Surprisingly, Sigourney Weaver Hasn't Acted In Front Of A Green Screen Since Ghostbusters
  • Dec. 5, 2022 7:08 pm EST

We're a few weeks away from the return of the box office king, James Cameron. His newest film, "Avatar: The Way of Water," is our first return to the world of "Avatar" since the 2009 original. But what's a director without his muse? Working once again with Cameron is the incomparable Sigourney Weaver, this time playing the role of Jake Sully's (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri's (Zoe Saldana) adopted 14-year-old Na'vi daughter, Kira, who may or may not be the reincarnation of Weaver's initial "Avatar" character, Grace Augustine.

Yeah, that's a lot of lore to take in at once. Weaver herself even admitted it took her a while to properly connect to the new material, though thankfully Cameron was there to give some tough love along the way. It might seem strange to have Weaver play a 14-year-old, but part of the beauty of the motion-capture technology that "Avatar" heavily uses is that what matters is the genuine emotion and body language of the actor, not their physical appearance. It's a surreal, out-of-body experience to take on such a role, but Weaver was up to Cameron's challenge. From the "Alien" franchise to "Avatar," this is far from her first role in a technologically complex blockbuster.

On this week's episode of the Smartless podcast, Sigourney Weaver joined hosts Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett to discuss her training for the "Avatar" sequel. And despite her expansive credits, Weaver admitted that she hasn't acted in front of a green screen since shooting pick-ups for the first "Ghostbusters" film.

'I've never done green screen except that one time'

It's easy to assume that something like "Avatar," which is completely set in the fictional world of Pandora, would at some point involve green-screen technology. In that vein, Sean Hayes asked Weaver how she prepared for "The Way of Water," and whether she had to do a lot of work in front of a green screen. Here was Weaver's response: 

This is quite shocking, especially given Weaver's status as a sci-fi star. It makes more sense, however, when you take into account her body of work and how different the Hollywood landscape was in her heyday. The original "Alien" trilogy that she took center stage in used physical creatures and sets, and her work on "Avatar" is much more complicated than just green screen technology.

'It's just you and your little black suit'

"This is all performance capture. You know, like Andy Serkis," Sigourney Weaver went on to explain on the podcast, making a connection to one of the finest motion-capture actors in the business. "It's actually kind of a wonderful theatrical experience. You don't have to worry about lights or makeup. It's just you and your little black suit."

Jason Bateman continued to ask Weaver what were the true differences between green-screen technology and the process of motion-capture used in the "Avatar" films, and she went on to clarify that the sets were all generated from within the Volume, a special kind of set comprised of LED screens that display changing backdrops. For "The Way of Water," there were physical objects in the Volume that estimated the CG terrain that would be generated as the film reached its post-production stage. While in the Volume environment, Weaver wore a mo-cap suit that captured and recorded her facial movements, voice, and body motions. All of those attributes, however, are rendered into her CG character — nothing physically represented on set is "in-camera."

There's a special kind of expressive freedom that an actor is granted when working with mo-cap. Their physical appearances have no meaning when embodying their animated character, which means they get to dedicate themselves to the role without those concerns. For Weaver, it was an exciting and new kind of challenge.

The full episode of the Smartless podcast can be found here.

"Avatar: The Way of Water" opens in theaters on December 16, 2022.