If a person was to look at the different event films of the 21st century, there is one that stands out above the rest. Unlike others that fill the list of top-grossing films of the 21st century that relied on existing IPs or, in Avengers: Endgame’s circumstance, more than 20 films of buildup, the 2009 smash hit Avatar was a standalone and an original.
Avatar, the top-grossing film of the 21st century with nearly $3 billion, came from the mind of James Cameron, a familiar face at the top of the chart due to his 1997 success Titanic. The cinematic trip to the world of Pandora was a technological marvel and won Oscars for its cinematography, visual effects, and art direction.
Of course, all of this was happening when Trinity Jo-Li Bliss, who plays Tuk in Avatar’s long-awaited sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water, was only a few months old.
“It’s just incredible,” Trinity says when discussing the legacy of the original film. “To get to be a part of this big Avatar family and get to be a part of the sequels is really amazing,” she says.
The first time Trinity saw Avatar was while auditioning for the second film. “I remember watching it when I was auditioning for the first time and just wanting to be part of that world and be on Pandora and be a Na’vi and fly my own ikran. The fact that I get to be part of Pandora, be on Pandora, and be part of this Avatar family is as mind-blowing as the film,” she says with a small laugh.
At the time of the interview with Trinity, it is the morning of the LA premiere of Avatar: The Way of Water. Her excitement is palpable in her voice and she cannot stop a grin from forming. “It feels like since wrap, it’s been this thing that we’ve been building up to and the fact that the day has finally come is really crazy,” she says. “I just feel so excited and thrilled to be a part of it and that the world is going to see this amazing film.” She gushes, “I can’t wait to watch it again. As soon as I watched Avatar: The Way of Water for the first time, I just wanted to watch it again.” She shares her enthusiasm at getting to watch it again at the premiere. “Real excited,” she says with a grin.
Where the first film took audiences to the forest of Pandora, the second film will bring them to the coasts, promising even more gorgeous sights, new animals, and interesting characters.
“This film really expands the world of Pandora. We’re getting to see new regions we haven’t seen before.” Trinity shares, “In the previous film, we saw the forest. Now we’re getting to see the reef.” Her smile is beaming as she reflects on what it was like to see those scenes on screen. “It’s so beautiful, especially in IMAX-3D. When [watching] those underwater scenes, I feel like I’m actually holding my breath and just paddling in the theater,” she says with a laugh. “I feel like I can actually reach out and touch the beautiful fish and life under the water of Pandora, and I really can’t wait for audiences to see it. I think the forest, the reef, the waters of Pandora are just filled with life and there’re so many unique creatures and wonders.”
A considerable amount of time has passed since the events of the first film, with Jake and Neytiri having a family of their own. So one might wonder what events brought the Sully family to the reef.
While Trinity doesn’t share much, she does say, “From Tuk’s point of view, it’s kind of a story about survival and how her family and her are sticking together and protecting each other through all that’s happening, no matter what way water comes at them,” she says with a sly smile. “I think if you’ve watched Avatar, [it] was amazing, and Avatar: The Way of Water is just going to be bigger and more dramatic. I think that people are going to love it just like me!”
The young actress can say more about her character Tuk, the youngest of Jake and Neytiri’s children. “[Being the youngest] is a part of her personality because she’s constantly wanting to do what the older kids do, or like to prove that she can do what the older kids do. She often feels underestimated, even though it’s really just everyone’s very protective of her.” Pride fills her voice as she adds of her character, “She doesn’t underestimate herself so she makes up for it.” Overall, according to Trinity, Tuk has a really big heart and is very curious. “Always just eyes wide open, observing everything around her – especially the nature around her. She doesn’t have no fear, but she’s really brave and courageous when it comes to protecting her family and Pandora because she’ll do anything to make sure that they’re okay and that they stick together.”
What makes the family dynamics so unique in the sequel is that audiences will really get to see how the sibling dynamics play out. The first film would briefly gloss over Jake’s relationship with his late brother, not giving it much more attention than explaining why Jake is taking part in the Avatar program and showing how he’s such a different candidate than his brother. However, Jake and Neytiri have five children who, according to Trinity, are all unique.
“I think that definitely propels the stories in some ways because we’re all so unique and very different, but we also all love each other. The family is our fortress, so we’re just trying to stick together and protect each other,” she says.
Giving a breakdown of the siblings, she starts with the oldest. “There’s Neteyam – he’s the oldest brother and the brother that sometimes feels like a dad, I think. He is that golden boy in the family and I think Tuk looks up to him a lot. Lo’ak – he’s that cool brother. Tuk adores him. Although Lo’ak never wants to bring her on his adventures. And Kiri, who is Tuk’s older sister. Tuk is really fond of Kiri [and] Kiri is always there for her. Tuk tries to be there for Kiri; she wants to be like Kiri one day, I think, when she grows up.”
Last is the sibling that Trinity calls Tuk’s brother from another mother, laughing as she does so, named Spider. “She really wishes Spider wouldn’t tag along with Lo’ak busting her chops when she tags along,” she says. “Overall, there’s this sibling relationship and of course there’s Tuk and she’s the youngest, and everyone’s protective of her. She just wants to be part of their pack and doing what they’re doing. [She wants to] show them that she can do what they do and that she’s not just little Tuk tagging along.”
I think songwriting’s always been the way that I process this world around me and my feelings about everything going on in this world.
