You thanked 53 members of your cast and crew in your speech when you bagged the Best Film Oscar for Titanic (1997). The organisers couldn’t cut in because co-producer-director James Cameron was waiting to have his say too. But when you were nominated for Avatar (2009), the Academy must have wanted to want to time you...
They came to me a year after Titanic for my speech. They wanted to edit it in parts and show future nominees what was a ‘good speech’, an ‘okay speech’ and what ‘absolutely not to do’. It was fine with me but I warned them that if I ever won again, it would be a repeat act. I’m lucky, I get to keep this trophy, but I got it because of the team and it’s only right that I share my success with them.
It must have been disappointing when Avatar lost the Best Picture Oscar to The Hurt Locker (2008)...
I wasn’t disappointed for myself, but I didn’t understand how it didn’t win for Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Original Score. Kathryn Bigelow didn’t have to design sounds that didn’t exist, create Pandora and make music for the Na’vis.
Did winning an Oscar change your life and career?
It changed my life beyond my career. I get to speak at colleges and business schools. Recently, I addressed a group of seven managers at General Electric. They were corporate, but the minute I pulled out my Oscar statuette from my backpack, they turned into school kids. I never imagined I’d win an Oscar someday. I became a producer because I liked going to the movies and making them. But it was a high for my mother Ely, who along with my wife Barbara, and son Charles, was at the theatre that night, to see people recognising my work. My children, Charles and Kate are more interested in music, but this award taught them failure is not the problem, not trying is. Rose lost the love of her life in the Atlantic, yet she went to live a full life.
Ever met a person like Rose?
My mother, the pioneer, who when women were homemakers, secretaries and studio assistants, went out to produce movies.
What’s with the fascination for the Titanic?
It wasn’t really the ship, James came to me with a love story that struck a chord. Leonardo DiCaprio was every man and Kate Winslet an unconventional beauty trying to find herself. They found a love that made us believe that someone somewhere was waiting for us too. My wife and I were working on a movie, Beach Street, and for a year I’d drop her off on her dates. Then we went out to dinner and for the last 27 years, there’s been no one else. Fifteen years after Titianic released, and in the 100th year of the tragedy, we’ve brought the movie back in 3D not to make money, but to make another generation of moviegoers fall in love.
James and Avatar 2
“James Cameron challenges himself every day of his life. And he challenges you too to perform at a level you didn’t know you were capable of. There are times when he gets upset, but you understand that it’s not personal. James will not expect from you what he wouldn’t from himself. For him, Avatar was not so much about 3D and CGI as it was about creating characters who were engaging and emotional. And he pushed us to give him the close-ups he wanted to make this possible. Avatar 2 will come when it’s ready. Titanic was expected in July 1997, but came in December, Avatar too was a year late.”
India and its cinema
“What makes India is its people who are open and honest about what’s wrong with their country. No country is perfect, but Indians aren’t afraid to talk about their country’s shortcomings, which is refreshing."
“Kathryn is shooting her new film on Osama Bin Laden in India. For me, shooting in India is not about locations. I’d like to come here not because I need certain sights, but because I’d like to use Indian talent. That’s why we took Avatar to New Zealand."
“I’ve seen a few Bollywood films and I see you have the potential. I’ve never believed in the Bollywood-Hollywood divide. Cinema is about breaking barriers, what works here can work internationally too and vice versa.”