Leonardo DiCaprio is known as one of the best actors of his generation. Although the actor had his breakthrough in 1993 while playing opposite of Robert De Niro in This Boy’s Life, DiCaprio didn’t become a household name until 1997 when he played Jack Dawson in James Cameron’s Titanic. Surprisingly, the actor’s smugness almost cost him the role that made him famous.
Cameron, the epic filmmaker, recently sat down with GQ to discuss his most iconic films. Of course, Titanic was first on the list. As the director, writer, producer, and co-editor of the romance classic, Cameron shared how DiCaprio almost lost the role of Jack because of his negative attitude.
Once the director met DiCaprio, Cameron knew there was something special about the actor.
As the filmmaker remarked, “Leo came in, charmed everybody, myself included, and I said, ‘All right. Let’s see what your chemistry’s like with Kate.’ So he comes in a couple days later, and I’ve got the camera set up to record the video. He didn’t know he was gonna test. He came in; he thought it was another meeting to meet Kate.”
Not only was DiCaprio not prepared to read, but he was also insistent that he doesn’t do readings for roles. At that point, Cameron “shook his hand and said, ‘Well, thanks for coming by.’”
Perplexed, Cameron recalled how the actor asked, “‘You mean, if I don’t read, I don’t get the part, just like that?’”
Cameron let DiCaprio know that this was a “giant movie” that would end up taking the filmmaker two years to complete. The director let the actor know, “I’m not gonna f*ck it up by making the wrong decision in casting. So you’re gonna read or you’re not gonna get the part.’”
DiCaprio Was Extremely Negative Before Reading The Lines
The actor eventually agreed to read the lines but not without being smug. As Cameron recalled, “Every ounce of his entire being was so negative until I said, ‘Action!’ Then he turned into Jack, and Kate just lit up. They went into this whole thing, and he played the scene. Dark clouds opened up, and a ray of sun came down and lit up Jack. And I’m like, ‘All right. He’s the guy.’”
However, even after Cameron had the studio agree to have him play the role, DiCaprio had some thoughts about the script.
Apparently, he wanted to add some “traumatic event” to Jack’s past that caused the character an “affliction.” Cameron wasn’t about to change the character and began to think that he had chosen the wrong actor for the role.
He told DiCaprio, “‘I’m thinking you’re not ready, because what I’m talking about [you doing] is actually much harder.” Cameron simply wanted the actor to have Jack be a normal guy on the boat, without bringing any emotional baggage on board the Titanic.
After saying this to the actor, the filmmaker shared, “The second I said that it clicked for him that this was a really hard, challenging film for him. And I realized my mistake. I hadn’t laid out the challenge for him sufficiently.”
Turns out, DiCaprio was looking for something that was hard, which was exactly what Titanic offered. Thank goodness because we can’t possibly imagine the classic film without DiCaprio playing Jack!