Kate Winslet never gives up on James Cameron.
Twenty-five years after they smashed box office records with 1997’s “Titanic,” the Academy Award-winning actress and director reunite for “Avatar: The Way of Water” (now in theaters), the highly anticipated sequel to 2008’s “Avatar.” 2009.”
In this eye-catching sci-fi epic, Winslet plays Ronal the Wise, an alien queen and healer who leads the oceanic Mytkayina clan. When humans return to the planet Pandora and begin destroying its forests, human-turned-Na’vi Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and his family find shelter with Ronal’s tribe, who teach the brood Sully how to fight and communicate underwater.
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Winslet, 47, says she was “immediately on board” when Cameron approached her about the role, which was done entirely using motion capture technology.
“I’m a mom now, and he knows who I am as a parent and an actor,” says Winslet. “He certainly knows how far I can be pushed and the challenges I am happy to take on, so it made sense to me why he considered I might care about Ronal. Because that is who she is: a mother and leader who lives with integrity and truth, and is also physically strong and resilient.”
In the months leading up to production, Winslet trained extensively in freediving to learn how to hold her breath underwater for the film’s many scenes of riding Ronal a “skimwing” (a type of flying fish) and talking to a “tulkun” (a Pandoran version of a giant whale). Her husband, businessman Edward Abel Smith, trained alongside her for support.
“Ned is a very healthy, fit person who can do so many things,” says Winslet. “He trained with me so that if you need to practice without our coach there we are safe, because you can’t do it alone. It’s like diving: you have to have a buddy. It’s a sport, it’s a skill, and your body adapts to be able to do that thing. So the Having Ned there was very important.”
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The hard work paid off for Winslet, who held her breath underwater for 7 minutes and 14 seconds while filming Avatar 2. It broke the record previously held by Tom Cruise, which ran for six minutes in 2015’s underwater shooter Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. The actress says she hasn’t heard from Cruz about using his time.
“Poor Tom,” Winslet says with a smile. “I mean, I don’t know Tom at all—I’ve never met him in my life—but I’m sure he was so sick of hearing this story about how I broke his record. I loved him though. … I was amazed at how great I was at it and how I kept getting better.”
Winslet star Sigourney Weaver insists there’s no breathtaking rivalry between the “Avatar” cast.
“We were glad Kate did it,” says Weaver. “My husband (stage manager Jim Simpson) and I did 6 1/2 minutes, which was amazing for us and our mentor, Kirk Krack, who teaches Navy. Everyone had their best.”
Yes, I’m definitely dead:Kate Winslet held her breath for 7 minutes filming Avatar 2
As the first of four planned sequels, expectations are high for Avatar 2 to approach $2.7 billion at the global box office for the first film. But Winslet says she always believed in Cameron, even when the 21-year-old relative newcomer shot “Titanic,” which suffered from budget overruns and delays.
“It was a really difficult shoot, but I don’t really remember hearing the rumors about a movie in jeopardy,” says Winslet. “I was just there to play the role as best I could, and I always trusted Jim to see it through without questions. Plus our sets and everything — we could all see it was so great, and we felt it was very groundbreaking, powerful, interesting stuff. And as an actor, it’s always there.” An element of, “Okay, a little bit of wing and prayer, and I hope this turns out to be good.”
Winslet first saw “Avatar 2” at the London premiere of the film on Dec. 6. Before that, she’d only seen a few stills of Ronal, which she eagerly shared with her three kids: Mia, 22, Joe, 19, and Bear, 9.
“We were all like, ‘Wow, this is what you’d look like!'” My God, how wonderful! Winslet says. “It’s really like me: This is really my mouth and they have my beauty mark. But it’s really fun (for kids) to watch this stuff. Mia and Joe remember the first movie and they loved it, so they’re really excited.”
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