LONDON - What first signaled to a young, eager-to-please James Cameron that he'd make movie history with Sigourney Weaver? Her heels.
More than two decades ago, the director was waiting to meet her in a Santa Barbara, Calif., hotel to pitch his ideas for the film "Aliens" - the sequel to "Alien."
"I knew she was a tall girl," Cameron said. "I was thinking about her shoes. If she's wearing tall heels she's going to be this domineering personality and I'm going to be in for a rough ride. And if she's wearing flats, she's self-conscious about her height.
"She was actually wearing like a middle heel and I thought, 'OK this is going to work fine. She's going to be strong, she's going to be bold, but she's not going to be completely out of control,' " he said.
In 1985, Weaver signed the deal that made her the first million-dollar actress and the movie was released the following year.
Her second space mission as Ellen Ripley - an astronaut who confronts her fears by taking on the hostile aliens she'd encountered in the earlier film, "Alien" - earned her an Academy Award nomination.
Cameron went on to have more success with his "Terminator" sequel and won 11 Oscars for the doomed-love story "Titanic."
Earlier this month, Cameron and Weaver were discussing their relationship in London, after reuniting for another sci-fi adventure, "Avatar." The 60-year-old actress plays scientist Grace Augustine, who takes on a 10-foot alien form in order to explore the planet Pandora.
Q: Before Sigourney gets here, what do you think about the work you achieved together in "Aliens" with the strong female action character?
Cameron: It redefined strength. It wasn't just about physically kicking butt, it was about having the emotional strength. It's not about being strong and being fearless, it's what you do in the face of fear. And that's what that movie was all about. (Weaver arrives.)
Q: We were talking just before you came in about when you first met. He was telling me the story about wondering what shoes you were going to wear and how he was judging you.
Weaver: (Laughs.) I had forgotten about that.
Cameron: . . . [I]t was with some trepidation that I was meeting you because I wanted the meeting to go well. I really wanted to make the movie, I thought we could do something pretty amazing together.
Weaver: What astonished me just reading it, before I'd even met you, was that you knew more about Ripley than I did.
Cameron: It's interesting both Grace and Ripley are characters that are not believed by the male power structure. And I think that women feel that they're not listened to, that their outlook on a situation or their analysis of a situation is not as credible as a male perspective.
Q: Why do you think you're able to understand women and female characters like that?
Cameron: My mother is a good role model, she raised five kids old-school. She indulged in and supported my artistic endeavors, so that may be part of it. Maybe it's because I was a nerdy kid and wasn't the captain of the football team and if I wanted to have a date . . . I'd better start figuring out how women thought. I wasn't going to get by on my looks. And then as a filmmaker, I just naturally went toward the thing that people weren't doing because that was a way to be fresh and different.
Weaver: What I think is so wonderful about the way you write women is that action movies get a bad rap. Action is about character, and it's so exciting to see people who don't fall apart under pressure.
Cameron: It's like a chemistry experiment, I'm going to put some of this in, put some of that in, see if it blows up.
Weaver: Oh goody, it did.