• Film

The “Avatar” Challenge, As Seen by Zoe Saldaña and Michelle Rodríguez

Avatar, the most successful film of all time, returns to theaters where audiences can experience this sci-fi fantasy visual spectacle the way James Cameron intended.

The film fueled several technological advances in the industry, such as motion capture used by actors during the filming process, and proved that original ideas can be a huge success.

In a Zoom conversation, Latina artists Zoe Saldaña and Michelle Rodríguez talked about how the film transformed them as actresses and honed their learning process by working with Cameron, a two-time Golden Globe best director winner, for Titanic and Avatar, which also won the award for best drama in 2010.

Saldaña began by saying, “I want to share all the opportunities that being part of Avatar gave me. Among other things, building a career and a lifestyle with which to support my family, is something that is very important for artists.

“For an actress who absolutely loves storytelling, James Cameron instilled in me a discipline that allowed me to dig in and create a backstory for a character. Because to understand where your character is, you need to know where he’s coming from.

She added, “Being a part of Avatar was my school, my college course, the place where I was able to really work with people who wanted me to succeed. It was a very playground-like environment where I was very free.

“I had time ahead of me to try so many things! I remember Jim saying many times that there is no such thing as a mistake. You have to try and if it doesn’t come out, we’ll know why.

Further explaining why she likes the filmmaker’s approach, Saldaña said, “During filming, I heard him say to others, ‘If I approach you because something is wrong, don’t lie to me. It’s better that you tell me, ‘I don’t know how to do it.’ We’ll find a way to make it work.

“It is a way of continuing to learn and now, as a mother, I can pass on some of those lessons to my children. I don’t know if they’re taking it in but I’m going to keep trying.”

For Rodríguez, Avatar changed her perspective when it came to acting. “A no doesn’t mean no. They mean that I have to work harder to avoid a problem and be resilient. Being on set and seeing how Cameron inspires all of us, whether we’re engineers or people in the art department, to push ourselves to the limit was a fantastic experience.

Rodriguez recalled, “At the end of the day, looking at the screen and seeing the visually created scenes made me realize that I was being a part of something extraordinary, something I had never done before. Working with Jim was extraordinary. There was not a single day that I was not impressed and learned something new.”

For Saldaña, the daughter of a Puerto Rican mother and a Dominican father, the experience of shooting Avatar was a shock. “I was in love with what I was doing and what I felt with this character. A dive, unlike anything you’ve done before. I felt grateful and humbled.

“When the film premiered, it’s not like we magically came out. We told a solid story that has been growing as time has passed. I felt like I was witnessing something extraordinary.”

Rodríguez, the daughter of a Puerto Rican father and a Dominican mother, shared the sentiment. “In Jim Cameron’s decision to tell this story, he wanted to show love and respect for life and I am very proud to be part of it. Because not enough is said. It is impressive work.

“And, when you ask yourself, where did the box office come from? It’s because of that – all the work and love that goes into it. I am proud to be part of this history.”

When Saldaña was asked what the best thing is about having participated in this film, she replied that it was about having the opportunity to be part of a group of people with whom she has a lot in common. “It’s like a puzzle that I was part of. Where you believe in what you do and put every ounce of yourself to learn and grow.”

According to the actress, who is a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Cameron is someone with great curiosity, a quality that she shares. “I am an actress who was given this opportunity and honestly, I ran to it. It was a gift that I still enjoy. In addition, many of my filming partners live in the city where I am blessed to live, to build a life.”

The actress acknowledged, “Not everyone has this opportunity. So, I’m very grateful that I’m not only able to make a living doing something that I really love but I’m able to do it in a way that I never would have thought of. I have grown not only as an actress but as a person.

“Now that I am a mother, and since my children were not born when I shot the first Avatar, I can share this new adventure with them. Avatar is a very special story, a testimony that when you truly believe in something, you give it your all. And this is the result.”


Translated by Mario Amaya