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Zoe Saldana on Avatar

Published September 29, 2009 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of 20th Century Fox
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You might not recognize Zoe Saldana in Avatar. She plays a Na’Vi, one of those big blue aliens from the planet Pandora. The affect is achieved through performance capture and all the technology director James Cameron invented to create his film.

Avatar's Zoe Na'Vi


“In the beginning, I think it was a lack of knowledge, a lack of awareness of how the technology worked,” Saldana said. “Then we worked on it for two years. We trained, we had extensive rehearsals with Jim so it takes a little time for you to get used to it. After you get used to it, it is the most amazing thing because you’re not working in a movie where you have to pause yourself and they have to light again and you have to start all over again. We would do a scene from the beginning to the end every time. As an actor, you can only be so lucky to do that.”

I would have thought that doing longer takes left more room for mistakes. I’d be wrong, because actors prefer to do it all at once. “We had this freedom. When you take away a set, when you take away the hair and the makeup, you just leave the actors working with a director and you have all day. You have all day to talk and Jim is that kind of filmmaker, director that he will stop. He will sit down with you and if it takes a three hour discussion in terms of how big a monster is this beast that we’re talking about, in order for me to adjust my levels of fear or aggressiveness, it was about going into the computers and getting all these pictures and talking extensively to us so by the time we got back on the Volume, which is what we called the set, we knew what was in our minds. It was being a child again. It was being a child again and not limiting your imagination.”




With all the technology that went into production, and the science fiction of the plot, Avatar still comes down to just a good old fashioned story. “It absolutely is. It’s no different than what he did with Terminator 30 years ago. This was a film about the future but the essence, the essential story was very simple. What happens when man gets ahead of himself, defies his mortality and creates something so perfect it ends up coming back to haunt him? Titanic sort of had that same kind of essence, and then you have this story that it can be another galaxy on a planet called Pandora with a different alien species called the Na’Vi, but it’s still about what happens when we underappreciate things that we have, we’re forced to go elsewhere to sort of take resources from this other place and then we meet creatures that are not so okay with that. It’s a very universal story about using and abusing and learning to live co-existing in a very amicable way together. With a twist of Shakespeare because you do have that Romeo and Juliet thing, two lovers that can’t be. And it’s real.”

Saldana has gotten to play some great characters herself, but there’s nothing like a James Cameron heroine. “Working with him for two years, that was the constant question that I had. This man’s a truck driver who’s tech savvy, who’s a sci-fi geek and speaks in such big words that you need a dictionary just to have a common conversation about the weather with Cameron. What is it about him? I honestly think that he is not afraid of being in tune with his vulnerable side. I also think it takes one to know one. I think that as human beings, we’re very androgynous and it just depends on how much we would like to listen to our masculinity as women and not feel butchy or be considered a tomboy or whatever. And for men, how much do you want to listen to your feminine side and be okay with being vulnerable and fragile while being strong. I think he’s very much in tune with his fragility because he’s a very sensitive bugger. He will see something and it will drive him to tear or goosebumps and he’ll snap his fingers but while at the same time too, he loves blowing up sh*t. He lives for that, so it’s sort of like the kind of person that you want to be when you grow up, It’s being in tune with both energies.”

Avatar opens to theaters on December 18th.

For the posters, trailer and latest updates, go to the Avatar Movie Page.


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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of 20th Century Fox
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