Leonardo DiCaprio Almost Missed Out On Titanic Role After Seriously Awkward Screen Test

Director James Cameron has lifted the lid on why he almost passed on the actor for the role that helped cement his international career.

It’s hard to imagine anyone else but Leonardo DiCaprio playing Jack Dawson opposite Kate Winslet in Titanic.

But the film’s director, James Cameron has revealed that Leo was almost not cast in the 1997 blockbuster after an awkward moment at his screen test.

The Oscar-winning romantic epic helped cement the Hollywood actor’s rise to international stardom alongside his British co-star, who played his love interest Rose DeWitt Bukater.

In an interview with GQ magazine, the filmmaker discussed how the classic pairing nearly did not happen and how Leo wanted a challenge with the role.

James said there had been an initial meeting with the actor where he “charmed everyone” but protested at having to do a screen test.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic
Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic
CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images

“The meeting was funny because I’m sitting in my conference room waiting to meet an actor, right? And I look around and all the women in the entire office are in the meeting, for some reason,” he recalled.

“Like, there’s a female executive producer, OK, fine. But our accountant? Why was she in the meeting? They just all wanted to meet Leo, it was hysterical.

“I looked around, and I went, ‘I think I already know the answer to the question here’.

“So Leo came in, of course, charmed everybody, myself included, and I said, ‘All right, well let’s see what your chemistry’s like with Kate’.”

The filmmaker said a few days later the actor arrived but did not realise he was there to do a screen test and was against the idea.

James recalled Leonardo telling him, “Oh, I don’t read”, to which the director said he responded by shaking his hand and thanking him for his time.

When Leonardo saw the opportunity slipping away, James said the Romeo + Juliet star asked: “Wait, wait, wait. You mean, if I don’t read, I don’t get the part just like that?”

James then explained the importance of the role to Leonardo, saying: “This is a giant movie that is going to take two years of my life and you’ll be gone doing five other things, while I’m doing post-production and all the model work and everything.

“So I’m not gonna fuck it up by making the wrong decision in casting, so you’re going to read or you’re not going to get the part.”

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack and Kate Winslet as Rose in Titanic.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack and Kate Winslet as Rose in Titanic.
CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images

The director said that when the actor started the screen test “every ounce of his entire being was so negative” until James said “action”, and then he transformed into the character.

“Kate just lit up and they went into this whole thing and he played the scene,” he added. “Dark clouds had opened up, a ray of sun came down and lit up Jack. I’m like, ‘All right, he’s the guy’.”

James also recalled how Leo came back to him after being cast with suggestions for the script, saying he wanted “some affliction or problem or some traumatic thing from the past” for his character.

Kate Winslet, James Cameron, and Leonardo DiCaprio at the 55th Annual Golden Globe in 1998.
Kate Winslet, James Cameron, and Leonardo DiCaprio at the 55th Annual Golden Globe in 1998.
Ron Galella, Ltd. via Getty Images

James said he told the star: “Look, you’ve done all these great characters that all have a problem, whether its addiction or whatever it is. You’ve got to learn how to hold the centre and not have all that stuff.

“This isn’t Richard III. When you can do what (actors) Jimmy Stewart or Gregory Peck did – they just fucking stood there, they didn’t have a limp or a lisp or whatever – then you’ll be ready for this.

“But I’m thinking you’re not ready because what I’m talking about is actually much harder. Those things are easier, those are props, those are crutches.”

James said Leonardo then understood this would be a “really hard, challenging film for him” which is what he wanted.

Leonardo DiCaprio cemented his international stardom after he played Jack in Titanic.
Leonardo DiCaprio cemented his international stardom after he played Jack in Titanic.
Michael Ostuni via Getty Images

“You want the actor to love you, you want them to be in your movie, you want them to say yes so you make it all sound attractive,” he said.

“But he didn’t want something that was easy. He wanted something that was hard. And that’s been his instinct since then and it leads to things like The Revenant, right?

“You don’t get any harder than that. He knew how to map a career, he just didn’t know specifically what to do in that moment.”

The director also revealed that Kate was cast first but admitted she almost did not get the role because he thought it would be the “laziest casting in the world”, as she had done a number of historical dramas by this stage, earning her the nickname Corset Kate.

He said he had initially been thinking someone like Gwyneth Paltrow would suit the role better, but met Kate and felt she was “fantastic”.

Titanic won a host of Oscars in 1998 including Best Picture and Best Director.


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