James Cameron on how Leonardo DiCaprio almost didn’t play Jack in Titanic

Earlier this week Avatar: The Way of Water director and screenwriter James Cameron sit down with GQ to talk about his latest film. The acclaimed filmmaker ended up going through all of his films and revealing some behind-the-scenes information about each project he’s done. One of them was, of course Titanica film that is a landmark for both his career and cinema itself.


Titanic became the highest grossing film ever made in 1997, and made superstars out of lead actors Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. At the time, they probably didn’t realize how big it would be, but Cameron certainly knew what kind of project he was doing. Therefore, he had the clear idea that the casting of the star-crossed lovers Jack (DiCaprio) and Rose (Winslet) had to be perfect. During the interview, he revealed that he was initially hesitant to call Winslet for an audition, a decision he immediately regretted after watching her read lines to him. For DiCaprio, however, the casting process started wrong, and the director could easily have gone the other way if Leo had not broken his own rules. Cameron states:

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“So Leo of course came in and charmed everyone, myself included, and I said ‘Okay, let’s see how your chemistry is with Kate.’ So he comes in a few days later […] he didn’t know he wanted to test. He came in, he thought it was another meeting to meet Kate. And I said ‘Okay, so we’ll just go into the next room and we’ll just, we’ll run some lines and I’ll video it. And he said, ‘You mean I read?’, and I said ‘Yes!’ And he said, ‘Oh, I don’t read,’ and I said, well, I shook his hand and said, ‘Well, thanks for coming by.'”

Titanic Still

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Needless to say that Titanic the story could have gone very differently if DiCaprio had not felt angry with Cameron. As the director continues to tell the story, he reveals that the young actor was so frustrated that the director was unwilling to give him the part on the spot that he decided to audition regardless. What happened next was magical:

“So he comes in and he’s like… every ounce of his whole being is just so negative. Right up until I said ‘Action’ and then he turned into Jack. And Kate just lit up and they went into the whole thing and played the scene… Dark clouds had opened up and a ray of sunlight came down and lit up Jack. I’m like, ‘Okay, he’s the guy.’

Titanic was at the time of production the most expensive film ever made. It held the title of highest-grossing film of all time for 12 years and was the first to cross $1 billion in box office sales. Much of that success hinged on the undeniable chemistry between DiCaprio and Winslet, which had to fuel the story for at least over an hour – the sinking sequence doesn’t begin until about halfway through the film. The cast also contributes Kathy Bates, Billy Zane, Gloria Stuart, Victor Garberand Bill Paxton.

You can watch the full James Cameron interview below:

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