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Avatar: The Way of Water… all three hours and 12 minutes of it, has lived up to the hype.
One of the most anticipated sequels in film history, with a budget in excess of a quarter of a billion dollars, has exceeded expectations, even in an era where the security of the box office blockbuster is as fragile as at any point in history.
As it is, the film has so far grossed over $2 billion in theaters, proving that the faith placed in James Cameron’s fantasy foray has been, ultimately, well-placed.
Its success has now ultimately paved the way for three further sequels, stretching right the way through to 2028, and that makes Zoe Saldana one busy woman.
Not only is the 44-year-old actress dealing with what may well become the most lucrative franchise in history, she’s also taken time to redress her perspective over the male/female divide… in Hollywood and in life.
Q Having Avatar return sees us dealing not just with a sequel, but a sequel of a sequel, and two more beyond that, taking us all the way through from Avatar 2 to Avatar 5! How do you get your head round that? ZOE SALDANA: “The project is huge, but it has to be. You have a film that took $3 billion at the box office, and yet we are 13 years on. Perhaps it’s only right we’re getting as many follow-ups done if it’s taken us this long up until now!”
Q At 190 minutes, is there anything left for the Avatar sequels that come after The Way of Water?
ZOE SALDANA: “All will be revealed—those tiresome words, I know, but as the years pass and the story continues to evolve, so too will the reality bring itself into focus. “It’s truly exciting to be back on this project, after all this time, and now we’ve seen the success of what we’ve got, and confirmed that there is still a thirst for this story in the mouths of the movie-going public, I can’t wait for the next installment.”
Q Obviously when sequels are mentioned the rst thing people think about is risk. Do you feel this?
ZOE SALDANA: “I was very nervous. I was nervous because sequels can be dangerous. And we all were feeling the pressure. I think the rst couple of days, we all had moments of, ‘can we do this again?’ ‘What was the secret ingredient? Do you know, does anyone? Should we just leave it there, not mess with it?’ There were a lot of nerves. It has been a long while. “When something hits so well, how can you go better. Could we go better? That was scary. This danger of throwing away what we had just for another role of the dice… or another few rolls of the dice. The stakes were huge. Are huge. And once we were in it, all that fear melted away. Jim [James Cameron] was in charge and his vision was present and trustworthy and I just hopped on the ride and went with it. So it was very different from the first. Way different. Different planet different.”
Q We seem to be in a different era of film compared to how the world was back in 2009 with the first Avatar. Is that a threat to the integrity of the Avatar concept, or an opportunity?
ZOE SALDANA: “It’s definitely an opportunity. A new generation of filmgoer has moved into the mix, but we still retain the curiosity and interest of the millions of people who went out to watch it first time around. “I can’t think of many films 13 years between the first and second, but it’s been pushed back a lot because of the time it takes to write it. “Obviously, the continuation of this story is here and, knowing Jim, he’s such a respectful storyteller, so you walk a very fine line when it comes to manipulating a story because you are so attached to it. “I also think Jim needed for his sake to take time off because for all of us the first film may have been two years in the making, but for him it was more than 10 years. And now these next movies will be another 10. That’s a huge commitment to someone’s professional life.”
Q How does he seem?
ZOE SALDANA: “He has put himself back in a very beautiful place in order to be able to create these new stories, but also intense place because he’s locking everything in. “All I can say to you is, you know, fabulous things are worth the wait, and knowing what Jim is capable of, he is worth the wait. He loves this story, he loves these characters but most of all, he adores the fans. He does it for them and wants to deliver the absolute utmost to them. I wanted to go back to Pandora real bad.”
Q Avatar is such a big thing for you in amongst so many other major franchises, right?
ZOE SALDANA: “Avatar will always be special because we created Avatar. You create a history for them, you create a culture, and I was there from inception.”
Q Tell us about the 3: 30 a.m. make-up starts…
ZOE SALDANA: “It was a little painful to shoot. All the green makeup and the prosthetics and having to get up at 3:30 a.m. for four-hour make-up sessions every day for six days a week for months on end is an ordeal.”
Q You like to be physical in films…
ZOE SALDANA: “Having studied dance for so many years, I enjoy getting a chance to show that I can do a lot of stunts and be very physical. That’s a big advantage of mine, where I can dish it out and look convincing if I’m punching out the bad guys or shooting a gun. “I was raised in a family where women are expected to carry a lot of weight and where we get to run the household and take charge of things. I have an attitude where I feel I’m very much in charge of my life and I feel free and uninhibited. “That said, strength comes in many forms. Strength comes in quietness; strength comes in physiological resilience. I’ll always love to kick ass, that will never change… but there can be varying shades.”
Q In the past you’ve been criticized for being so outspoken. Do you regret some of the things you’ve stood up to talk about?
ZOE SALDANA: “I don’t care what other people think. I always say what I think. I hate the idea of putting on an act when I’m talking about myself doing press. There’s enough of that in this business and I don’t need to be part of that s–t… “I think that the audience will give you credit for not being afraid to say what’s really on your mind instead of trying to be politically correct.”
Q You used to be a big advocate for women but have softened your approach of late, right?
ZOE SALDANA: “My attitude has done a total one eighty when it comes to the choices that I make and the change in my life, my sons, my husband, has something to do with it. “In reality I’m surrounded by the greatest men. I’m in a houseful of men, which is the complete opposite to my upbringing, all females. I feel like I’m learning so much about men now that I never knew before being surrounded by them. “My husband’s approach and outlook on life is so beautiful and worldly and not sexist in the least, the total opposite. My boys are my light.”
Q So what’s changed?
ZOE SALDANA: “Before, I think my own approach came from my uncomfortableness in way… always this need to be better than a man. “I felt I always needed to beat them, and that bred this desire to be strong and aggressive—strong, to me, was aggressive and intense. “Now I’ve had a few years of raising men, all men, which I never really considered would happen, with a wonderful man, it’s made me readdress my perspective, that perhaps it doesn’t always have to be so emotionally and physically forceful.”
Q From a personal level, you always seem to have maybe a dozen movies in the pipeline, or a slew of other projects ready to take up your time. How do you do it all? Most people would crack up.
ZOE SALDANA: “It comes back to my support network. I am in a very fortunate, lucky position because there are so many mothers and fathers who are doing it by themselves and succeeding and triumphing. “My family are amazing, and I have a huge support system. We have great people working with us—we have all that to help us achieve our goals and dreams, and I want this to be a great example to my kids, one of never letting go of your dreams. The people who do it without support, without family, they are heroes. They are ultimate, fighting superheroes. “The biggest support is of course my husband… my guiding star. He makes it happen for me. While I’m committed to these jobs, he flies out with the boys to wherever I am, flies back, flies forth, he has made it so doable and so comfortable, and I’m really blessed to have him on this journey. It’s all about planning. And it’s about both of our careers because yes, right now I have certain commitments but then it’s about laying mine aside and now it’s Marco’s turn and I’ll travel and go, do whatever is necessary to make things smoother for him and his work. “It’s about meticulous planning, understanding and having that comfort that both of us have each other’s back. That’s what you do when you’re in a partnership.”