"Avatar" director James Cameron back in spotlight

Fri Dec 18, 2009 1:47am EST
 
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By D.E. Williams

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - James Cameron is "the king of the world" again. "Avatar," the director's first feature since 1997's "Titanic," opens worldwide this weekend amid critical acclaim and expectations of boffo box office.

He recently spoke with the Hollywood Reporter about his early days, commercial success and his struggle to make "Avatar."

WHEN YOUR CAREER BROKE BIG IN 1984 WITH "THE TERMINATOR," YOU WENT FROM BEING A PART-TIME TRUCK DRIVER AND UNKNOWN FILMMAKER TO A HOT HOLLYWOOD WRITER-DIRECTOR.

Cameron: Well, I was actually a full-time truck driver and part-time scriptwriter! I remember pulling the truck over to the side of the road and hiding behind a billboard to write for 20 minutes, hoping that the other drivers wouldn't see me.

BUT AFTER THESE YEARS OF STRUGGLE, YOU BECAME A SORT OF QUINTESSENTIAL "OVERNIGHT SUCCESS." DID YOUR PERCEPTION OF FAME CHANGE?

I never thought of the director as ever being famous. My fantasy of it was that you sort of work in the shadows, creating these things. The actors become famous. But when I really got to the point of being recognized, even away from a venue where one of my films was screening, that's when it really started getting strange. The peak of that was, of course, the couple of weeks after the Academy Awards in 1998. Every other person on the street here in L.A. was looking at me.

THE "JAMES CAMERON" BRAND IS ON THE LEVEL OF A "GEORGE LUCAS" OR "STEVEN SPIELBERG." EVERY WRITER-DIRECTOR DREAMS OF HAVING THIS STATUS, BUT IS IT ALL IT'S CRACKED UP TO BE?

It's very helpful when you try to do something radical and new, like "Avatar." When I pitched it at Fox, it was good to have a track record of successful films, to be able to say to them that I've never directed a film that has lost money, and I'm not about to start now. That was maybe the most compelling thing I said when I was asking them to fund a very expensive film in which the main characters were going to be completely CGI, with blue faces and big golden eyes and tails! Sometimes they'd ask, "Do they need to have tails?" Like it was about the tails. Well, it wasn't about the tails, it was about the fact that they were computer-generated characters and their unease with that. But I had this track record, which helped. I don't care how good the script was, I could not have gotten "Avatar" funded if I hadn't made "Titanic."   Continued...