Why 73-Year-Old Sigourney Weaver Went Back To High School

Sigourney Weaver went back to high school, studying teenage girls, in order to get herself into the mindset of her new, 14-year old Avatar character.

By Sckylar Gibby-Brown | Published

When James Cameron announced that Sigourney Weaver would return to the Avatar franchise, fans were a little confused, considering that her character was killed off in the first movie. While it isn’t unheard of to bring a fan-favorite character back from the dead, and it’s often done in popular films, audiences were weary of how Weaver’s return would be portrayed in the long-anticipated sequel. However, according to DiscussingFilm, Weaver has known for more than a decade about her return to the franchise, and she went back to high school to prepare for production.

In addition to Sigourney Weaver’s return to the Avatar franchise, Avatar: The Way of Water also brought back Stephen Lang, who played Colonel Miles Quaritch, who also died in the first film. While Lang’s character’s return was explained through his reincarnation in Na’vi clone form (since the human colonizers saved his consciousness in an Avatar body before he died), Weaver’s Dr. Grace Augustine died a noble death in the final act of the original film and bringing her back would rewrite the consequences of her demise. It seems that writer and director James Cameron figured out a way around Augustine’s death to have Weaver still join the sequel cast—he had her play an entirely different character, who also happens to be a teenage girl.

Sigourney Weaver is a 73-year-old actress who graduated high school in 1967, and yet she returned to the place that most of us would never dare to go back to in order to prepare for her role in Avatar: The Way of Water. Weaver plays Jake and Neytiri’s (Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana) adopted daughter, Kiri—a 14-year-old Na’vi girl. In order to prepare for the role of a teenager, Weaver attended high school classes and observed teenagers so she could portray their mannerisms and voice pitch while playing Kiri. 

james cameron sigourney weaver
Sigourney Weaver as Kiri in Avatar: The Way of Water

Sigourney Weaver has been the queen of science fiction movies since she first rose to stardom in 1979 in Ridley Scott’s Alien. Seven years later, the actress worked with James Cameron for the first time in 1986’s Aliens. The director, known for pushing limits in filmmaking, told Weaver about his idea for Kiri’s character in 2010, a year after Avatar was first released, giving Weaver 12 years to prepare for the unusual role. 

While Sigourney Weaver was initially insecure about playing a character 50 years her junior, the actress did her best to get into the mindset of an adolescent. Attending high school classes and observing the difference between children ages 12 to 15 helped her find the character, and she was able to embellish Kiri by remembering what it was like to be a 14-year-old girl, as well. The actress even created a voice for the character by listening to the pitches and tones of the teenagers she studied.

As a filmmaker, James Cameron not only isn’t afraid to do the unthinkable, but he embraces the challenge of unorthodox filmmaking. He has built his career out of creating films that are ahead of their time, and by finding talented actors and crew who are willing to go on the journey with him. Sigourney Weaver managed to pull off something that had never been done before, and we can’t wait to see what will come next in future Avatar sequels.