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James Cameron on a new 3D version of Terminator 2: Judgment Day

What can we expect from the Terminator 2 3D conversion?

That fully immersive experience you would expect from a contemporary 3D title — and you can just discover T2 all over again. In a way it feels like a very different film.

How did it feel to revisit a film you released in 1991?

It brings back a lot of fond memories, and a few that aren’t so fond, of the making of the film. It was a good chance to hang out in a grading room and share anecdotes. I got to be the crusty old guy sharing war stories.

Give us one!

There was a lot more emphasis on doing things practically — we did stunts that were challenging and if they had gone wrong, people could have been hurt. That is something I wouldn’t do today — I rely more on digital effects. But knowing we flew a helicopter under the bridge with about four feet of clearance… there was no other way to get the shot back then.

I guess they were Wild West times…

I’m fond of telling the story of when we blow up Cyberdyne. That was a rented building. The conversation with the owner went like this: ‘We want to rent your building, it’s a short-term lease, we only need it for about a month and we’re going to blow it up — how does that sound?’

Did they put the rent up?

[Laughs] Actually, when we blew it up I think the owner was sitting on the roof of a nearby building in a lawn chair with a beer, watching.

Did you ever imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger’s future would turn out as it has?

I certainly don’t think I could have imagined he would go on to become the governor of California. Arnold and I have been friends some 30 years and you never bet against Arnold! He will always surprise you with his tenacity and ability to make things happen.

I expect people would say the same about you.

Well, maybe, I don’t know. When I set my mind to something I make it happen but I pick my battles carefully. They may seem outlandish at the time I propose them but I have usually thought them through.

Were you always ambitious?

I think so. I was the kid who would get all the other kids together to dig a tunnel system and play breaking out of a prisoner-of-war camp or build a series of treehouses that interconnected with rope bridges. I remember one weekend it was imperative we build an Iroquois longhouse and that was the time we all wound up flat on our backs painted with camomile lotion because we decided to use poison ivy as a building material. There’s elements of risk in following me in any of my harebrained ideas!

Where are you with the four upcoming Avatar films?

I start working with the cast in September but I haven’t had a day off for several months and I’ve been working at it pretty much full-time for three years. So that’s design, writing four scripts that are worthy of the kind of budgets/audience expectations that would make it worthwhile, designing an entire world, completely revamping our virtual production pipeline and building the actual facilities.

So you don’t get much sleep…

Yeah, that’s pretty fair! Look, at this point in my life I could be painting my toenails in the back deck of a yacht somewhere in Ibiza but that doesn’t interest me at all.

Dreams feature in a lot of your work. Do you have recurring dreams yourself?

The Terminator came from a dream of a kind of death figure, a chrome skeleton emerging from a fire. A lot of the root imagery I had in Avatar came from dreams I had when I was still in college of a bioluminescent forest. Sometimes I’ll wake up from a nightmare and think, gosh, that was good, I can make a movie about that! I used to have recurring dreams about being killed by a tsunami. Then I made The Abyss and, even though the wave sequence didn’t make the release cut, there was a giant tsunami at the end of the film and I never had those dreams again.

So you’re turning your nightmares into movies…

Exactly — and getting paid for it!

Special event screenings of Terminator 2: Judgment Day in 3D will be in cinemas August 29, before nationwide release on September 1. Tickets: terminator2-3d.co.uk

At this point in life I could be painting my toenails on a yacht somewhere in Ibiza but that doesn’t interest me