James Cameron reveals how Leonardo DiCaprio almost lost the role of ‘Titanic’

‘You either read or you don’t get the part’

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Titanic helped turn Leonardo DiCaprio into a global movie star in 1997. But according to the film’s writer and director James Cameron, he almost didn’t get the role of Jack Dawson in the Oscar-winning hit.

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In a recent interview with GK to promote the imminent release of his highly anticipated avatar sequel, Cameron recalled how DiCaprio — who was 23 when the film opened in theaters — originally refused to read for the part of Jack opposite Kate Winslet during an early screen test.

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“Leo came in – of course he put a spell on everyone, including myself,” recalls Cameron, 68. “And I said, ‘Okay, let’s see how your chemistry is with Kate.'”

When the Oscar winner returned, he thought it was normal to see Winslet in person one more time.

“So he came back a few days later and I had the camera set up to record the video. He didn’t know he was going to test. He thought it was another meeting to meet Kate. So I said, ‘Okay, we’ll just go into the next room, and we’ll go over some lines and I’ll film it,’ Cameron continued.

“And he said, ‘You mean I’m reading?’ I said, “Yes.” He said, “Oh, I don’t read.” I shook his hand and said, “Thanks for stopping by.” And he said, “Wait, wait, wait. If I don’t read, I won’t get the part? Just like that?” And I said, “Oh, yeah. Come on. This is a huge movie that’s going to take two years off my life, and you’re going to be doing five other things while I do post-production. So I’m not going to screw it up by making the wrong decision.” when casting. So you either read or you don’t get the part.’”

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With other actors for the role, including Matthew McConaughey, DiCaprio agreed, but was clearly unhappy with Cameron’s request until they started filming.

“He comes in and he’s like every ounce of his whole being is just So negative – until I said “Action”. Then he turned into Jack,” the director revealed. Kate just lit up and they played the scene. Dark clouds had broken open and a ray of sunshine came down and illuminated Jack. I’m like, ‘Okay. He’s the man.’”

Titanic was a huge box office hit and became the highest-grossing film of all time (a record it held until Cameron came out avatar in 2009). The film was also an awards season powerhouse, winning 11 of the 14 Academy Awards for which it was nominated, including Best Picture and Best Director.

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In the years since its release, Cameron has defended Jack’s death at the end of the film after many critics—including the Mythbusters—claimed that Dawson could have babysat the door with Winslet’s Rose after the ship sank.

James Cameron, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet on the set of Titanic.
James Cameron, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet on the set of Titanic. Photo by 20th Century Fox

But speaking to Vanity Fair to celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2017, Cameron revealed that the beloved movie character couldn’t live for artistic reasons.

“The answer is very simple, because it is on page 147 [of the script] that Jack dies. Very simple,” Cameron tells Vanity Fair. “Obviously it was an artistic choice, the thing was just big enough to hold her, not big enough to hold him… I think it’s all a bit crazy that we’re having this discussion 20 years later. But it does show that the film succeeded in making Jack so endearing to audiences that it pains them to see him die. Had he lived, the ending of the movie would have been meaningless. … The film is about death and divorce; he had to die. So whether it was that or a chimney fell on him, he went down. It’s called art, things happen for artistic reasons, not for physical reasons.”

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After an episode of Mythbusters theorized that Jack could have survived by tying Rose’s life jacket under the door, Cameron was once again on the defensive.

“Okay, so let’s play that out: you’re Jack, you’re in 28-degree water; your brain is starting to get hypothermic,” Cameron told the Daily beast. “Mythbusters is asking you to take off your life jacket now, take off hers, swim under this thing, tie it up so it doesn’t just wash out two minutes later – meaning you can put this thing under water water at 28 degrees, and that takes you five to ten minutes, so by the time you come up again, you’re already dead, so that wouldn’t work.”

Being elsewhere GK interview, Cameron revealed that the new avatar movie is so expensive that it needs to make at least $2 billion at the worldwide box office, and become the fourth highest grossing movie of all time, just to break even.

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“You have to be the third or fourth highest grossing movie in history. That’s your threshold. That’s your break even,’ he said.

Original from Cameron avatar leads the box office package with $2.9 billion, followed by Avengers: endgame ($2.7 billion) and Titanic ($2.1 billion). To make his money back, Avatar: the way of the water will have to catch Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($2.07 billion) and Avengers: Infinite War ($2.05 billion) on the global money cards.

But in a 2019 interview with the SunCameron promised the sequel would be worth the wait.

“I deal with images in that world every day and there are days when I look at those images and say, ‘This is really amazing,'” Cameron said. “I’m not going to pat myself on the back with that comment.”

Avatar: the way of the water opens in theaters Dec. 16.

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