Kate Winslet held her breath for over seven minutes while shooting James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water — according to her and director James Cameron.
“We’ve got the video someplace, but her record is 7 minutes and 14 seconds,” Cameron told Deadline. “Now that said, that’s static apnea. She’s not swimming around, she’s face down, you go into a Zen trans-like state; you slow your heart rate down. She was taught how to do that.”
Winslet wasn’t alone in the feat — Sigourney Weaver also learned to hold her breath for an astoundingly long time.
“Sigourney was doing 6 [minutes] in a static apnea test. Now, what that translates to in practical terms is about 2½ to three minutes of swimming and acting. Active brain function uses up a lot of oxygen; swimming and moving around uses up a lot of oxygen, so you don’t get those kind of times in an actual scene,” Cameron added.
“We knew we needed more than two minutes with the actors underwater. But you know, actors love any kind of boot camp. You come in, if the gig is you’re going to be a Platoon, you’re going to be with Oliver Stone in the jungle, you’re going to learn how to field-strip your weapon, all that sort of thing. So I like boot camp. In this movie, boot camp was diving, learning how to ride the creatures, learning how to hold your breath.”
Winslet, who also starred in Cameron’s Titanic, told Total Film that when she surfaced for air after her longest breath hold of over seven minutes, she thought she had died. For context, Tom Cruise held his breath for six minutes while filming an underwater scene in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.
“I have the video of me surfacing saying, ‘Am I dead, have I died?’ And then going, ‘What was [my time]?'” Winlset said. “Straight away I wanted to know my time. And I couldn’t believe it.”
So why did the actors need to hold their breath for so long for Avatar: The Way of Water? Director of photography Peter Zuccarini told IndieWire that the reason is that the air bubbles from the crew’s scuba gear were getting in the way of the little markers on the actors faces and bodies that allow Cameron to add CGI later in post-production. So Zuccarini came up with a solution: have the camera operators hold their breath, too, just like the actors.
“He [Cameron] had been working on all these incredibly interesting technological solutions,” Zuccarini told IndieWire, “but when he explained to me that the actors would be training to do long breath holds so that they could perform underwater I said, ‘Well, if the actors are doing breath holds why don’t we do breath holds with them and avoid the limitations of technology? We’ll just assemble a team of world-class freediving cameramen.’”
Avatar: The Way of Water is now playing in theaters.
Main Image: A still from Avatar: The Way of Water. Photo credit: 20th Century Studios.