How to Get Cast in an ‘Avatar’ Movie

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Photo Source: Courtesy 20th Century Studios

While most filmmakers would’ve been content to relish the success of a blockbuster like “Titanic,” James Cameron set out to top himself with the sci-fi epic “Avatar.” As the franchise’s first two installments bask in the glow of their record-breaking ticket sales, Cameron has three more sequels on the horizon, promising ample opportunities for actors who aspire to inhabit Pandora.

Living among the Na’vi requires a willingness to throw caution to the wind, but unlike unobtanium, this dream isn’t as unattainable as it may seem. Here’s everything you need to know about “Avatar” casting, including how the films’ biggest names landed their roles and audition advice from the stars themselves.


What is “Avatar” about?

Set in 2154, “Avatar” takes place as Earth faces the depletion of its own natural resources, with the Resources Development Administration (RDA) turning its attention to a moon named Pandora. Located in the Alpha Centauri system, Pandora is rich in unobtanium, an essential mineral the RDA wants to mine. However, its atmosphere is poisonous to humans; to explore Pandora, which is inhabited by the Na’vi, a race of exceptionally tall, blue-skinned humanoids, humans must inhabit “avatars,” or genetically connected Na’vi-human hybrids that allow the person to transfer their consciousness to a body that presents itself as a native Na’vi.

The first movie follows the film’s protagonist, paraplegic former Marine Jake Sully, as he takes his twin brother’s spot in the program as a way to regain mobility. Sully quickly finds himself in over his head. Once on Pandora, he becomes lost in the forest and ends up in the care of a native, Neytiri. As the two fall in love, the humans plot to use Sully as a spy so they can collect inside intel on the Na’vi Hometree, which they wish to uproot so they can collect the large deposit of unobtanium underneath. But Sully’s shifting loyalty fuels his desire to protect the Na’vi from imminent doom. Viewers watch as Sully becomes torn between his feelings for Neytiri and his duty to follow orders.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” is set over a decade after the events of the first installment. Sully now has a family with Neytiri on Pandora. However, humans once again threaten their way of life, and Sully must do everything he can to protect his family from his own kind.

Who is in the cast of “Avatar”?

Both “Avatar” (2009) and “Avatar: The Way of Water” (2022) starred:

  • Sam Worthington as Jake Sully
  • Zoë Saldaña as Neytiri
  • Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace Augustine/Kiri
  • Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quaritch
  • Joel David Moore as Norm Spellman
  • CCH Pounder as Mo’at
  • Dileep Rao as Dr. Max Patel
  • Giovanni Ribisi as Parker Selfridge
  • Matt Gerald as Corporal Lyle Wainfleet

While the first film also saw the likes of Michelle Rodriguez (Trudy Chacón) and Wes Studi (Eytukan) among the cast, the second installment added some new stars, including Kate Winslet (Ronal) and Edie Falco (General Ardmore).


Who is the casting director for “Avatar”?

Margery Simkin (“Top Gun,” “Star Trek: Discovery”) is the main casting director behind James Cameron’s “Avatar” films. With decades of experience under her belt, Simkin knows how to embrace good ideas no matter how or where they originate. As Simkin told Filmhounds, “I like to say what my job is to recognize good ideas, and maybe they're ideas I've had, and maybe they're ideas somebody else's had, an agent, any sort of representative. It could be the PA, the prop person—anybody with a good idea. If it’s a good idea, it’s about recognizing that good idea.”

Simkin added that CDs are not simply thinking about who’s right for the part. They stop to consider how the person will enhance the role by bringing their individuality into the mix. “I feel like every good casting director has tried to shake things up, be diverse in terms of every element—gender, race, you know, just ‘how can we make this surprising?’ is what makes our job interesting,” she explained.


How does the casting process work for “Avatar”?

When it comes to casting a project that predominantly features computer-generated people who do not speak English, Simkin had to get creative during the audition process. For instance, during early auditions, writer Paul Frommer hadn’t yet created the Na’vi language, but Simkin found a workaround to test each actor’s abilities. “I met with [Frommer], and I asked him to figure out what sounds were difficult for English speakers to say in this language,” she told us. “He taught me the sounds, and I would put every actor that came in for one of these roles through their paces of saying those sounds.” 

Simkin had the actors perform lines in English and then perform them again in anything other than English: “I didn’t care if they said ‘1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3’ or made up sounds, but they had to express their scenes without English,” she says, “because I knew that the audience isn’t going to know the language, so they’re going to have to convey the scene without language. People came in and did it, and they were really, really brave. And it was remarkable what people did and really moving. And some of them were unintentionally humorous.”

“My theory was that the audience wouldn’t speak the language, so I wanted it to be intelligible without subtitles….” she told Filmhounds. “I didn’t know whether we were going to subtitle at that time, and then I needed to make sure they could make those sounds.”

