Leonardo DiCaprio has played countless memorable characters throughout his career, but when it comes down to it, none is perhaps as iconic around the world as his starring role in a little-known film called titanic
Leo and Kate Winslet starred as Jack and Rose in the 1997 blockbuster, and their stellar performances quickly established them as one of the most iconic screen duos in cinema history.
However, according to their director, the pairing was close to being scrapped.
James Cameron sat down this week to retrace the behind-the-scenes magic of some of his most famous titles with GQ and recalled the controversial casting process for titanic.
First, the filmmaker explained that getting Kate to play the lead was a no-brainer and it was done “pretty early” in finding her stars.
Although Kate originally considered Gwyneth Paltrow for Rose, she walked in and did a “fantastic” audition and immediately secured the gig.
As for her co-star, if you’ll excuse the pun, the process didn’t go so smoothly.
With Kate firmly on board, the search for Jack was on, and after he recently received his first Oscar nomination What does Gilbert Grape eat? In 1994 Leo was on top.
Recalling his first meeting with Leo, James reflected on the inevitable buzz around the young movie star.
“I’m sitting in my conference room waiting to meet an actor, and when I look around, all the women from the entire office are in the meeting,” he laughed. “They all just wanted to meet Leo. It was hysterical.”
Unsurprisingly, Leo’s first meeting was a resounding success, and James said he “enchanted” everyone, including himself. However, that wasn’t quite enough to seal the deal.
Before they could offer him the role, Leo had to team up with Kate for a screen test, and this is where it got a little tricky.
“He came back a few days later and I had the camera set up to record the video,” recalls the director. “He didn’t know he was going to test. He thought it was another meeting to get to know Kate.”
At this point, James said that Leo refused to read with Kate, which almost brought the audition to an abrupt end.
“I said, ‘Okay, we’ll just go into the next room and we’ll do a few lines and I’ll video it.’ And he said, “You mean I read?” I said yes.” He said, ‘Oh, I don’t read,'” James recalled. “I shook his hand and said, ‘Thanks for stopping by.'”
Eager to land the part, the sudden dismissal shook Leo and made him reconsider, asking, “Wait, wait, wait. If I don’t read, will I not get the role? Just as?”
In response, James set the record straight and clarified that Leo couldn’t cut corners if he wanted to be cast.
“‘Oh yeah. Come on. This is a giant film that’s going to take two years of my life and you’re going to do five other things while I do post-production,'” he told the actor. “‘Well, me I’m not going to mess it up by making the wrong decision in the casting. Well, you’re going to read or you’re not going to get the part.'”
Leo agreed to the screen test but apparently wasn’t overly keen – until the cameras started rolling.
“So he comes in and he’s like every ounce of his entire being is so negative — until I said, ‘Action.’ Then he turned into Jack,” James said of the screen test. “Kate just lit and they acted the scene. Dark clouds had opened up and a ray of sunshine came down and illuminated Jack. I say, ‘Okay. He’s the guy.’”
Of course, we don’t have to tell you that he obviously made the right decision, as Leo and Kate’s palpable on-screen chemistry helped propel the film into a stratospheric success.
Looking back on his choice, the Oscar winner reflected on how “fragile” the casting process can be and how it can determine a film’s success along with the rest of an actor’s career.
“You’re trying to imagine this movie without Leo or Kate, it’s very hard,” James said, acknowledging that the film was a bit out of his comfort zone at the time Leo was cast.
He said that Leo – who was 21 at the time titanic was shot – had been keen to give Jack’s character a more complicated touch, saying he even suggested changing the script to give him “some suffering” and a “traumatic thing from the past”.
However, James felt that this was not necessary and went on to give him some pointers to help him execute the performance in a more refined way.
“I said, ‘Look, you’ve played all these great characters who all have a problem, whether it’s addiction or whatever… You have to learn to stay centered and not have all that stuff,'” he said Lion. “‘Then you’re ready for this,'” he added.
This was apparently a major turning point for the actor and ultimately helped him master the role.
“The second I said that, it clicked for him that this was a really tough, challenging film for him,” James recalled. “[Leo] didn’t want anything easy, he wanted something heavy, and that’s been his instinct ever since.”