Your Neighborhood Na’vi Xenoanthropologist

Our interview with Avatar’s Joel Moore
By Matt Patches

While I applaud Avatar for shrouding itself in secrecy for the past four years, it’s quickly moving into frustration territory. How am I supposed to nerd out over the flora and fauna of Pandora or study the intricate glottal stops of the Na’vi language if people won’t spill any details? They can’t expect me to wait until after the movie comes out, can they??

Luckily actor Joel Moore, who plays scientist Norm Spellman in Avatar, didn’t hesitate to answer a few of my fanboy questions while discussing his latest.

Matt Patches: So Joel, they tell me you have a little movie coming out soon.

Joel Moore: Yeah, tiny little indie. Hoping it makes a couple screens in New York and L.A.

MP: I heard at least one.

JM: [laughter] Laemmle’s I think.

MP: Is Avatar one of your bigger films, then?

JM: Recently? Yes, in my loooong career. [laughter] Yeah, it’s the biggest movie I’ve ever done and has the biggest chance at being one of the biggest movies.

MP: Exhausted?

JM: Yeah, but we’re having a blast because it’s so easy to be positive about, so easy to talk about. I should be clear, it hasn’t been easy to talk about it, because of the secrecy and mystery of it, but it’s so easy to discuss because you have a guy [James Cameron] behind the wheel of it who is a genius, who has so much passion, so much charisma, and creativity and knew exactly what he wanted since the day he wrote it.

The rest of my chat with Joel Moore after the jump!

MP: How long ago did you shoot Avatar?

JM: I booked it in December of ’06 and so we shot through 2007 and 2008.

MP: And how did you get involved?

JM: I just auditioned like anybody else would have. I’m sure there’s a lot of people who went out for it. I walked into a room, said some lines I didn’t have.

MP: Did they put you in spandex and ping pong balls for your audition?

JM: Not for the test, not for the test. But as soon as they could they put me in that spandex…

MP: How was that?

JM: We spent so much time in them…by day two, it’s pretty much an even playing field. We look like a bunch of drunk athletes. We were essentially in wet suits with a helmet. We looked like someone on a bad BMX tour or Jackass. Covered in balls.

MP: Was it harder to act on the blue screen stages, the motion capture environment or against Paris Hilton in The Hottie and the Nottie?

JM: [laughter] Let me touch on the first thing…there was no blue screen. Motion capture is a whole different way of doing it. You’re not using a real camera. They’re not shooting it the way one would assume it’s being shot. No we did do that on the live action side. We were on real sets, parts of spaceships, or trampling around the land of Pandora. But, all of that is live-action. 3D cameras, set your lighting, gotta get your make-up done…just like a normal movie but 3D. But motion capture is nice because you don’t have to worry about make-up.

MP: You just show up.

JM: You show up, put the stupid thing on, and start acting.

MP: There’s been so much secrecy around Avatar, I’m not sure I’ve heard much about your character.

JM: My character is Norm Spellman, he’s a xenoanthropologist which is essentially a scientist who is studying the land and the alien lifeforms on Pandora. It’s not actually a world, but a moon of another bigger planet, but it was able to give life. Now we can’t breathe in the area, but they have lungs…and we’ve found the humanoid life that we can communicate with and they have their own language, they walk on two feet. So we were able to create these avatars, remotely controlled beings, that I as Norm Spellman can control through my mind. Transfer my consciousness over to this clone. They’ve taken DNA from the Na’vi and DNA from me.

MP: So you’re plugged in to the avatars? We were wondering why the military doesn’t unplug you if all of a sudden the avatars become part of the rebellion.

JM: In a way…they wanted to shy away from any Matrix comparisons. It’s not a virtual world, they’re real beings that are walking around.

MP: I’ve been trying to figure out the timeline, how long have the humans been on Pandora?

JM: : They’ve been there for a long enough time that they’ve built a base, and started to mine the energy source. That’s really the story…well, the story is really a love story and that’s what Jim does so well. He’s whittled it down to the simplest version. It’s a love story, and all the action-adventure, CG, special effects are added extras

MP: Does Norm have a goal, an arc in the story?

JM: Yeah, Norm comes with the full spectrum of understanding. He’s fluent in their dialect, their language. He’s spent hours and hours in his avatar, getting familiar with walking around. He goes there with a world of information. He immediately kisses up to Dr. Grace Augustine played by Sigourney Weaver, and they have a great relationship because I know my sh*t. So there’s a really fun juxtaposition between my character and Sam Worthington who plays Jake Sully.

MP: There have been a few interviews with Sam where he mentions being signed on for sequels. Are you signed up for more Avatar?

JM: On the business side you have the discussions, but it’s ultimately up to Jim if it will happen or not. It’s a story that stands alone, so it doesn’t need a sequel. But it’s good and powerful, so if he were to decide to make sequels, they’d be just as good.

MP: And you’d definitely come back, the world will need more Norm Spellman.

JM: Of course, man, of course. I’d love to.

MP: I hope so, I already have my Norm Spellman Halloween costume picked out for next year.

Am I the only Avatar fanboy in the room? Or are you already painting your face blue for the midnight showing? Let us know in the comments! Avatar hits theaters December 18th and you can find the down and dirty on the movie at our Avatar spoilers page!