Titanic director James Cameron has revealed that Leonardo DiCaprio was almost not cast as Jack Dawson in the 1997 blockbuster as he was initially not going to read for the part.
The Oscar-winning romantic epic helped cement the Hollywood actor’s international stardom alongside co-star Kate Winslet, who played his love interest Rose DeWitt Bukater.
In an interview with GQ magazine, Cameron, 68, discussed how the classic pairing nearly did not happen and how DiCaprio, now 48, wanted a challenge with the role.
He said there was an initial meeting with DiCaprio where he “charmed everyone”.
“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 said.
“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’.”
Cameron said a few days later DiCaprio arrived but did not realise he was there to do a screen test and protested at the idea.
The director recalled the actor telling him, “Oh, I don’t read”, to which Cameron said he responded by shaking his hand and thanking him for his time.
When DiCaprio saw the opportunity slipping away, Cameron 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?”
Cameron then explained to DiCaprio the importance of the role, 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 f*** it up by making the wrong decision in casting, so you’re going to read or you’re not going to get the part.”
The director said that when DiCaprio started the screen test “every ounce of his entire being was so negative” until Cameron said “action”, and then the actor 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’.”
Cameron also recalled how DiCaprio 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.
Cameron 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 f****** 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.”
Cameron said DiCaprio then understood this would be a “really hard, challenging film for him” which is what he wanted.
“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 Winslet 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 and had got the nickname Corset Kate.
He said he had initially been thinking someone like Gwyneth Paltrow would suit the role better, but met Winslet and felt she was “fantastic”.
Titanic won a host of Oscars in 1998 including best picture and best director for Cameron.