Kate Winslet will never forget James Cameron.
Twenty-five years after shattering box-office records with “Titanic,” the Oscar-winning actress and director have reunited on “Avatar: The Way of Water,” the highly anticipated sequel to 2009’s “Avatar.”
Winslet plays Ronal, an alien queen and healer who leads the oceanic Metkayina clan, in the visually stunning sci-fi epic. When humans return to Pandora and start destroying its forests, human-turned-Na’vi Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and his family seek refuge with Ronal’s tribe, which teaches the Sully brood how to fight and communicate underwater.
‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ director James Cameron discusses recreating box-office success.
When Cameron approached Winslet, 47, about the role, she was “immediately on board,” she says.
“I’m a mother now, and he understands who I am as a parent and an actor,” Winslet says. “And he certainly knows how far I can be pushed and the challenges that I’m happy to meet, so it made sense to me why he would consider that I might be interested in Ronal. Because that is who she is: a mother and a leader who lives with integrity and truth, as well as being physically strong and resilient.”
Winslet spent months training in free-diving to learn how to hold her breath underwater for the film’s many sequences of Ronal riding “skimwing” (a type of flying fish) and speaking to “tulkun” (the Pandoran version of a giant whale). For support, her husband, businessman Edward Abel Smith, practised alongside her.
“Ned is an extremely fit, healthy individual who is capable of a great deal,” Winslet says. “He trained with me so that if I needed to practise without our instructor there we were safe because you really can’t do it by yourself. It’s the same as scuba diving: you must have a partner. It’s a sport, a skill, and your body adapts to allow you to do it. So having Ned there was critical.
Winslet’s hard work paid off when she held her breath underwater for seven minutes and 14 seconds while filming “Avatar 2.” She broke Tom Cruise’s previous record of six minutes underwater while filming “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” in 2015. The actress claims she hasn’t heard anything from Cruise about beating his record.
“Poor Tom,” Winslet says, smiling. “I mean, I don’t know Tom at all – I’ve never met him in my life – but I’m sure he’s sick of hearing about how I broke his record. But I enjoyed it… I was astounded at how good I was and how quickly I improved.”
Sigourney Weaver, Winslet’s co-star, insists there was no breath-holding competition among the “Avatar” cast.
“We were so proud of Kate for doing that,” Weaver says. “My husband (theatre director Jim Simpson) and I both did 6 12 minutes, which astounded us and our teacher, Kirk Krack, who teaches Navy SEALs. Everyone had an individual best.”
As the first of four planned sequels, “Avatar 2” is expected to surpass the first film’s $2.7 billion global box office. But, even as a 21-year-old relative newcomer shooting “Titanic,” which was plagued by budget overruns and delays, Winslet says she has always had faith in Cameron.
“It was a really, really difficult shoot, but I don’t remember hearing the rumours about’movie in peril,'” Winslet says. “I was just there to play the role as best I could, and I always trusted Jim’s vision for it without questions. Plus, our sets and everything – we could all see and feel it was extremely groundbreaking, powerful, and interesting stuff. And, as an actor, there’s always the element of “Oh, well, a wing and a prayer and hope this turns out OK.”
On December 6, Winslet saw “Avatar 2” for the first time at its London premiere. She had only seen a few still images of Ronal prior to that, which she eagerly shared with her three children, Mia, 22, Joe, 19, and Bear, 9.
“We were all like, ‘Wow, that’s what she’s going to look like!'” ‘Oh my God, how cool!’ Winslet explains. “It looks exactly like me: that’s my mouth, and they have my beauty mark. But seeing that stuff is a lot of fun for (the kids). Mia and Joe remember and enjoyed the first film, so they are ecstatic.”