Bailey Bass, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss, and Jamie Flatters tell us about their experiences working with James Cameron on Avatar: The Way of Water in this exclusive interview.
Avatar: The Way of Water might just be the biggest film of 2022. Mammoth in scale and scope, this is the first of many planned sequels for 2009’s Avatar which is still the highest-grossing film of all time.
The film brings us back to Pandora but introduces us to a new generation on Na’Vi. Jamie Flatters and Trinity Jo-Li Bliss play two of the Sully kids, Neteyama and Tuktirey, while Bailey Bass plays Tsireya, one of the reef people with whom the Sullys seek refuge.
We chat to them about working with James Cameron, filming in motion capture suits, and they reveal the one piece of advice Cameron gave them for their careers.
Congratulations on the film; it is phenomenal. I want to go back to the very beginning. When the opportunity to be in an Avatar film arose, were you aware of the first film’s legacy and how big of a deal it was?
Bailey Bass: My mom just told me to audition. I was not that familiar with the movie because I was six when it came out. I saw clips of it when I was eight. I had a hard time understanding the grand love story. Because I just saw the action scenes. Then through the audition process, I fell in love with this franchise.
Trinity Jo-Li Bliss: I was born the year that it came out. So, of course, I didn’t get to experience it when it first came out in theatres. I first watched it when I was auditioning, and I just fell in love with the movie immediately, the world of Pandora. And it immediately became one of my favourite movies, and I think it’s still one of my number one favourites. And to this day, watching it, I think Jim has built such an incredibly detailed world that I’m still now noticing details that I haven’t noticed watching it before. And it’s amazing. It’s one of my favourite movies.
Jamie Flatters: Watching the first film in cinemas… Everything that James Cameron touches, he’s one of those directors that manages to just make everything he does, for lack of a better phrase, turn to gold. There’s a visual excellence he always manages to achieve. We should be very grateful to him.
James Cameron, Hollywood royalty. What were you intimidated at all to meet him and act for him?
Bass: I was fine until we’re at the end of the audition process. I got flown in from New York to LA to audition. We go into this office, and there are plaques of Titanic, Terminator and the first Avatar poster. And when that happened, I’m looking at my mom with wide eyes. But the minute I walked into the room and sat down, this ease of I know I’m meant to be here, this is what I’m supposed to do. And he’s not intimidating at all, I think as well. He doesn’t have an intimidating energy. So it made it really easy.
Bliss: You said that there was this ease, I think Jim always makes us feel at ease so we can share ideas with him. I wasn’t so intimidated to meet Jim as I was just really excited and mind blown to meet Jim. And I remember that day I got to meet Jim and leading up to it, my heart was beating so fast, and I was just so excited. And then we got to that second floor, and looking down; I could see the volume. And all those camera-light things that look so wondrous, and like lanterns almost. And I just remember looking down at the volume from that second floor and being so filled with wonder and wanting to figure it out, figure out what it was. And it turned out we filmed there. And then I met Jim, and like she said, he makes you feel so at ease. I remember in that audition, he asked, ‘Can you do stunts?’ And I was like, oh, yeah, I can do stunts. And I did a cartwheel for him.
Did he impart any wisdom upon you that you will be taking on to other projects?
Flatters: When we were about to leave, as in the two-year or so shooting period. He said to me, don’t make your life all about acting. Go off and be interested in something else. Because the ideas take precedent and give you a passion for life. And yeah, go find a bit of that, which is good.
Bliss: Jim’s also an example of that himself, because the wonders he creates by bringing science into his filmmaking and also he just knows everything about every department.
Bass: That shows that someone’s a great leader if they know a lot about every department, then they know how to fulfil the clear vision that’s in their head and they know how to relay it to the incredibly talented crew that’s a part of this project.
And you are in these motion capture suits. How difficult was it to be serious and act in these?
Bliss: I found them pretty comfortable. I found them to be like gym clothes, honestly. I just noticed a pun there, JIM clothes.
Flatters: That’s good.
Bass: I think because it was my first film, I didn’t have anything else to compare it to. And that became my normal.
Bliss: Yeah. But remember on the performance capture suits, like, not only with the braid coming out of the helmet, but we’d also have the loincloth taped here. And I bet we looked a little bit silly, but I loved our performance capture suits. It was a big part of our getting ready on the days when we came on set.
There’s loads of underwater sequences. Was there any competition between you guys like who can hold their breath longest?
Bass: I refuse to put… Did you just make a face?
Flatters: No. I’m always making faces.
Bass: I refuse to have competition in my work. Because personally, I’m an extremely competitive person. And I know if I’ll infuse that into my work, it’ll compromise it. So I didn’t but I know there was competition.
Bliss: There was competition on set, but we’re not going to talk about it.
Flatters: It’s good to be competitive with yourself as well. The person to beat is the person you were yesterday.
Avatar: The Way of Water is in cinemas 16 December.