouts; those were the most gruelling of the lot!
Jim is a perfectionist, and he instilled that quality in us too. So we want to do the best and push ourselves, because then that physical strength will help us with the movement. It looks so effortless when you watch it, but it took a lot of training for us to get to that point.
When you sign onto a mega-franchise like this, you basically give up on everything else happening in your life. How do you process that?
Jamie: Yes, that’s true. What the Avatar process as such desires from young actors is to basically drop your life and take on these roles. So, obviously while we all jumped at the opportunity to do this, it does mean that we get taken away from our schooling, university and other roles. But it did give us a sort of moral responsibility to handle our education in our own time, which was a good life lesson actually.
Bailey: While shooting, I got into my dream school, the prestigious LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. But I had to drop out and be homeschooled. But when you finally get what you would have dreamt of your whole life, you gotta jump at the chance, right?
Obviously the film boasts of several technical highs and firsts. But, what did you learn during the shooting process that you remember most vividly?
Bailey: We were going into uncharted territory, but Jim was very supportive. I think one of the most interesting things that I learned about underwater acting is that if you open your lips slightly, if you open your mouth just a little bit, it allows the viewer in. Now I know that it’s okay to relax, and how to smile underwater, which you would be nervous to do instinctively, because you don’t want to choke on water.
Avatar: The Way of Water releases December 16 in theatres