Audiences fell in love with Tuk’s parents, Jake Sully and Neytiri, in the first film. Both strong and intelligent individuals in their own right, together they become unstoppable. “Jake and Neytiri, those two young lovers in the first film – they were just so strong together. Imagine when they have five kids, they’re so strong together,” Trinity says while laughing. When it comes to Tuk’s relationship with her parents, the actress says, “Tuk loves her parents so much; she really admires them. There’s this family motto that Jake always tells us, his kids: ‘Sullies stick together.’ I think Tuk really stands by that.” She adds, “Since she’s the youngest [and] wants everything to be okay, she’s often repeating his words. [Tuk] really admires her dad and what he says. Also with her mom – her mom is definitely a warrior and an amazing mom for her to look up to. Like her mom, she has three fingers and a thumb, so she’s a little bit more Na’vi than some of the rest of her family. She, like her mom, is very nurturing.”
For Tuk, family and Pandora are the most important things to her, says Trinity. “More than anything, since she’s grown up in basically a mixed family with parents from very different cultures and backgrounds, she just loves her family very much; she looks up to her parents, looks up to her siblings since they’re all older than her – although she might not admit that she looks up to her siblings,” she confesses through laughter.
Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldaña, who portray Jake and Neytiri respectively, are not the only returning actors for the sequel film. Sigourney Weaver takes up a new role in Avatar: The Way of Water since her original character died in the first film. There are a few others rumored to return, though if they come back as characters audiences have thought to be dead or, like in Sigourney’s way, bring life to a new character is yet to be spoiled (as the film only premieres in the United States this weekend, there will be no confirmation or denial here).
Working on set with these Avatar veterans – a term that gets a laugh out of Trinity – who had years of experience in this model of filmmaking for Avatar, has been a joy for the actress.
“The adult casts are all just masters of the craft and absolute pros,” she praises. “Just to get to act opposite them and be on set with them was truly amazing. They’re all so kind and really hilarious. [They] really took us under their wing and taught us all they could, and to get to lean on them and learn from them on set was absolutely incredible.”
Technology has also had a slight upgrade from when the Avatar veterans initially donned their performance-capture suits, though it is fair to say that it still looks great today. For Avatar: The Way of Water, the cast, old and new, put on the suits once again and even all 101 dots to help capture their performances.
“I would say that performance capture’s a lot like typical acting, actually. It’s really just the differences,” Trinity says, agreeing with the point TEENPLICITY made, “that we have to build the world around us, in our minds. That’s why having Jim [director James Cameron] to direct us just made the world of a difference. He really takes the time to explain to us about what’s around us in this world and where our characters are currently and what we’re feeling, smelling, seeing.”
The volume, she explains for those who aren’t familiar (and is the general term used for performance capture spaces, not to be confused with Lucasfilm and ILM’s Stagecraft which is sometimes dubbed ‘The Volume’), “is this gray, high-tech stage and it has, I think, 60 cameras on top, around the volume. We’re wearing our performance capture suits and a helmet that has a little camera attached and 101 dots on our faces. 101! The magic of the volume and performance capture is that when we walk into the volume with our suit, helmet, dots,” she breaks for a laugh. “We’re walking in as Na’vi and as our characters, walking into Pandora.”
In addition to filming in the volume, the cast also filmed in a tank. “There’s a lot of underwater scenes that we actually were underwater for in Avatar: The Way of Water. For those scenes, we were doing performance capture and we were filming in a tank holding our breath.”
It is a unique filming experience that some actors aren’t fond of doing, but Trinity loved. “It was so much fun!” she exclaims. “I love to swim and I love the ocean. That whole process – the training process, the filming process – it couldn’t have been more fun. We were trained by world-renowned divers, Kirk Crack, John Garvin, and many other amazing coaches. [We] had an amazing crew around us and Jim, who always made sure we felt safe and, you know, know the way of water. Hopefully, we learned it too during that process.”
When Trinity isn’t busy exploring the reefs of Pandora as a Na’vi, she is working hard on her music. With four singles out already, the most recent of which is “California Sun,” there is more on the way for the young artist.
“My debut album is going to release in January. It’s called Confessions of a Preteen and I’m really excited for it to be out.” Expected mid-to-late January, the 10-song album will include her already released four singles with six new songs to round out the track listing. “I’m really excited for you to hear it. It’s that slice of my preteen life and heart. I really love the songs on there and I hope that everyone does too.”
Music is just another logical path for Trinity to take. She recalls always loving performing and being drawn to performance arts. “It’s ironic because I think when I was born, my mom expected me to become a lawyer or a doctor. My dad probably wanted to help me become an amazing figure skater,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve just always been drawn to the performance arts and wanted to perform for any living being that would listen.” She then adds, “Or non-living being like a stuffed animal.”
She remembers her passion really being cultivated at musical theater camps. “I just loved it so much and had so much fun, I begged my mom for acting lessons. It started there and then I had music lessons,” Trinity says. “I think songwriting’s always been the way that I process this world around me and my feelings about everything going on in this world. It’s part of me, music and songwriting.”
When it comes to her musical inspirations, Trinity is quick to name Coldplay. “They were my first ever music obsession. The first-ever, really, concert.” Taylor Swift, Meghan Trainor, Alicia Keys, and Queen also top her inspiration list. “I had the biggest Queen phase,” she reveals. “There are so many amazing people in the music industry to be inspired from, but [hopefully] one day I could join them.”
Avatar: The Way of Water is in theaters this weekend, in standard and IMAX!
You can preorder Confessions of a Preteen on iTunes here!
For all things Trinity Jo-Li Bliss, be sure to follow her on Instagram!
*This interview was edited for length and clarity.