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How James Cameron Pushed Avatar 2's Actors To Their Limit With Underwater Acting

As a director who has escaped death in the past, James Cameron always pushes himself and his cast and crew to create something unforgettable. This has resulted in some of the most visually striking films of the last 40 years, even if his filmography is smaller than some of his contemporaries. Cameron takes his time with his projects, and with this commitment, viewers are always treated to a spectacle that dazzles the mind across multiple genres. From the thrilling science fiction of "The Terminator" and "Aliens" to the mesmerizing underwater world seen in "The Abyss," the "True Lies" director knows how to inspire awe and wonder in viewers, much like the limitless imagination found in great literature.

It is perhaps no surprise that his interests heavily revolve around the deep. The ocean and bodies of water are not just something James Cameron explores in film, but he was also in the second submersible and became the first solo dive to reach into the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench in 2012, which is the deepest site in any of the planet's oceans (per NPR). Whereas 2009's "Avatar" explored space on the moon planet Pandora, the upcoming "Avatar: The Way of Water" finds Cameron returning to the water. His actors have spoken about the extremes they underwent to make the film's underwater acting appear authentic.

Kate Winslet says Avatar 2 underwater scenes were completely different from Titanic's

Like her co-star Sigourney Weaver's work in 1986's "Aliens," Kate Winslet has previous experience working with James Cameron on a non-"Avatar" project. The British actress starred as Rose DeWitt Bukater in the director's 1997 smash hit "Titanic," which also involved a great deal of filming in water. In an interview with Variety along with fellow cast members from "Avatar: The Way of Water," she was asked by the publication if there was any overlap filming underwater in the new film compared to "Titanic," to which Winslet replied, "No, it was completely different. Because [in] 'Titanic,' we have a small scuba sequence towards the very end when the when the boat goes down, and Jack and Rose are totally submerged, and they lose each other."

She then reveals how "Avatar: The Way of Water" included much more underwater work by adding, "We did have to do some scuba work for that. But nothing to do with breath-holding, nothing at all. No, we were in proper tanks for 'Avatar [2],' deep tanks. 'Titanic' we never had anything quite as deep. So no, it was totally different, actually." Although the water was much more shallow in the 1997 movie, Winslet did get ill with hypothermia during all those takes with Leonardo DiCaprio (Jack Dawson) recreating the icy Atlantic Ocean. But some of her other "Avatar" co-stars had a different opinion of the deep water tanks.

Zoe Saldaña and Stephen Lang found Avatar 2's underwater filming to be terrifying and challenging

Zoe Saldaña reprises her role as Neytiri from 2009's "Avatar" in the sequel and revealed her opinions on underwater filming when Variety asked her if the tanks were scary. The actress replied, "Water terrifies me. But you know what else terrifies me? Becoming paralyzed from fear, and not trying something that maybe I can master if I just apply myself and I've never shied away from a challenge that Jim [Cameron] has presented to me back in 2006. And I certainly wasn't going to do it now." The "Star Trek" star then added how she overcame her fear. 

Stephen Lang (Colonel Miles Quaritch) shared some of Saldaña's observations about filming underwater by stating, "Well, I mean, [I was] concerned to the extent that you want to do the best you can always — I've always got concern. I always want to come up to the mark, whatever it may be, or something like that. But yeah, of course, doing the water work was challenging and difficult." He then highlighted how everyone was led by safety professionals, and he grew to enjoy the underwater work. For James Cameron, a lot of what the director achieved in "Avatar 2" was inspired by more primitive visual effects and tank filming he oversaw in "The Abyss" from 1989 (per Polygon). So he certainly has long-lasting experience directing actors in water.