Actor Matt Gerald on His ‘Avatar’ Role

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With its release just a couple weeks away, interest in James Cameron’s Avatar keeps ramping up. One little heard voice amidst the PR frenzy is that of Matt Gerald, the actor who plays the villainous Corporal Lyle Wainfleet. Gerald took time out of his busy schedule to chat with us about his role in the movie, the challenges of working on a digitized set, and the surreal experience of existing in Cameron’s strange, blue alien world.

Can you tell me a little about your role in Avatar? I play Captain Lyle Wainfleet. He is a security officer on the moon called Pandora which is about five light-years away. My boss is Miles Quaritch, the head of security on the planet, and I’m sort of his go-to guy that handles most of the dirty detail on Pandora.

What was your experience working with James Cameron’s new technology? As an actor, it’s challenging because there are so many moving parts at all times, especially with the new technology like the Simulcam and some of the other graphic technologies. I’d sit down with Jim and see a digitized version of a scene, before I actually got into the scene and stepped into the environment and did the live action portion. So you’d see some of the digital rendering of that world with my character–actually in action in the scene–and then I’d have to step into that world and deal with either other actors or computer generated Avatars or Na’vi.

How did that change the way that you approached your role? I don’t know if it changed it necessarily, but it definitely took a higher degree of focus. You’ve seen actors work in a green-screen, but I’m not sure how often they’ve been able to look at a scene that has already been configured digitally and then step into it and deal with the computer generated environment in sort of imaginary circumstances. I’d be sitting there speaking to a 20 foot pole with a pink piece of tape on the end of it and it’s representing a 20 foot Avatar of either Sam Worthington or Zoe Saldana. With all those moving parts, you’ve still got to remember to act.

What was it like working James Cameron, who has the reputation of being a perfectionist? Jim just wants to look at it and believe it. Every time I sat next to him, all he really wanted to get to is whether or not he buys it. If that means perfection, then I guess that’s what perfection is to him. The first time I met Jim he was working at the Playa Vista Studios and using the virtual camera. He came over, he pulled me aside and walked me into his editing room. He sat down and showed me 15 minutes of the film. I just remember looking at him and thinking, he’s just like a little kid with this unbelievable wealth of knowledge. He couldn’t be more excited.

Is this thing going to change movies forever? That remains to be seen. The amount of genius’ working on this project has been astounding, and to see the output of their labor will be just an incredible experience.