James Cameron shares some surprising details from the making of his blockbuster hit Titanic, which celebrates its 25th anniversary next month.
In a new video interview with GQ, the legendary director revealed that he almost didn’t end up casting Leonardo DiCaprio or Kate Winslet – his two romantic leads, whose careers as major Hollywood movie stars were cemented by the landmark Oscar-winning film.
While considering actors to play the roles of his hapless lovers on the doomed ocean liner, Cameron explained that he originally thought of someone like Gwyneth Paltrow for Rose and that while Winslet had been suggested as an option, he feared that she was too typecast.
“I actually didn’t see Kate at first,” he said in the video. “She’d been in a few other period dramas as well and got a reputation as a ‘corset Kate’ doing period stuff.” (It’s true that the The Reader actress’ three credits before Titanic were also period costume dramas were – “Sense and Sensibility” in 1995, followed by “Jude” and “Hamlet” a year later.)
Cameron went on to say that he was concerned that putting Winslet in the role would “look like the laziest casting in the world,” but that he still agreed to meet her in the end. Of course, he thought they were “fantastic,” and the rest is history.
DiCaprio, meanwhile, experienced some initial hiccups.
After an initially “hysterical” meeting with the heartthrob actor, which saw all of the women in the production office somehow end up in the conference room next to Cameron, DiCaprio was invited to a screen test with Winslet, who by that point had already been cast.
But when the Romeo + Juliet star walked in, he was surprised to learn he had to read lines and be filmed alongside Winslet to gauge their on-camera chemistry.
“He walked in thinking it was another meeting to meet Kate,” Cameron described.
He recalled telling the pair, “We’re just going to run a few lines and I’m going to film it.”
But then DiCaprio — who had by then directed several films and received an Oscar nomination in 1993 for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape — informed Cameron, “You mean I read? …I don’t read,” which meant he was no longer submitting to audition for film roles.
Without missing a beat, Cameron reached out to the star and said to him, “Well, thanks for stopping by.”
The director then explained to DiCaprio the enormity of the project in front of them, how the film would take two years of his life, and how he “wouldn’t screw it up by making the wrong casting decision.” ”
“So you’re going to read or you’re not going to get the part,” Cameron told the young actor.
DiCaprio reluctantly acquiesced to his credit.
Cameron recalled how the actor “lighted up” and “became Jack,” creating an electrical chemistry with Winslet that was later clearly seen in the film itself.
Titanic hit theaters on December 19, 1997 and eventually won 11 Oscars, including best director for Cameron.