EW: Before we get to all the groundbreaking 3-D technology used to make Avatar — this is basically a love story, right? Titanic meets Aliens? Sam Worthington (Terminator Salvation) meets a big blue alien girl from another planet (Star Trek‘s Zoë Saldana)?
James Cameron When we were sitting in the initial read-through — Zoë, you’ll remember this — I said, ”This has got a love story in it, but it’s not primarily a love story. It’s about a guy finding his place in the world, and his sense of duty.” But when we got into making it, we found all these little nuanced moments between the two characters. It became a more emotional film. Ultimately, it’s a love story.
Zoë Saldana But I haven’t seen a love story like this one before. They’re soul mates, but also soldiers.
EW: You spent two years making this movie. How much did it cost?
Cameron A lot.
EW: You developed a special camera that showed you the CG effects as you were filming.
Cameron That was the fun of it. When I’d point my camera at Zoë’s character, I saw a 10-foot-tall blue alien hot chick with a tail raging through the forest. But when I’d look up from the camera, I’d see petite Zoë Saldana in her black leotard running around a gray floor.
Saldana Prosthetics can be distracting when you’re trying to act. But this [performance-capture process] allows your imagination to be completely limitless. It brings you back to childhood role-playing.
EW: What type of prep work did the actors do? How do you get ready for something like this?
Cameron We did a sense-memory experiment in Hawaii. We trekked around the rain forest for three days, building campfires and cooking fish, trying to live tribally.
Saldana That experience helped us so much. Sigourney [Weaver], Sam, and I were shooting the movie on a regular cement floor on a soundstage, but we needed to know what it was like to walk in a jungle world, what that felt like.
Cameron One day Zoë was walking through the rain forest in Hawaii on this narrow trail, dressed in her tribal wardrobe and wearing her character’s tail, being this mighty warrior huntress — and she comes upon a rat that’s been killed and half-eaten. She got one leg up and was going, ”Ewww!”
Saldana It didn’t have a head on it.
EW: Wait, the whole cast went to Hawaii and lived in the jungle?
Cameron No, we were at the Four Seasons. We just went during the day. C’mon, this is a movie production.