I was walking with two friends across the Fox lot after that 500 Days of Summer screening, and who do I see coming out of a post-production facility but Avatar director Jim Cameron? The helmer of Titanic, Aliens, The Abyss and T2 was getting into his cream-colored SUV when I waved and said, “Hey, Jim.” He walked over and we spoke for a couple of minutes. I didn’t machine-gun him with Avatar questions. I wanted to be cool and laid-back and I was, I think.

Cameron’s hair is longish and flowing (like in the above video clip) and grayish white. His skin is smooth and healthy-looking. He doesn’t look older as much as different, as if an ’09 version has replaced the earlier models. I first spoke to him on the phone in ’85 following the success of the first Terminator. My first Cameron interview was for the N.Y. Daily News, around the release of True Lies. We later did a Titanic phoner when I was with People. And I listened to him talk about deep-sea stuff at the Santa Barara Film Festival a couple of years ago.

I asked him about a career-overview book that Rebecca Winter Keegan is writing called “The Futurist” which he’s cooperating with (and has asked his colleagues to follow suit) to ensure accuracy.

He alluded to his long hiatus from feature-film directing — ’97 to ’05. We all know what Cameron did with his time and money (deep sea explorations, 3-D technology, etc.), which I presume he found interesting and nurturing and satisfying on at least a couple of levels. But we’re not here to be happy and satisfied, dammit. We’re here to be what we can do. Another way of putting it, as William Burroughs did at a Manhattan poetry reading that I attended in the late ’70s, is that “we’re here to go.” We’re here to do the sometimes very difficult creative thing and to endure the necessary byproducts of stress and suffering and lovelessness and what-have-you. Because “art isn’t easy,” as Stephen Sondheim once wrote.

All serious artists accept this. It can sometimes be brutal. It often hurts and wears you down and gives you lines in your forehead. It is my humble conviction that artists who wimp out on this so they can be happy are taking the dilletante path. I’ve always admired and respected Cameron and I’m certainly glad he’s back in the saddle, but no more eight-year vacations.

I asked Jim how many times he’s seen The Hurt Locker, directed by his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow, and he said twice. I told him I’ve seen it four times. He said he feels slightly responsible for her making it since they had a discussion two or three years ago about which project she might do. At some point Kathryn mentioned “this other thing” about Iraq as a kind-of secondary option, and Cameron told her, “Are you kidding? You should do this. This is a report from the front and people need to see it.” I told him I think it’s her finest film by far, and he seemed more or less on the same page.

He had to head out to a meeting in Malibu that he and producer Jon Landau were late for so we said our goodbyes. I guess we’ll all start to hear about Avatar screenings sometime in October.