When Sigourney Weaver and James Cameron teamed up to make Aliens, they made movie history in the process. Now, with a string of impressive solo accomplishments behind them both, the Oscar-nominated actress and Oscar-winning director are back together for Cameron’s highly anticipated Avatar, which promises to break new ground in filmmaking once again.

Shot in 3-D and utilizing revolutionary new CGI technology developed especially for the film, Cameron’s Avatar tells the story of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), an ex-marine in a wheelchair who discovers a new life as an avatar when he is recruited to join an expedition to the moon Pandora, where corporate interests are strip-mining for a mineral worth $20 million per kilogram on Earth.

As an avatar — a genetically grown remote-controlled body mixed from the DNA of the humans and the DNA of the Navi, the inhabitants of Pandora — and with the help of Weaver’s character Dr. Grace Augustine, Sully regains the ability to walk and embraces his adventurous spirit as he seeks to infiltrate the Navi clan in order to convince them to move on as the U.S. military program encourages them to do.

On the surface, the film may sound all futuristic and high-tech, which it is. But Weaver wants filmgoers to understand that at its heart, this movie is more than your average sci-fi adventure.

Avatar is a very beautiful, primeval, primary story with creatures and places and huge battles and things like that, [but] one thing that Jim [Cameron] is not is cynical,” the actress says. “There’s nothing modern and cynical about this story, and I hope people enjoy the old-fashioned-ness of it. I used to love settling into my seat and then it would say ‘David Lean presents’ or something like that and you’d know that you were going to be taken care of. You’d know that you were going to be taken to someplace and something was going to happen to you that you would be thinking about for days to come, and I feel like Avatar is that kind of movie.”

Smartly dressed in a black Bottega Veneta dress, Fred Leighton jewelry, and Yves Saint Laurent pumps, the statuesque Sigourney Weaver sat down for a chat with about her new role in James Cameron’s latest megafilm, how she feels about being thought of as sci-fi icon, and why she thinks that come Oscar time, Avatar just might score an armful of little golden statuettes. So right off the top, you’ve made lots of movie magic with James Cameron in the past. How was it to be working with him again, and was anything different this time around?
Sigourney Weaver: Well, it’s wonderful. I think we picked up right where we left off, except I think he’s merrier now. He’s very happy and he has all these kids and he was so excited about working on Avatar and so excited about working with each of us. He’s really a very gentle, encouraging director. [He] always makes you feel good about what you’re doing.

He’s still a taskmaster with technicians, but he’s great to work with. I wouldn’t want to say he’s mellowed, because that sounds like he needed to mellow, but I think, as I do too at my advanced age, we enjoy [the work] more because we know that the opportunities to do this kind of work are few and far between, and this felt like one of those jobs where it was fantastical and it was all new and it was about something, so we just scored totally.

I think [Cameron] had that feeling all the time. It’s incredibly ambitious what he’s done and he’s given every ounce of himself to it.

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