Zoe Saldaña Held Her Breath Underwater for Five Minutes While Filming ‘Avatar 2,‘ James Cameron Hired ’World’s Best Breath-Hold Specialists

While Kate Winslet left the “Avatar: The Way of Water” cast and crew stunned by holding her breath underwater for seven minutes while filming the long-awaited sequel, Zoe Saldaña was certainly no rookie either. Cameron had his cast train with “the world’s best breath-hold specialists” so that he could film extended long takes underwater. Winslet held her breathe for seven minutes, while Sigourney Weaver previously revealed she got up to six-and-a-half minutes. Saldaña’s longest underwater breath hold clocked in at five minutes.

“I’m very competitive, but we had an Oscar-winning actress in our cast that did seven minutes,” Saldaña told The New York Times. “I got almost up to five minutes. That’s a big accomplishment, you guys.”

“Five minutes is huge,” Cameron added. “Sigourney did six and a half.”

Weaver said she surprised her teacher by holding her breath for so long, adding, “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.”

Cameron said he never expected Winslet to hold her breath for seven minutes and added, “And she didn’t either!”

“Kate’s a demon for prep, so she latched onto the free diving as something that she could build her character around,” Cameron told The Times. “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.”

Cameron shot a majority of “Avatar: The Way of Water” in large water tanks so that his underwater scenes would not feel fake. In other words, “Avatar” underwater scenes don’t look like underwater scenes in “Aquaman” or Disney’s upcoming “The Little Mermaid.”

“Come on! You want it to look like the people are underwater, so they need to be underwater,” Cameron said. “It’s not some gigantic leap — if you were making a western, you’d be out learning how to ride a horse. I knew Sam was a surfer, but Sigourney 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.”

“Avatar: The Way of Water” opens in theaters nationwide Dec. 16.

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