Zoe Saldaña is not stranger to breaking records. For example, she is the only actor to have starred in three of the five highest-grossing movies of all time – Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame and Avatar (2009). When Avatar 2 is released, there is a chance this could become four. But there’s another personal record that she broke while filming The Way of Water – holding her breath for a very impressive length of time.
The New York Times bravely asked James Cameron the reasonable question; “Avatar: The Way of Water [submerges the actors underwater] and they had to learn how to hold their breath for several minutes to shoot some of its undersea sequences. What’s gained from doing it for real?” He responds; “Oh, I don’t know, maybe that it looks good? Come on! You want it to look like the people are underwater, so they need to be underwater.”
“I knew Sam [Worthington] was a surfer, but Sig [Weaver] and Zoe and the others weren’t particularly ocean-oriented folks. So I was very specific about what would be required, and we got the world’s best breath-hold specialists to talk them through it.”
The NYT then asked what were the personal bests of the cast-members. Saldaña responds; “I’m very competitive, but we had an Oscar-winning actress in our cast that did seven minutes.”
Cameron explains; “Kate [Winslet] is a demon for prep, so she latched onto the free diving as something that she could build her character around. Kate’s character is someone who grew up underwater as an ocean-adapted Na’vi — they’re so physically different from the forest Na’vi, that we’d almost classify them as a subspecies. So she had to be utterly calm underwater, and it turned out that she was a natural.”
Saldaña says; “I got almost up to five minutes. That’s a big accomplishment, you guys.” Cameron says; “Five minutes is huge. Sig did six and a half.” Weaver says; “To the surprise of the teacher! He said to get rid of your mammalian instinct to go, “Oh my God, my face is in the water.” So you spend several minutes just putting your body back into that element and letting those land-person feelings dissolve.”
It’s starting to become clearer why it took Cameron thirteen years to make the sequel to Avatar, what with him having to turn his cast into amphibians. While we wait just a little bit longer for its release, check out our guide to the best science fiction movies.