During an appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” Saldaña recalled exactly what it was like to complete such vocal exercises. “[One time, they called me in, and I put myself on tape again for them, and they were like, ‘Just make all these sounds.’ [rolls tongue] And I’m like, ‘Well, okay.’ And I’m thinking like, James Cameron, a robot warrior princess that’s in the jungle, and I’m doing Rs, like [rolls tongue] rolling my Rs, I don’t know what this is, but I dig it." 

On the contrary, Worthington’s frustration manifested itself into a successful audition that ultimately landed him the role of Jake Sully. As Worthington told Variety, when he first came to read the project, it was shrouded in so much secrecy that he didn’t even know its subject or director. Growing angry, he spat his gum at the camera, and this unusual act attracted James Cameron’s attention, drawing Worthington into the months-long audition process. 

“I was just angry,” Worthington explained. “It was like, ‘You’re not telling me anything. This is a waste of time.’ Later, when they were like, ‘Jim Cameron wants to meet you, and this was for his movie,’ I was just like, ‘Oh shit, I’m going to get in trouble.’” (Obviously, he was in the clear.)

Avatar (2009)

When does filming for the next “Avatar” movie start?

According to Cameron, “Avatar 3” is in “a very hectic two years of post-production right now,” confirming the third installment has already been shot and remains on track for its December 19, 2025 release. Worthington told People that filming resumes in February 2024. Thus, “Avatar 4” should open on its projected date, December 21, 2029, while “Avatar 5” should still be released on December 19, 2031. But actors should note that Cameron intends to shoot the remaining films in New Zealand exclusively, so be prepared to endure the long trek if you aren’t local to the area.

	Director James Cameron on set of 20th Century Studios' AVATAR 2

Director James Cameron on the set of “Avatar 2”. Photo by Mark Fellman

Where can you find “Avatar” casting calls and auditions?

There are no open casting calls for the upcoming “Avatar” sequels available at this time. However, due to the high-profile nature of Cameron’s project, we recommend securing an agent if you have not yet done so, as they might have access to listings that aren’t open to the general public. We also recommend bookmarking our main casting page for the latest listings.


What are the best audition tips for landing a role in “Avatar”?

Give what you hope to receive: Although Saldaña has enjoyed serious success as part of both the “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Avatar” franchises, she credits her mom’s support for guiding her as she auditioned her way through the earliest days of her acting career. 

“My mother has been such an encouraging figure in my life and always told me to remember I am equal to everything and everyone,” she noted. “Every time I'd leave the house—I could have been going for an interview or meeting someone's parents for the first time or going on an audition—she would always say before I walked through the door, ‘Zoe? I hope you like them.’”

“With that simple thing, she told me so much: that even though I’m out there to look for something, to see if they will give something to me, I also have to give it back to them,” Saldaña added. “Me liking you is just as important as you liking me. I matter just as much. She always centered me. She would say, ‘It’s fifty-fifty, and you bring in one of the fifty.’”

Treat failure as your greatest creative tool: Weaver has made an indelible mark on the acting world, but her success did not exactly come in the way she’d predicted. Still, it’s from her favorite morsel of advice that she learned to appreciate her individual journey to stardom.

“The best thing I ever heard, in terms of advice, was a graduation speech given by George Wolfe at the NYU Tisch School for the Arts graduation,” she told us. “He said early on he'd written this musical called Paradise, and he'd had great hopes for it. And the day it opened was the day it closed. He looked out at all the students and said, ‘I'm going to tell you what your greatest teacher is, and the greatest creative tool you have in your career. It's failure. Failure will teach you all these things that you need to know.’ 


“[Wolfe] said, ‘It's like standing in a huge casino, and everyone has a slot machine. And you're feeding your slot machine, and nothing is happening, and all around you, people are hitting the jackpot and getting all this stuff. And you’re going, Well, I want to go over there to that machine—that’s obviously a better machine than my machine,’” Weaver continued, “‘But,’ he said, ‘stick with your own machine. It may take you longer. But when you hit, you’re still yourself.’ I thought that was so great. I still remember that.”

Ignore the naysayers and do it anyway: Many actors face negativity at every turn, even Oscar winners like Winslet. But she knows exactly how to counter their criticism: Don’t listen. After her 2016 BAFTA win for playing Apple executive Joanna Hoffman in “Steve Jobs,” Winslet imparted some serious life advice for those who feel discouraged by both external and internal forces. 

“When I was only 14, I was told by a drama teacher that I might do okay if I was happy to settle for the fat girl parts. Look at me now! Look at me now! And so what I feel like saying in those moments is to any young woman who has ever been put down by a teacher or a friend or even a parent—just don’t listen to any of it, because that’s what I did,” she told reporters. “I didn’t listen and I kept on going, and I overcame all of my fears, and I got over a lot of insecurity. And just keep doing it. And keep believing in yourself.”

As she added, “You shouldn’t be doubting; you should be going for it.” Winslet reinforced this sentiment when she shared the advice she would’ve given her younger self: “Breathe. Slow down. You’re gonna be working more in your mid-40s than you are now. And you just need to maybe give yourself some time. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You have plenty of time to be hard on yourself later.”

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