Zoë Saldaña Discusses the Changes to Neytiri in ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’

While it’s been 13 years in the real world from the release of Avatar to its sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water, there’s also been a significant passage of time experienced by the characters who inhabit the fictional world of Pandora. In Avatar: The Way of Water, a decade has passed since the events of the first film and that means a great deal has changed for main characters Sully and Neytiri. So much changed, in fact, that director James Cameron wrote what star Sam Worthington called “Avatar 1.5” in order to prepare the cast by sharing with them the experiences their characters had during that decade.

For star Zoë Saldaña, who has had 3 children in the time between films, the changes in her personal life are mirrored in her character, Neytiri, a fierce and fearless Na’vi warrior who now has children of her own. During the global press junket for Avatar: The Way of Water, Saldaña talked about the changes to her character and how they reflect her personal growth since 2009.

Neytiri and I, in a way, we’ve lived parallel lives. There is, there’s a level of fearlessness and rebellion that I have, as I guess as a person, that Neytiri had as herself. And I, we were able to sort of find kindred in that. You know, but the leap of falling in love with something outside of you, that challenges you to see something that you’ve never seen before, that has always been her dilemma. To surrender to that, and then to bring forward, you know, fruits of that love, and… but that presents the challenge for her. Because forcing her to grow, it’s forcing her to love something that she’s been taught to hate. And it’s, you know, it’s hard, it’s really, really hard.

Zoë Saldaña

Saldaña continued on about the role that fear plays in the life of a parent and how that helped her find a connection with where Neytiri was on her journey in Avatar: The Way of Water.

Also fear. In my personal life, when I became a parent, fear entered my realm. The fear of losing something that you love so much, you know? And you just spend a great deal of your time creating these hypothetical scenarios that just unimaginable. When I read, you know, the second script, that was her, that was Neytiri. But I didn’t see it then. I see it now.

Zoë Saldaña

Traditionally, actors give their best performances when they can find real-life inspiration for the roles they inhabit. In this case, it sounds like Saldaña and Neytiri have so much in common that they’re almost kindred spirits. That’s good news for fans of the franchise who can look forward to an intense portrayal by Saldaña as she looks to protect her children from those “unimaginable” scenarios she described.

Avatar: The Way of Water debuts in theaters on December 16th.

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