How 'Avatar: The Way of Water' Star Joel David Moore's Son Made His Film Debut as Baby Na'Vi

Actor Joel David Moore shares the story (and photos!) behind son Ollie's big screen debut as a baby in the $2 billion-grossing sequel

Avatar: Way of Water star Joel David Moore's newborn son, Ollie, played the Na'Vi baby in the movie
Photo: Courtesy Joel David Moore, Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

In addition to its continued box office success and awards nominations, Avatar: The Way of Water also features the big screen debut of Oliver "Ollie" Moore, son of star Joel David Moore.

The actor and director, who plays scientist and Na'Vi expert Dr. Norm Spellman, tells PEOPLE that Ollie's acting debut came about organically while they were in the midst of filming The Way of Water in 2017.

"Ollie was at this point three or four months old and producer Jon Landau called and he said, 'Hey listen, we're in this part of the script and there's a baby and we're wondering if Ollie could come in...' I said, 'We would be delighted,'" recalls Moore. "I just remember my wife, Katherine Braham, it's the first time she had been on an Avatar set and watching her getting used to the concept of being on an Avatar set, the performance capture, the rigs, the technology, the infrared cameras above you and the space that you're in. And then bringing my 3-month-old son onto that set was a joy of a lifetime."

AVATAR Joel and Ollie
Courtesy Joel David Moore

Moore says cast and crew were wonderful with Ollie, who is now five, and that he only filmed one day and for a few minutes at a time.

"The rules [for filming with children] are very specific," he says. "Ollie could only actually shoot for 15 minutes at a time. I think that he probably spent a total of maybe even 15 minutes between a couple different takes altogether. So it was a really quick session."

Ollie's big moment in the movie occurs early on, during a flashback when Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) are presenting their newborn son to their Omaticaya clan.

"I will never forget when Katherine brought Ollie to Zoe [for the scene] and Zoe said, 'Oh, you've got that new mama shine,' to Katherine. And then she just blushed. It was just such a fun moment," Moore says.

A scene from 20th Century Studios' AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER.
Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

"And as Norm, I was supposed to be very engaged in the newborn Na'vi with the clan, with the rest of the Omaticaya clan. And what I didn't realize is that I would just start bawling, crying in the scene because it was my son. And I had to go and say [to director James Cameron], 'Look Jim, I'm going to pull it back the next one. I think I just had to get one of those out. This is a special moment.' It was really fun for my wife as well. She is a grounded, wonderful woman and mother. But when she got to that set and saw Ollie up there she lost it as well. We were just both bubbling with tears. It was a really fun moment."

Moore continues: "And it was really nice because he had a trailer right next to my trailer. It said 'O. Moore' on his trailer and then 'Joel David Moore' on my trailer. So Oliver just worked one day and I think that about five, maybe seven minutes in he just starts crying because he doesn't know what's going on and where his mom is. But Zoe did such a wonderful, job. Zoe is a wonderful mother and she plays a wonderful mother. So she had all the tools to be able to help with Ollie. He probably had two or three takes total, something around there, which is the shortest amount of takes that maybe has ever happened on Avatar."

AVATAR Joel and Ollie
Courtesy Joel David Moore
Avatar: Way of Water star Joel David Moore's newborn son played the Na'Vi baby in the movie
Courtesy Joel David Moore

The actor and director says that he and his wife took tons of photos that day, since Ollie obviously has no memory of being there, but that he has started to understand that he is in the movie along with his dad.

"He's five and knows Avatar. I haven't shown him all of it, but he has seen pieces that I'm in," says Moore. "He and I have talked a lot about what I do. I don't know that it clicks, but I'll tell you what, he loves to tell people 'I'm in Avatar.' I don't know that he knows what it means. He's seen [his scene]. We've shown him the trailer and we took a little screengrab of that. So he knows, to a degree, he understands that that's him. Now, how much does a five-year-old understand that a character that is built from technology is them? That's for him to grow into."

Moore, who is also dad to daughter Esme, 2, says baby Ollie's first acting gig will likely be his last, until he's a lot older. "I am trying to raise my children to be as outside of the industry as possible, so they can make their own decisions about whether they want to enter this crazy game," he says.

AVATAR Joel and Ollie
Courtesy Joel David Moore
AVATAR Joel and Ollie
Courtesy Joel David Moore

AVATAR Joel and Ollie
Courtesy Joel David Moore

Looking ahead to the next Avatar movie, Moore teases that his character Norm definitely has "a lovely journey ahead of him. "My role is really interesting and really fun and it will continue to be fun in the future," he says. "The storylines just get richer, more robust. The world of Pandora expands in a really lovely way. I've read, obviously, we shot two and three at the same time. And I've read four and I'm telling you there is so much joy to come in the world of Avatar. I can't say too much about the actual storylines, but Norm has a really fun, lovely journey ahead of him.

He continues: "It's not about my small part of this big machine, it's about everybody coming together and finding the joy of filmmaking in a hybrid between tech and emotional quality. The third film is going to be even more [emotional]. We're just piling on every time with the emotions because every time that you take that next step with that family, it's going to be a more emotional journey. And the beautiful thing about that is Jim [Cameron] is never going to leave a question unanswered."

AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER, (aka AVATAR 2), from left: Sigourney Weaver, Joel David Moore, director James Cameron, on set, 2022.
Mark Fellman/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

In addition to the upcoming Avatar sequels, Moore has several other film projects in the works, both in front of and behind the camera.

"I have a few lovely movies coming out. I did a movie with Ron Perlman called The Baker that I'm very proud of. It's an action drama and I play Ron's son; I have a picture called Daniel's Got to Die with Bob Saget. It's actually Bob's last movie. I was able to get to know Bob really well. I'd never met him before this film and we really went on a really fun journey together," Moore says. "The other film that I have that will come out later in the year is called Retirement Plan with Nicholas Cage. I have a fun smaller role in that and it was such an honor to be working with Nicholas on that."

He continues: "And I just directed a film called Some Other Woman with Amanda Crew, Tom Felton and Ashley Green. It's probably my favorite film that I've ever directed. It's almost like a folklore film about a woman who finds herself in a very strange scenario on an island that I would describe as a 'gaslighting haunt.'"

Moore is also busy producing and developing his own projects for his production company, Balcony 9.

"I love my time in front of the camera, but I'm leaning into producing a lot more in my career," he says. "I have two or three films coming out for Balcony 9, which is the production company I started with my partners Rishi Bajaj and Vinny Smith," he says. "They're two very successful guys with big hearts who want to use their platforms, as well as my platform, to really make impactful and entertaining projects."

Avatar: The Way of Water is now playing.

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