TORONTO — Bailey Bass was a relatively unknown face when she was declared as the future of James Cameron's multi-billion dollar "Avatar" franchise among six other young actors, "all while going through puberty."
"It added an extra element of like: What's going on with our bodies? What's going on with the world?" recalls Bass, 19, who was 14 years old during production on "Avatar: The Way of Water," the latest film in the blockbuster franchise.
"We couldn't have possibly understood the magnitude of this film. I was six when 'Avatar' came out so I didn't see the world when 'Avatar' was released," she adds.
The native New Yorker, along with London-born co-star Jamie Flatters, 22, were among a groupof fresh young faces hand-picked in 2017 to lay the groundwork for a five-movie saga that lasts until 2028.
More than a decade after 2009's original "Avatar" became the highest-grossing film of all time, its sequel is drawing huge audiences at cinemas, pulling in more than US$1 billion globally since its release in mid-December.
"Avatar: The Way of Water"welcomes audiences to the same beguiling alien moon known as Pandora, where a sapient humanoid species known as the Na'vi inhabit the land while fending off foreign human invaders.
Bass plays a graceful freediver from the newly introduced aquatic Metkayina Clan, while Flatters takes on the role of the eldest son in a family displaced from their homeland on Pandora.
Both roles called on the actors to undergo an extensive amount of scuba and free dive training to prepare for Cameron's new aquatic 3D vision — the majority of which was filmed using an underwater performance capture process that heightened the realism.
"A lot of people ask us: How hard was it? That it must have been crazy. But we just did it. I really think we didn't understand what was completely going on and I'm grateful for that," says Bass. "Because I think then, insecurity and pressure at such a young age would have affected our performances."
Bass admits that from her perspective, being in a grey tank often felt like a slightly more challenging version of playtime with friends. The fact that she instantly felt a rapport with her fellow cast members only added to that sentiment.
"The closest relationships we had in the audition process ended up being the people that were cast," said Bass. "When they flew a bunch of teens out to L.A. to audition, I remember having conversations with Jamie and Phillip Antoine who plays Ao'nung, and then all of us get cast — tell me that's not like serendipity."
Like Bass, Flatters acknowledges that as his first feature film experience, it's hard to comprehend the idea of starring in"Avatar 2" and its role in his coming-of-age experience.
"It annoys me how important this film was to my upbringing growing up, going in a boy and coming out a man," he said.
"We've always wanted to be actors, and the fact that the first film that I've ever worked on happens to be a James Cameron film — you can try to explain it in words when people ask, but words will only fail you."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 29, 2022.
Noel Ransome, The Canadian Press