Filmmaker Jon Landau, a wildly successful producer known best for his movies “Avatar” and “Titanic,” could live anywhere in the world. Yet home is the Florida Keys, which first captivated the down-to-earth Jon in 1986 when he and wife Julie worked on the film “Making Mr. Right” in Miami.
Jon got scuba certified through Ocean Divers in Key Largo. Shortly afterward the couple stayed overnight at Key Largo’s Jules’ Undersea Lodge, the only underwater hotel in the U.S., and the hook was set.
“I love the Keys, the whole feel, the whole vibe,” Jon said. “If I could be here every day, I would. It’s unlike anywhere else in the United States.”
The producer returned frequently to the Keys, including while working on the 1994 action comedy “True Lies.” Partially set in the Middle Keys, it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis and Tom Arnold. Heart-thumping scenes involving a sequence of helicopter stunts and an explosion supposedly on the iconic Seven Mile Bridge are seared into the memories of Keys residents and moviegoers.
New York City–born Jon dreamed then of living in the Keys, but with two young sons, felt it wasn’t yet the right time in his life.
During the 1990s Jon was executive vice president of feature film production at Twentieth Century Fox. He won an Academy Award for “Titanic” in 1997.
When he turned 50, both of his sons had graduated from high school. A friend told him, “Now is the time to live that dream.”
The Landaus decided to house hunt during a brief getaway. On Plantation Key in Islamorada, they found the four-acre, 6,000-square-foot oceanfront estate, Bali Hai, a Balinese-style retreat draped with orchids and subtropical flowers.
Originally envisioned as a second home to visit twice a year, Bali Hai became the couple’s full-time residence. The Landaus frequently host fundraisers and community gatherings there.
Bali Hai is also home during December holidays for the Landaus’ large extended family, which includes sons Jamie, 29, and Jodie, 25, as well as parents and friends. Celebrities frequently visit and Julie’s father, niece and goddaughter have moved nearby.
“For us, Islamorada has turned out to be the perfect location,” Jon said. “We love it here. We love the lifestyle — from the ocean to the art galleries. But best of all, we love the sense of community.”
Jon, who celebrated his 57th birthday in late July, has future plans to retire in the Keys. But retirement is not likely to come anytime soon. With director and co-producer James Cameron, he’s producing four sequels to “Avatar.” The first, dubbed “Avatar 2,” is to be released in December 2020.
To get home to Islamorada, Jon frequently takes red-eye flights into Miami from Los Angeles, New Zealand and other shooting locations across the globe.
“Since we purchased our home, I have been able to spend at least 200 days in the Keys each year,” he said.
In the Keys the Landaus — both Dive Alert Network members — are passionate about diving, fishing and community involvement. Julie also enjoys tennis and paddleboarding.
“We love anything on, under or above the water,” Jon said.
The couple has sponsored Islamorada’s Fourth of July festivities for six years. They also sponsor snow for the Islamorada Chamber of Commerce’s holiday festival at Founders Park each year. They’re active supporters of Mariners Hospital, Habitat for Humanity, the Upper Keys Humane Society and enjoy donating scholarships to graduating high school seniors.
“The more you’re involved, the more you’re a part of the community. We want to be involved in the Keys,” Jon said.
Not long after Hurricane Irma impacted the island chain in early September, he and Julie set up the Landau Family Hurricane Relief Fund for the Upper Keys. Coordinated through the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys, its mission is to distribute grants to residents and businesses to help with their recovery from Irma.
Though his world includes locales as far-flung as New Zealand and “Avatar’s” mythical realm of Pandora, for Jon Landau the Keys truly are home.