James Cameron Advances Stealth Avatar Oscar Campaign For Zoe Saldana
It seemed reasonable enough last week to deduce Jim Cameron's motivations behind issuing a new Avatar set photo of Zoe Saldana -- head-rigged, mo-capped and mewling in character as Na'vi princess Neytiri. Beyond its basic, "here's how we did it" purpose, the photo seemed also to suggest that CGI is only as effective as the flesh-and-blood performance underneath it. Saldana's own performance is pretty strong, and in a new conversation with his fellow Oscar-winning visionary Peter Jackson, Cameron won't let you -- or the Academy, if its members are listening -- forget it.
And of course the Academy is listening. The actors' branch amounts to the majority of its membership, and a vote for a performance-captured Saldana can ultimately be perceived as an endorsement of these roles -- not to mention the salaries they might command on films by Cameron, Jackson, Steven Spielberg and their high-concept contemporaries. But! One thing at a time: First of all, both Cameron and Jackson say, relax. Actors aren't going anywhere. Then comes the Saldana Factor, with all the Cameronesque slyness, persuasion and hubris we've come to know and love:
We couldn't accomplish the character we're doing in Avatar through any kind of makeup means. That's been explored for 30 years of Star Trek and Star Wars. But I think the thing I hope that the media can convey to audiences is that this is an actor-driven process. Neytiri, in my film, for example--she is what Zoe [Saldana] created 100 percent. Initially I thought we want to keep the technique under wraps. We don't want to pull the curtain aside and show people how we've done this; we just want to show you my magic. But I've recently changed my tune. I want people to see a side-by-side image of Neytiri in a scene and Zoe doing the scene, so they understand that it's a physical and facial performance. Zoe took months of training at archery and martial arts, so she could move a certain way and have a certain grace. It's something she created that just translated to her character.
Naturally Jackson agrees, calling anti-actor theories "ludicrous." But Cameron's the true actor's director among this pair, and even while Avatar accrues Best Picture hype by merely speaking for itself in theaters, there's obviously a little more validation to be had for himself and the technology by nudging Saldana into the awards bubble. Maybe he can pull it off, maybe he can't. But he wouldn't be King of the World if he didn't at least give it a legitimate shot.
· It's The Story, Stupid [Newsweek]