I rarely participate in roundtables, but I was glad I did the roundtable at AFI Dallas for Battle in Seattle, the fest's Closing Night film, because Michelle Rodriguez, there in town to promote Battle, got in a few words on Avatar while she was there. I don't know about you, but I'm more excited about Avatar than I have been about any sci-fi film since I don't know when.

I attended the roundtable with Mark Bell from Film Threat and Reelzchannel.com's Heather Huntington. Our time was very compressed -- we had about 15 minutes with Rodriguez and director Stuart Townsend, and they'd already given the "last question" call, but the three of us had talked briefly beforehand about what we wanted to ask, and all of us were hoping to hear something about Avatar while we were there.

Huntington managed to sneak the question in (the trick to that is, avoid eye contact with the PR person at all costs, pretend you didn't hear them, and get your question in ... if the talent is into answering the question, they're not going to tell THAT person to stop talking, right?) Rodriguez was enthusiastic and talked quite a bit about the film, and I typed as fast as I could to keep up with her.



"James Cameron is a sick, sick, director," Rodriguez enthused. In a good way? Rodriguez talked about what a great experience she's had working with the director, who's not made a film since 1997's megahit Titanic. She said that if she could afford to, she'd work with Cameron for free "just to learn from him, to be his apprentice." As to how the film is shaping up, Rodriguez predicts that audiences are going to love it; she noted that it's "work in progress," but added "I think people are going to really welcome this experience with open arms."

Like my colleague James Rocchi, I've deliberately tried to avoid learning too much about the film's plot, but if you want to know more (warning: spoilers!) MarketSaw has a whole bunch of supposedly inside info up. As for when we might be seeing the sci-fi film, in which Rodriguez plays a helicopter pilot, don't get your hopes too high about that anticipated "summer 2009" release date floating around on posters for the film; Rodriguez said we're looking more at "December, 2009, hopefully ... if all goes well," which is what IMDb has at the moment as well.

I have to add here, that Rodriguez was one of the most engaging actresses I've dealt with in a press tour/roundtable situation. I generally hate roundtables, first of all because you have other press there, so no one there is getting anything exclusive (although some journalists do persist in writing up roundtables as though the news they have was given just to them, but that's a subject for another time), and more importantly, your time is so tight in those roundtables, it's hard to get any questions in at all.

Even with a 20 minute one-on-one, it's hard to squeeze it all in. Put several journalists at the table together, and you have to kind of rely on the professional courtesy of everyone there to take turns and make sure everyone gets their questions in, which, in my experience, just rarely happens. So you'll either get one person taking over the whole thing and treating it like their personal one-on-one, or worse, several journalists talking over each other as they jockey for position. Either way, blech.

Fortunately, in this case both Townsend and Rodriguez were thoroughly engaging in discussing Battle in Seattle, playing off each other's answers a lot, and Rodriguez in particular was just delightful and enthusiastic. Yes, guys, she's gorgeous in person too, in a very natural, sexy, not overly-made-up way, but she also came across as wickedly smart, very funny, and genuinely down-to-earth, and if we get a chance down the road to do Avatar interviews, she's the one I'd be most likely to take my time to sit down with and talk some more. .