But James Cameron recently revealed that DiCaprio’s hot-young-actor-on-the-rise attitude nearly cost him the role that made him a movie star.
Titanic (heard of it?) was a big gamble in 1995 when Cameron was looking to cast his doomed lovers. He had considered Gwyneth Paltrow for Rose DeWitt Bukater until he met Kate Winslet, who was “fantastic.” DiCaprio, meanwhile, was at or near the top of the list for Jack.
Merie W. Wallace/20th Century Fox James Cameron and Leonardo Dicaprio on the set of ‘Titanic’
“There was a meeting with Leo, and then there was a screen test with Leo,” Cameron recently told GQ. “The meeting was funny because I am sitting in my conference room, waiting to meet an actor. And I look around, and all the women in the entire office are in the meeting for some reason. There’s a female executive producer, okay, fine, but our accountant? They 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.'”
While everyone (including the accountant) was charmed by DiCaprio, Cameron wanted to make sure he and Winslet would have the kind of chemistry that could sell nude figure drawing. DiCaprio came back, thinking he was just going to meet his would-be leading lady, only to find that Cameron expected him — the Oscar-nominated star of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape who had just set young hearts running free as Romeo in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet — to read for the part.
Cameron says DiCaprio told him, “Oh, I don’t read.” That’s when Cameron shook the burgeoning heartthrob’s hand and said, “Well, thanks for coming by.” According to the director, a shocked DiCaprio replied, “Wait, wait, wait, if I don’t read, I don’t get the part. Just like that?'”
Cameron says he explained to DiCaprio that Titanic was “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. So I’m not going to 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.”
DiCaprio sucked it up and dragged his bangs to the screen test where, Cameron says, “every ounce of his entire being is entirely negative right up until I said, ‘Action,’ and then he turned into Jack. And Kate just lit up and they went into this whole thing and he played the scene. Dark clouds had opened up, a ray of sun came down and lit up Jack. I’m like, ‘All right, he’s the guy.'”
And the rest is history, which, in the other words of Céline Dion, “will go on and on and ooooooooooonnnn.”