Despite not having auditioned for the role, actress Nia Long has revealed that her being “passed over” for the lead female role in James Cameron’s first Avatar film in favor of Zoe Saldaña has become a particular sticking point for her regarding her acting career history.
Long, who audiences may recognize from her roles as Lisa Wilkes in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Fatima from Netflix’s original film You People, and Neika Hobbs in the streaming service’s original series Dear White People, spoke to her feelings regarding Cameron’s first expedition to Pandora during a recent cover interview given to fashion outlet The Cut for the February 2023 edition of their magazine.
Amidst discussions on a variety of topics including her childhood, her experiences as a mother, and the aftermath of her ending things with now-former Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka due to his having an affair with an organization staff member, the actress was eventually asked by The Cut’s Clover Hope if she ever felt “like you get passed up for roles?”
Confirming “I’ve felt passed over on things, for sure,” Long proceeded to recall how “There have definitely been moments like, Why wasn’t I considered for that?”
“Like, why wasn’t I considered for Avatar?” she offered up as an example. “I think Zoe’s amazing. But I wasn’t even a topic of discussion, you know?”
Offering a small caveat, Long then admitted, “A lot of times, to be fair, directors know in their minds who they want,” noting “It’s happened to me, and it’s not happened for me.”
Ultimately, in terms of riding alongside the Na’vi, Long asserted, “I would love to do a film like Avatar because I’m really a fan and obsessed.”
“I would even do a supporting role in a film like that because it’s so magical and beautiful, and there are so many lessons and a connection to Mother Nature, humanity, and race,” she declared, sharing her enthusiasm at such a prospect. “I just think it’s fantastical.”
As noted above, Long’s disappointment at losing the role of Avatar‘s Neytiri comes off as particularly baffling considering that, as per the archives of various entertainment news outlets including The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, she was never reported as having auditioned in the first place.
While some roles are, as noted by Long, conceived by a given director or producer with particular actress in mind, this argument doesn’t seem to apply to Avatar as it is a well-documented fact that Saldaña did in fact try out for the role of the blue-skinned alien.
“Mali Finn, who was the casting director at that time, [and] then Margery Simkin [who succeeded Finn following the former’s death in 2007] took the part of casting it, they would sometimes just come in and call me,” the actress recalled during a 2022 appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (via Collider). “And I was still living in New York at the time, and they would put me on tape. And sometimes it was like ‘Bring some tight stuff, I want you to climb, and do some cartwheels.’ And I’m like ‘okay.’ So I would come in, it’s like “We’ll, we’ll just play. Let’s move some furniture.’”
“And then one time, they called me in and I put myself on tape again for them, and they were like ‘just make all these sounds,’” continued Saldaña. *Tongue rolls* And I’m like ‘well, okay.’ And I’m thinking like James Cameron, a robot warrior princess that’s in the jungle, and I’m doing, R, like *tongue rolls* rolling my Rs, I don’t know what this is, but I dig it.”