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Zoe Saldaña's Unexpected Connection To Neytiri In Avatar: The Way Of Water

In 2009, Zoe Saldaña appeared in two movies that would become franchises — J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" and James Cameron's "Avatar." Her role as Nyota Uhura spanned three movies, and with the release of 2022's "Avatar: The Way of Water," the actress will now settle into multiple appearances as Na'vi princess Neytiri as that saga continues to unfold throughout the 2020s. Of course, Saldaña is also a long-running player in the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" with her role as Gamora in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" series and subsequent MCU appearances. So playing one character in a feature film series is nothing new to the actress, but Neytiri is the one part that took time to return to her.

For her part, Saldaña cherishes her working dynamic with Cameron. In an interview with Complex, she was asked about what she's learned from working with the director, and replied, "And what technology do I need to build or create or evolve in order for me to be able to accomplish the vision, what I have in my head? And that takes courage, determination." But tapping into Neytiri's emotions is also important to Saldaña, and she has revealed some unexpected connections she had with the princess while filming the "Avatar" sequel.

Zoe Saldaña shares a sense of 'fearlessness and rebellion' with Neytiri

Many public reactions to "Avatar: The Way of Water" are confirming the 13-year wait between movies has paid off. This marks the longest gap between franchise character appearances for Zoe Saldaña, who filmed all the sequels to "Star Trek" and "Guardians of the Galaxy" and Gamora's MCU spots within a few years of one another. In a press conference during the promotion of the "Avatar" sequel, the actress spoke candidly about the strong emotional connections she shares with her empowered Na'vi creation. She was asked how it felt to return to the role and shared, "It's so funny because when something is very similar to you, you can't see it ... Neytiri and I ... have lived parallel lives. There's a level of fearlessness and rebellion that I have as a person that Neytiri had as herself, and we were able to find kindred in that."

She then highlighted how falling in love with someone who falls outside of your own established worldview or comfort zone challenges a person to view life in new and exciting ways. In an interview with Deadline, Saldaña reiterated some of the talking points she shared earlier by discussing the unique and sometimes solitary experience of being a misfit while growing up that unlocks a lot of creative and bold potential as an adult. She then shared how she can see those qualities in Steven Spielberg, James Gunn, J.J. Abrams, and James Cameron.

Parenthood influenced Saldaña's approach to Neytiri

The canon, off-screen events that have transpired between "Avatar" and its sequel are established in the new film with parenthood being a clear indicator. Jake (Sam Worthington) and Zoe Saldaña's Neytiri have three biological children and one adopted daughter in Kiri (Sigourney Weaver). Love and fear are two major emotions that come with parenthood, which Saldaña related to her own experiences with motherhood in the "Avatar: The Way of Water" press conference. She stated, "In my personal life when I became a parent, fear entered my realm. The fear of losing someone that you love so much ... You spend a great amount of your time creating hypothetical scenarios that are just unimaginable."

The actress then added how becoming Neytiri again allowed her to experience these emotions as opposed to merely reading the script and imagining it. Saldaña has experienced these strong feelings in her own life and parenting as she revealed to People in 2019. The "Avengers: Infinity War" performer shared, "As a working mom, you live with that conflict of having to go to work and wanting to go to work but also wanting to always be with your children," before revealing that she would just be a mom that Mother's Day. Her sharing of Neytiri's powerful spirit and empathy fit comfortably with the moving themes in the "Avatar" films.