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When Jack Champion found out five years ago that he was auditioning for James Cameron’s long-awaited Avatar sequel, the actor — then 12 — watched the original 2009 film every day for a month. “Three hours, every day,” says Champion, now 18. “It was one of my favorite movies growing up.”
Coming off appearances in the 2018 comedy-horror film The Night Sitter and a small role in Avengers: Endgame, Champion plays Miles “Spider” Socorro in Avatar: The Way of Water. He underwent a lengthy audition process to score the role. “It was four months, starting with self-tapes,” he recalls, “and then I met with the casting director [Margery Simkin] over Skype. It was a lot of auditioning. I never was like, ‘Oh, I’m definitely going to get the role.’ Because I think as an actor, you don’t want to set yourself up for being sad. You’re always just thankful, like, ‘Hey, at least I made it this far. I can always say I got to this point.’”
Champion remembers a highlight throughout the process — finding out that he got a screen test for Avatar on the same day that he got his role in Avengers: Endgame, playing the bicycle-riding teenager who runs into Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). “It was crazy,” the actor recalls about the big day.
The Way of Water, which was in production for nearly five years, hits theaters 13 years after the record-breaking success of the original. And, depending on how the sequel is received, Cameron is already planning future installments.
“It’s an honor to work with Jim for four and a half years of my life,” Champion says of the director. “He knows everything about every department, from acting to lighting to stunts to cinematography. A lot of the time, he’d hold the camera himself, do his own camerawork. He’s just a cinematic genius. After so many years, he has kind of become like a father figure to me.”
In The Way of Water, in theaters Dec. 16, Champion’s character, Spider, is a teenage human who was left an orphan on Pandora after the events of the first film, and he’s taken in as an unofficial member of the Omatikaya clan of the Na’vi tribe. “Growing up playing the character, you can’t help but put a lot of yourself into the [role],” he says. “[With] Spider, I feel like it’s just a different version of me that would be on Pandora, growing up in the situation he’s in.”
“He considers himself one of the Na’vi people, even though he’s a human,” the actor adds about his character. “He’s not 10 feet tall, but he doesn’t let that stop him.”
Next, Champion is set to appear in Scream 6 (due out in March) — a role that feels like “a fantasy come true” for the actor. “I watched the Scream movies in October of 2021 and immediately I became a huge fan of horror and slashers. Last Halloween, I dressed as Ghostface, and then, literally in less than a year, I would be cast in the next movie.”
The Way of Water star also will appear in Lionsgate’s upcoming Liam Neeson-starring thriller Retribution, and he’s also shooting Freaky Tales, directed by Captain Marvel helmers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.
After working on such a massive undertaking as The Way of Water, Champion finds that he’s enjoying the flexibility of smaller projects. “You feel more in control of things. It’s like, ‘Oh, maybe my character wouldn’t do that’ or, ‘Instead of having that costume, I could dress like that [instead].’ I think you get a lot of creative legroom with a smaller production — because with big stuff, I guess there’s more corporate decisions that have already been made.”
At this stage in his career, the Virginia-based actor hasn’t made the move to Hollywood just yet. “Everything is over Zoom now,” he says. “I want to keep my home in Virginia, but never say never.”
This story first appeared in the Dec. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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