How did your own family inform the way you approached this role?
I had an English grandmother and mother, so I was interested in going to that more reserved place. I don’t think she’s cruel. She’s saying, If the world ran the way it’s supposed to, my daughter wouldn’t be dying, so I’m going to run my world the way it’s supposed to be run.
The movie is about a 12-year-old boy, but it deals with very adult themes. Who is it for?
I think children are often overprotected. Things are presented to them in a sanitized way. I love Disney, but the little birdies won’t be there to help you get dressed. I read a lot of Maurice Sendak to my daughter. He felt that children were clued in to the darkness around them. A movie like this will reassure them that they are respected.
You’ve been in sequels to Alien and Ghostbusters, with several planned for Avatar. Any others in your future?
When I started, sequels were considered very déclassé. Sequels are born at the studio or they come because the fans are dreaming about more. Not for Avatar–I think people wanted to see more, but no one said, I need to see four more! But I think they’ll be very happy once they come out.
You spoke about climate change at the Democratic National Convention. How do you view the incoming Administration?
On Inauguration Day, the President will take a sacred vow to protect all American citizens. To me, dismantling the restrictions against fossil fuels will put us directly into jeopardy. When I see the people he’s putting in charge, it’s like all the pigs going to the trough. It’s going to be a bonanza for anyone in energy, but we pay a terrible price. They may send dividends sky high, but if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water, who cares?
This appears in the January 16, 2017 issue of TIME.