For a director who's spent the last 30 years making action-packed sci-fi movies with big explosions geared toward young men, James Cameron has always had a surprising weakness for tough chicks. Sigourney Weaver's gun-toting Ripley ( Aliens); Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor, the surprise action heroine of the Terminator films; and Kate Winslet's Rose, who starts out meek before transforming into a class warrior in Titanic. And the women of Avatar: the chain-smoking scientist who battles her evil corporate employers (played by the talented Miss Ripley, Weaver), and the Na'avi heroine (Zoe Saldana) who teaches Sam Worthington's male lead how to be a real man.
Then there is Cameron's ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow, against whom he'll be squaring off on March 7 when the Oscars come to the Kodak Theatre.
"He's not someone who can conceal his disdain for people. It's clear to me that he's very authentic in his respect for her."
His film Avatar is nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Sound Effects, and Best Sound Editing.
Her film The Hurt Locker, about a bomb-detonating squad in Iraq, is nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Sound Effects, and Best Sound Editing.
Talk about a battle of the exes. Except that everything about it is unsensational.
• 10 Oscar Shockers• And the Oscar Nominees Are...At the Critics Choice Awards a couple of weeks back, Cameron was among the first to stand up and cheer when she beat him for Best Director and Best Picture. Two nights later, she was cheering him on when he beat her for Best Director and Best Picture.
Of course, a cynic might say that there's no better way to run an Oscar campaign than to appear as supportive as possible. It wouldn't help Cameron, or Bigelow, if either of them seemed bitter on the evenings when they came home from an awards gala empty-handed.
But it appears that the two really are friends. Rebecca Keegan, the author of The Futurist, a recent biography of Cameron, said in an interview, "He's not someone who can conceal his disdain for people. It's clear to me that he's very authentic in his respect for her. Normally in Hollywood, you'd think 'Oh, these people are being nice to each other publicly and they're gritting their teeth.' I don't think that's the case here. He's just not the kind of guy that can do that."
According to Keegan's book, Cameron attended an early screening of The Hurt Locker with his present wife, Suzy Amis. And, Keegan said, Bigelow had something of a dialogue with him throughout the editing process. "He saw it at various stages of completion before he went to that screening," the biographer said.
Meanwhile, a source close to Cameron told The Daily Beast that Bigelow visited Cameron "several" times during the making and editing of Avatar.
It's all part of a history that has been friendly ("a mutual admiration society," said the source), even if the breakup between them was presumably difficult, coming after several years not only of living together, but working together as well.
Bigelow and Cameron became involved around the time she was making Blue Steel, a 1989 action film starring Jamie Lee Curtis as a female cop, and he was making The Abyss, about a diving team searching for a lost nuclear submarine. (They run into Aliens instead.) According to Keegan's book, the two filmed in different cities and flew to be with each other on weekends.
They had a lot in common, down to their film interests. He was a man who made big movies with explosions, though they frequently came from a female perspective. She was a woman with an unlikely penchant for action-packed movies about men.
Both have used actors like Lance Henriksen and Jenette Goldstein, as well as Curtis and Bill Paxton.
When Cameron directed a video for Paxton's band, Martini Ranch, he cast Bigelow in it to play Clint Eastwood.
As the romance between them deepened, so did their professional involvement. He became a producer on a film she was developing about male surfers, which became the surprise hit Point Break. Then they started working together on Strange Days, a futuristic sci-fi epic he wrote about a cop investigating a murder.
The project took several years to complete, and in the midst of it, he did Terminator 2, where he became involved with his female lead, Linda Hamilton. The relationship marked the end of the marriage, but Strange Days trudged ahead, with Bigelow as director.
The film didn't succeed at the box office, but the hand-held cameras Bigelow was experimenting with on it were remarkably similar to the ones she used to great effect more than a decade later on The Hurt Locker. Similarly, the planet-in-peril theme, which Cameron also explored in Terminator, was one he returned to with more artistic success in Avatar.
After Cameron's relationship with Hamilton fizzled, he became involved with Suzy Amis, an actress who appeared in Titanic. The two are now married. As for Bigelow, she's involved with Mark Boal, the screenwriter behind The Hurt Locker.
Recently, Cameron said, "I've been married more times than I've been nominated."
Perhaps it was inevitable he'd be up for an Oscar competing against a former spouse.
Jacob Bernstein is a senior reporter at The Daily Beast. Previously, he was a features writer at WWD and W Magazine. He has also written for New York magazine, Paper, and The Huffington Post.