Jamie Flatters is about to be the new star of the biggest movie in the world – playing the eldest son of Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) in Avatar: The Way of Water – but the born-and-bred south Londoner is pretty chilled about it. ‘I've had a lot of time to think about the film,’ he tells me between crunches of quattro stagioni outside a Hackney pizzeria, ‘and the adolescent excitement of being in a massive Hollywood blockbuster has fizzled out. It all feels weirdly normal now.’
Not that the 22-year-old, who possesses the tousled looks of an indie frontman from heaven, downplays any of it. ‘More than a quarter of my life has been with this film,’ he muses. ‘I went in a boy and came out as someone who really knew what he wants to be.’ He landed his role in Avatar: The Way of Water back in 2017 and wrapped filming on the movie – and its so-far untitled sequel – in 2019.
For all that, he still seems unusually zen about it as we chat about the rigours of working with the notoriously demanding James Cameron, spending a year in a water tank (‘I don't think I was doing much acting underwater,’ he says. ‘I was just swimming’), giving up school to make the movie, his love of hip hop, Adam Curtis documentaries, and why for a celebration, there’s nowhere better than a Wetherspoon’s on Streatham High Road.
Avatar is the perfect acting job. You get this character to play but you don’t have to deal with the celebrity side of it. It's the luckiest experience anyone could ever be handed. I'm very grateful to be blue.
James Cameron tried to enforce a vegan-only diet on set. But I didn’t conform. There was a taco place around the corner from the studio that was a secret from Jim and the vegan team. It’d be, like: ‘I'll see you round the back…’
Avatar is the perfect acting job. I’m very grateful to be blue
I’ve always been work-conscious. I take art quite seriously and I’m desperate to get work out there. Anything that isn’t a creative process is always a bit secondary in my thinking.
I like parties but only if there’s good music. I've got all my parents’ influences, like Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Bob Marley, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave. But hip hop was the first thing I found for myself.
The tunnels in Waterloo are a great place for a gig. I’d come back from filming on ‘Avatar’ every couple of months and be so desperate to see people, I ended up starting a hip hop collective. We’d invite 20 rappers to freestyle together. It was like ‘8 Mile’.
I used to rap. It was really shit and too poetic. It was too much about the words.
Avatar was like being at a really weird school. We had lessons in Na’vi dialect, free-diving, scuba, knife-fighting. I’ve forgotten all my Na’vi now.
Sometimes you do have to suffer for your art. When we were preparing for the film, James Cameron gave me a book, ‘The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World’, which has this line: ‘The sacrifice will make something sacred’. And for some scenes, I really had to suffer.
James Cameron will either celebrate you or be your biggest critic. If he sees a problem he’s going to let you know about it. It got to a point in one scene where the discussion between us almost broke down and Sam Worthington had to jump in to mediate.
Performance-capture is more about temperament than acting skill. The other actors are all you need. The ping-pong ball suit and the Go-Pro in front of your face don’t really matter.
I went to see the first Avatar when I was nine years old. The first time was at the Odeon in Streatham Hill, and a week later my dad took me and my brothers to see it at The Ritzy in Brixton. He was pissed off that I’d already seen it.
Where did I celebrate getting the role? ’Spoons on Streatham High Road
James Cameron took an interest in my family dynamic. It was the fact that, like my character, I have siblings. And I think he quite liked a Britishness for the part – the fact that our emotions are a bit more held within.
When you’re young, your older brother seems like a genius. I thought that about my brother until one day he asked mum which one was the teaspoon.
I was told that I was too old for the role. I was a side option, so I didn’t get my hopes up. When I found out I’d got it, my brother was the only other person in the house. He was upstairs playing video games and he was like, ‘Ah, that’s cool, man.’ I celebrated in ’Spoons on Streatham High Road the night after.
In America they deify Hollywood. The parent follows in the child’s slipstream. My parents just got annoyed having to be in LA, which was very grounding.
Admiration doesn’t need to be spoken as long as it’s felt. When I was filming in LA I went into the record shop Tyler The Creator owns and he was in there. I was starstruck but I went up and timidly told him I was a big fan of his work. It went really badly, because he didn’t really care. I’ve never done it again.
They put art on a pedestal in Los Angeles. It doesn’t feel tactile there at all or like something young people can interact with. It’s more like a club you can’t get into.
There’s a chaotic rhythm to London. It’s great to be able to go to a free exhibition and then the cinema and then go see some cool free music – all in one day – and then discuss it all.
My parents just got annoyed having to be in LA, which was very grounding
No one should take London’s north-south divide seriously. I grew up in Clapham and used to stick up for south London when I was younger, but not anymore. But I am more at home in south London: there’s more space.
Hackney Wick’s Colour Factory is a great place for live music. They do a jazz jam every Monday, and quite a few of my friends are rappers and they often freestyle and get up onstage with the jazz musicians.
I’m one of those weird people who always wanted to be an actor. I don’t even know where the idea came from. I was just always watching films and TV and playing stupid fantasy games with my friends. They grew out of it and I stayed in it.
I felt like I needed some fucking guidance as a teenager. Jordan Peterson’s ‘12 Rules for Life’ had just come out when I was 17, so I read that.
It was a choice between Avatar or education for me. That’s why I started reading a lot more in America, so I didn’t die by acting. There’s nothing more depressing than when you read about someone who left school to become a child actor and then never took up any other interests.
Stories are the fundamentals of our lives. To be able to do that as a job is very cool.
‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ is in cinemas worldwide Dec 16.
Everything you need to know about Avatar: The Way of Water.