As it turns out, one of Avatar 2's most badass moments from Stephen Lang's Miles Quaritch was completely improvised.
Avatar: The Way of Water has been another resounding success for director James Cameron, as audiences were transported back to Pandora for another adventure alongside Jake Sully. And despite his character dying in the first film, Stephen Lang's Colonel Miles Quaritch was back as the film's villain, going up against the Sully clan.
Quaritch's character, who inhabited an Avatar body this time around, was apparently one of the hardest characters to animate in the film, but that did not mean he did not get his share of amazing moments on the big screen.
And one of said moments just had the curtain pulled back upon, revealing an interesting tidbit.
Improvs' Place in Avatar 2
According to Stephen Lang and director James Cameron while speaking at a recent Q&A for Avatar: The Way of Water, the badass moment involving Lang's Miles Quaritch's first and only physical encounter with his older self was completely improvised by the actor.
The sequence saw Quaritch and his crew come across the site of his human form's death at the end of the first movie. Lang's Avatar villain picks up the decayed skull which belonged to his human counterpart, holds it up Hamlet-style, and then crushes it with his bare hands.
Cameron noted that the Hamlet-esque moment was "[Lang's] idea." The filmmaker expounded, "the thing with the skull" he "[gives Lang] 100% credit for that:"
Stephen Lang: “The whole damn thing for [Quaritch] is this existential crisis… I mean, that really truly is why I believe the Hamlet moment is in the film…”
James Cameron: “It was his idea.”
Lang: “Well, I–”
Cameron: "The Hamlet– The thing with the skull, was– I give you 100% credit for that. He certainly, I think it was in an email, he said, ‘You know, I think Quaritch, the first thing he’d do is you go find that AMP suit, find out what happened to himself.’ Because he says right in the dialogue, ‘I’m not going to remember my own death.’ And so, picking up his skull, well, that was actually an image you gave me right… He didn’t like it (pointing to Lang).”
The Quaritch actor responded, noting that "[he thinks] it was a dream that [he] had and it was just something to pass on" and thanked Cameron for "attributing it to [him]:"
Lang: “I think it was a dream that I had and it was just something to pass on, so it was… it’s a great credit to the confidence of the writer here that he would incorporate it. And thank you for attributing it to me.”
Cameron: “Well, Stephen’s a writer. He was a screenwriter as well.”
Cameron and Lang also discussed the mechanisms of the character himself, asking questions of whether the reborn Quaritch was the same person as his human self:
Cameron: "We explored a lot of interesting stuff though. The fact that he doesn't even know if he's him anymore. You know, ‘Am I that guy that I was before?’ So as an actor, it’s interesting. You created a character then. Is your new character that guy, or is he a guy that's imprinted with some of the memories and personality, as you say, but evolving into something else.”
Lang also chimed in with how this informed his performance, saying that the Avatar version of Quaritch's defining trait is "confusion" in The Way of Water:
Lang: “… We did ask questions like that quite a bit. That would have been a big part of the dialogue that Jim and I had in an ongoing way. And it's important to ask the questions and then you walk away from the conversation without a definitive answer. But… then you do the scene and the answer manifests itself to the extent that it does, it seems, to me. The one thing that's operating there is confusion in a character, who is not at all accustomed to confusion. He’s a straight-ahead, direct thinker and now he's quite confused. And I attribute that to the Way of Water which is flowing through him as well. Eywa will have her way, it seems to me.”
Shaking Things up With James Cameron
While it doesn't sound like this moment came up on the day while filming Avatar 2, it is still a little shocking that Cameron would allow something like this into his meticulously designed blockbuster.
Not to say the director feels as though he would be against improv, but just playing about like this for kick-ass moments is a little different when one is doing a film that costs in excess of half a billion dollars to make.
Time is money on a James Cameron project and it has been said that the filmmaker is a little hard to work with at times, so to hear that the director was open and willing to incorporate actors' suggestions even when dealing with the hefty price tag and ground-breaking tech involved in The Way of Water might be a little shocking to some.
One would think with this sort of project every little thing would have had to have been 100% choreographed years in advance, with little to no wiggle room. Well, that does not seem to be the case and Avatar 2 (along with its numerous sequels) will likely be better for it.
Avatar: The Way of Water can be seen now in theaters worldwide.