It’s 30 days until the opening of James Cameron’s “Avatar,” and here at Hero Complex you will find more insight and information about the film than anywhere else; today marks the start of our daily countdown coverage leading up to the much-anticipated epic adventure. Will the film live up to the industry billing of “the game-changer” for Hollywood special-effects movies? Today we start the countdown with a conversation with Giovanni Ribisi, one of the stars of the movie, who could not talk enough about director Cameron.
GB: This is feeling like a movie that people have circled as something that has a chance to be very special. What was the feeling during the making of it?
GR: It’s been an extraordinary experience within all aspects of the film. As far as filmmaking goes, and I hate to sound pretentious about it, but this movie is kind of historical. For Jim to pull this off and the amount of time he spent on the technological aspects, the story, it’s relevance to today’s world — all of it. It was an incredible thing to be there down in New Zealand. And it’s one of the best countries in the world, so that was amazing too, to be down there for five months.
GB: You were in “Saving Private Ryan,” another film that was a massive canvas, major spectacle and had a long running time. That film was judged a success by most people because it held on to its humanity and life stories in the middle of those huge moving parts. Do you consider that the challenge of “Avatar” as well?
GR: I think from a director’s point of a view and a production company, it’s one of the various parts that make up the actual final whole. There’s music, there’s editing, there’s lighting, acting, there’s directing, choreography — films are this all-encompassing medium. With this film, all of the technological aspects and how advanced the 3D is and how futuristic the computer graphics are, all of that loses its importance if you don’t have a good movie. I think that’s one of the great things about Jim; one of the reasons I respect him is that he is unrelenting in making it a good movie, even setting aside all of those things. From what I’ve seen it’s incredible on an emotional level and on a storytelling level. Jim is a visionary on that level as well, which is why I wanted to work with him.
GB: You were in “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,” one of the first “digital backlot” films. Does that suggest you have an interest in seeking out movies that reach for the “next” tech in visual storytelling?
GR: For me it’s not about genre. I don’t really care about that. For me, it’s the story, the script and the people involved in making the movie. That’s the most important thing. For any of the hundreds of people working on it, making a film is a large commitment out of your life and you have to have your interest maintained, whether it’s two months or two years for “Apocalypse Now” or 12 years for Jim on “Avatar.” And he’s set a standard that others, I hope, will try to meet.
GB: What can you tell us about your character, Selfridge?
GR: Without giving too much away, it’s obvious from the trailers that we as a company have gone to colonize another planet to exploit its natural resources. Essentially, I can give you two viewpoints on my character. The character’s viewpoint on himself, and my viewpoint. He is a cog in a machine but he considers himself the pharaoh of this new world. He’s running the ship and it’s all a statistical thing for him; he’s about results and numbers. He has the sickness of what our capitalistic, corporate version of the American dream can become.
GB: He has ledger fever …
GR: Yes exactly, the ledger fever.
GB: Cameron has said he looked to classic tales by Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad and more modern epics such as “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” and “Dances With Wolves” to construct a story for “Avatar.” That’s interesting to consider…
GR: Yes, absolutely. In storytelling there is a basic structure that you can trace back. If you analyze Shakespeare and his plays, the foundation is Aristotle’s “Poetics,” and that treatise that Aristotle wrote 2,500 years ago still resonates on such a human level. There are essential, elemental parts to storytelling and drama. And there’s something about “Avatar” that really sort of articulates all of that and gives it an emotional resonance. And I don’t think anybody really does it quite like Jim. When something is epic, it’s epic in a way that you’ve never quite seen before and you feel an emotional attachment to the characters. It doesn’t matter if they’re CG or live-action, you’re right there with them.
GB: You mentioned the time spent in New Zealand working on the film — can you give me a snapshot memory from the set or perhaps even sort of an emotional memory of working on the project?
GR: It’s funny, Jim likes to say that New Zealand is the country that America always wanted to be in its early days. Now I don’t know how people are going to take that, how offended they’re going to be — I don’t know how many letters you’re going to get. But I agree with him. They literally have commercials on television that tell people to get out of the couch, turn off the TV and get outside. Everything about the place — the education, on a cultural level, socially, the landscape and their awareness of the environment and their effect on it. It’s not a country steeped in litigation and lobbyists.
GB: One last thing: You’ve worked with directors like Steven Spielberg, Michael Mann, Sam Raimi and the late Anthony Minghella. It’s an impressive list. When you consider a project, do you find you give more weight to who the director is in comparison to other factors? And are there directors in particular you’d like to work with?
GR: In process, you start with the script usually because that’s normally how you become aware of a project. But a picture is only as good as the director is talented, and a picture is only as good as a director’s vision for it. It is definitely the most important thing to me. For me, the people I’d love to work with, well, Jim would be at the top of the list. Working with Jim again. And … well, just Jim, I think that’d be my answer to that.
— Geoff Boucher
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