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James Cameron on Avatar 2 and How No One’s Really Dead in Sci-Fi

Last night, Popular Mechanics honored director James Cameron at their Breakthrough Awards. Sigourney Weaver, who's worked with Cameron on Aliens and Avatar, presented the award to him, joking, "How could I resist coming tonight to honor — and annoy — a man who I’ve known since I first woke up from a deep cryogenic sleep?" At the reception before the ceremony, we caught up with Cameron and spoke with him about the Avatar sequels, who would play him in a biopic, and being the watchdog of Na'vi culture.

Congratulations on the award! I noticed you geeking out over some of the innovations displayed here for the awards, especially the nano hummingbird camera.
I’m always geeking out.

Do you think you’d ever find an application for that?
Um, they need to work on their camera. [Laughs.] And if I want a hummingbird, I’d just use CG.

They’re talking about making a movie out of Steve Jobs’s life. You two have met. Who do you think should play him, and for that matter, if they were to ever do a bio pic about you, who would you want to play you?
We’d met, and I was a big admirer of his, but I wouldn’t say we were friends. Big influential guy, changed all our lives, really appreciate him. I have a hard enough time thinking about casting for my own movies, I don’t want to think about casting that. And for me? They’ll have to get someone a lot more handsome to play me! And I hope they never do that, by the way. At least not while I’m alive!

You’ve made a voice cameo in each of your films, and someone finally cut them together as a video, and it’s making the rounds on the Internet this week. Everything from the alien queen noises in Aliens to …
... Calling “Pull!” on Titanic. Yep!

I’m guessing some of these weren’t planned.
Usually it’s just because we need a line and there’s nobody around to do it, so I just grab a microphone and do it. It’s not because I think, Oh, I’m going to do a voice cameo, and people will notice! Usually it’s just for the expedience factor on that day. “I need this line, this line, and this line. Okay, you do that one, and I’ll be the voice of the carrier pilot." It’s really not planned, but it seems to work out that I end up doing a voice part in everything I do.

Sigourney is giving you the award tonight, and she’s supposed to be in Avatar 2, despite her character dying in the first Avatar.
Did I say she was going to be in Avatar 2? [Grins.]

She said she was.
Well, I don’t want to disabuse her of that fantasy. But have you ever heard of nonlinear storytelling? A lot happens on that planet before she shows up, and before Jake shows up to join her. She’s there for fifteen years ahead of time. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t jump to conclusions. And I’ve already said way too much about Avatar 2 and 3 here and there, but people piece it together like those voice cameos and tell the whole story!

Okay, I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t like what they did to Ripley when she died.
Okay, here’s the deal. When you have a science-fiction series, a science-fiction franchise, you’re never dead, unless your DNA is expunged from the universe. And then there’s always time travel!

You’re also working on Avatar at Disney World. What’s going to happen there? What would you like to see?
We’re going to meet and discuss it. They have big plans for it. They want to do a land, a number of different attractions, maybe a flight attraction, and retail outlets, things like that, make a whole environment of it, a themed experience. You would feel like you’re on Pandora. So I think my job and what I look forward to doing is making sure it’s consistent with Na’vi culture, with the themes and values of Avatar, and the next films as well. And they seem very open to that.

Are you going to be full force in Avatar world for the foreseeable future, or will you still be able to dabble here and there on other projects?
Not for the next five years! My next film, films are Avatar 2 and 3.

How are you planning to push 3-D technology in the Avatar sequels? What inspiration are you drawing from the scientific community, given that we’re surrounded by all these innovators here?
I always believe when you set a goal for a new product or a new process that you look around for the best people to create that. In terms of working with anyone here, I’d be honored! Like the guys who did this wind turbine, you know, I don’t think they need my help. They seem like smart people; they have their ducks in a row already, but I respect anyone who tackles something new that the world hasn’t seen before and succeeds.

Photo: Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images