You may not have heard of Jack Champion yet, but believe us that’s about to change. After auditioning on a cattle-call, Champion ended up winning the coveted part of Spider, the orphaned human who grows up alongside the Na’vi, in James Cameron’s epic sequel extravaganza Avatar: The Way of Water, which is not only heading for one of the biggest openings this year, but also got nominated for Best Picture at the Golden Globes.
We caught up with South Virginian native to talk about getting in shape, shooting under water, and what his favorite Cameron action movies are.
LEO: What inspired you to become an actor?
JACK CHAMPION: Not to sound cliche but growing up watching Disney Channel when I was like 3, it seemed like the funnest, coolest job there was. And I was like, Wow. Once I figured out that’s something you could do for a living, I was like, “That’s definitely my calling.”
Your first big break came with being cast in The Night Sitter. And then the new Avatar came along. Were the casting directors aware of the film or how did that come about?
I don’t think The Night Sitter and Avatar had anything to do with each other. There was a wide open call for Avatar on Cast It [Talent], and my mom submitted me and they liked my look. So I got a chance to do a self-tape, got a call back. Did another self-tape. Then I got to meet with Margie, the casting director, over Skype. I did that a few times, and then from there, I flew out to LA for a screen test three different times. Meeting Sam [Worthington], Sigourney [Weaver], and a bunch of different cast. And then finally, on my third screen test, I found out I got the role.
I’m assuming you met Jim Cameron during the screen test?
Yeah. All three times I met Jim.
Avatar is obviously an enormous, enormous project. What can you tell us about the new movie and your role in it?
What I can say is I play Spider, who is a human. And he was born at Hell’s Gate, orphaned there when the humans got kicked out. So, he grew up alongside the Na’vi people and the Sully family. And he very much considers himself one of the Na’vi people, even though he’s a human.
So, echoes of Jungle Book and Tarzan type mythologies.
Was there any specific training that you had to do for this part?
I did – for four years. I had to do movement training. Because, like I said, I play a human, but he grew up alongside the Na’vi, so he has to move like them. He has to keep up with them. I did a lot of parkour movement training, bow training, knife training. And then also to get in shape to look like a kid who grew up running around the jungles of Pandora, I had to go from a pudgy 12-year-old to someone who was lean, had abs, looked in shape. So, they set me up with a trainer and I trained for four years.
Out of all the training that you had to do, what would you say was the most challenging?
Definitely the water stuff. Just holding your breath, or even in a full-face scuba mask 30 feet underwater, trying to get the camera and all the lighting and making sure there’s no bubbles in the shot. Underwater shooting is probably the hardest form of shooting there is, other than maybe shooting in outer space. So, doing that for four years, it just takes a lot out of you. It’s very, very draining.
Not including Avatar, what’s your favorite James Cameron film?
I feel like Terminator 2 and Aliens are tied because they’re just so good. The thing Jim does well with sequels is he always makes it somehow so much better than the original, whether that be Terminator or Aliens, they’re just different and groundbreaking.
Do you have any hobbies to help keep you sane?
I love to work out still. I love CrossFit, bodybuilding. And I also love to skateboard with friends, go to the skate park. And also just in general, spend time with family and friends.
Outside of family, are there any role models that you look up to or you find inspiration from?
Definitely actors like Brad Pitt, who is my favorite actor. And he’s just a great role model, career-wise, to look at because he’s done it all from comedies, to drama, to action. He can just do everything.
CHECK OUT JACK CHAMPION
As Spider in James Cameron’s 3D epic, Avatar: The Way of Water
As Kevin in the horror-comedy, The Night Sitter