In London last week, ahead of Avatar's world premiere, James Cameron was in a surprisingly relaxed mood. "It's great that finally it will be out there, that people will be able to see it and not just see the little sneak previews we've been feeding them," he enthuses. He confesses to being a little curious as to what the reaction would be from "Avatar Day" earlier this year. Was he nervous? "A little maybe, but we knew what we had was something different and something people hadn't seen before. Plus, you know, the footage we showed was a very small part of the finished product - 15 minutes from a two-and-a-half- hour film - so we just wanted to give people an idea of what to expect."
The film is Cameron's first theatrical release since Titanic. It also marks the first time he has worked with Sigourney Weaver since Aliens 30 years ago. "I was hesitant to cast Sigourney, not because she wasn't right but just because I was wary of people thinking we were repeating ourselves, thinking this was sort of a reunion," he says. "But the more the story developed, the more I realised she was perfect for the part."
For the main role, Cameron chose one of the most promising actors in Hollywood, who had already starred in two of the most successful summer blockbusters of the year. Sam Worthington, the Australian star of Terminator Salvation, takes the lead part of Jake, and for Cameron it was all about getting the man to fit the character. "What we wanted to do with Jake was find the actor to play him, not match him up to what was written on a page. You can get caught up in writing a character, so we went about trying to find the right actor for the type of person we felt Jake was. Sam matched it perfectly."
Worthington's lead is an ex-marine, and the script gives a clear insight to the mentality of a soldier, something Cameron had some insight on. "A lot of those themes were already there in 1995, because of the conflict in the Gulf," he recalls. "My brother Dave was a marine. He's a former marine now, but as they say: 'There's no such thing as a former marine.' A lot of his ideas about war and about conflict went into the story." So is Unobtainium, the energy resource fought over in the film, a metaphor for the goals of modern conflict? "That's why I didn't explain what Unobtainium was," Cameron says. "It could be oil, because that's what a lot of people believe what's being fought over now. But were this story told in another time, there would have been something we were fighting over - diamonds in South Africa, animal pelts in Canada. It's whatever makes people get on ships and take from other people."
As he leaves, with his unveiling mere hours away, he's in a positive mood. "We can hold our heads high now. We got it done on time, even if it was by the skin of our teeth!" However, he remains coy about future Avatar movies. "I have stories in mind for two more films, but we'll have to see how the film does before we think about doing any more. The way I pitched it to Fox was that we would spend a lot of money on the first film, but with the second we'd already have the assets - the trees, animals, everything we created, so we wouldn't have to pay for that again. And people hopefully would have liked the first film, so we would spend less on advertising. That's the way I pitched it, but when it came to production I often joked that I dreaded the film making money, because then we'd have to do it all over again."