Sigourney Weaver on Why She Wanted Kiri to Be Less “Neytiri-Like”

Dec 30, 2022

Thirteen years since Avatar stunned audiences and broke box office records, James Cameron returns to Pandora with his long-awaited sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water. Also returning, and reuniting with Cameron for the first time since the two worked together on the genre classic, Aliens, is Academy Award-nominee Sigourney Weaver. Yes, her original character, Grace Augustine, the doctor in charge of the Avatar program, did die in the 2009 film, but she left something behind. Grace’s Avatar had a daughter and now Weaver is playing that child, 14-year-old Kiri.

At the start of The Way of Water, audiences return to a Pandora that has healed from the aftermath of the Resources Development Administration’s attempts to harvest unobtanium, and now a new generation of Na’vi are learning their place in the world and the importance of family. When the RDA suddenly returns with even more devastating plans for the moon, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) are forced to flee the forest with their four children, Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), Tuk (Trinity Bliss), and they adopted daughter, Weaver’s Kiri.
Collider’s own Perri Nemiroff was able to sit down with Weaver for Avatar: The Way of Water’s big debut in theaters on December 16th. During their conversation, Weaver explained how the character of Kiri evolved over the years, from when she first discussed the role with Cameron in 2010 to who we see in the finished film. You can hear all about it straight from Weaver in the video above or you can read the transcript below.

COLLIDER: I imagine it has to come as a surprise when James tells you he wants you to play Jake and Neytiri’s daughter in this movie. What would you say is the biggest difference between your first impression of Kiri when he first pitched the role to you and who she turned out to be as you dug into her for the finished film?

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: Well, in fact, we had lunch, Jim and I, in LA in 2010, and we just started talking about maybe a girl that was related somehow to Grace — but we didn’t really know how — who was more comfortable in the forest with the creatures and with the flora and fauna than she was with people, and that she would be around 13 or 14, and that she would not be a fighter.

So we talked about all these things, but I was absolutely amazed when he sent me the script, and he had elaborated on all these different things. And especially the relationship with Spider was not something we talked about, that she would have this best friend. And I had friends like this because I was this tall when I was 11, and I used to sometimes see me with my best friend walking by a shop window, because I live in New York, and I’d go, “Oh, I’m so much taller.” And so when you see the movie and you see that Kiri’s like seven feet tall and Jack [Champion], Spider is, I don’t know, comparatively much shorter, and we don’t see that. I don’t see that he’s human. He doesn’t see that I’m Na’vi. Maybe he’d like to be Na’vi. So I love that friendship and I think it’s an important relationship for the saga.

Image via Disney

Even though Kiri didn’t get to grow up with Grace in her life, are there any particular qualities of Grace’s that you thought were important to infuse in Kiri so that we could feel the connection in addition to just hearing that it’s there?

WEAVER: I think that she does spend time in the lab, and with Grace’s tapes. Neytiri is a wonderful mother, but I think she has a strong connection with Grace and gets as much out of those videos as anyone possibly could. I think she shares the same joy in the nature of Pandora and the same curiosity. She’s much more instinctive than Grace was because Grace was sort of cut in half between the intellectual scientist that had to do stuff at base and this free spirit who loved the culture and the people. So she’s the best of Grace, without the smoking. [Laughs]

I know you can’t give me this answer, but I’m just curious if you know it. Do you know the truth of Kiri’s conception?


I’ll wrap with this one because I caught a quote that you said about working with James again. You said, he always asks you, “Is there something we haven’t tried that you would like to do?” So can you give me an example of a creative swing that was important for you to take because he asked you that question?

WEAVER: Well, for one thing, when I saw the sketches of Kiri, she was this perfect girl with a band in her hair and very composed, very neat, very Neytiri-like. And I said to Jim, “I don’t think most 13, 14-year-old girls feel like that, look like that.” I don’t think Kiri could dream of being like Neytiri, who’s so powerful, who’s so beautiful, who’s so perfect. She doesn’t feel perfect. She feels like, “I’m good with Spider. I’m good in the forest.” But the rest of it, she’s trying to figure out who she is, who her father is, how she belongs in this world, why she feels so different from other people. I think I wanted her physical being to reflect this chaos and this seesaw of emotions that she felt from great joy to great feelings of injustice, and all those things you feel when you’re 14.

Avatar: The Way of Water premieres exclusively in theaters on December 16th. For more on the making of the film, check out our interview with Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldaña below:

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