I don’t know need to tell you how much of a star Leonardo DiCaprio is. The Oscar winner has more memorable movies in his filmography than a good 90% of modern actors today in Tinseltown. Even before DiCaprio was cast as Jack Dawson in Titanic, the actor was known for roles in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Now, it’s not uncommon for actors to get a role without an audition. Talents such as Viggo Mortensen (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), and Chris Evans (Captain America) are just some of the names who got their iconic roles based on the strength of their talent alone.
There’s no denying Leonardo DiCaprio’s talent during that time, but any good filmmaker knows that sometimes an actor just doesn’t fit in a role, no matter how good they’ve previously been. That was James Cameron’s mindset when shooting Titanic as the director was a hotshot himself, fresh off the legendary Terminator and Alien franchises. The filmmaker is making media rounds for his upcoming Avatar sequel, Avatar: The Way of the Water, and James Cameron revealed how Leonardo DiCaprio almost lost one of the biggest roles of his career:
“There was a meeting with Leo and then there was a screen test with Leo,” Cameron told GQ magazine. “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. They all wanted to meet Leo. It was hysterical.”
DiCaprio got by on his wits and charm in the first meeting, but the screen test wasn’t something that he was expecting. Kate Winslet was already secured as the leading lady; however, when it came down to finding Jack Dawson, the Oscar winner needed to do the test or go home without the role, “He came back a couple of days later, and I had the camera set up to record the video,” Cameron said. “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 in the next room, and we’ll run some lines and I’ll video it.’ And he said, ‘You mean, I’m reading?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Oh, I don’t read.’ I shook his hand and said, ‘Thanks for coming by.'”
Obviously, Leo got the role. However, it wasn’t due to the fact that Cameron caved. Given the fact names such as Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale, and Paul Rudd auditioned for Dawson, Cameron had other creditable names to step into the lead. Thus, Cameron made it clear to Leo how important Titanic was and stated that if he didn’t read, then he wouldn’t get the part. Leo ultimately decided to do the reading, but he, the young actor, wasn’t happy about it, “So he comes in, and he’s like every ounce of his entire being is just so negative – right up until I said, ‘Action.’ Then he turned into Jack,” Cameron concluded. “Kate just lit up, and they played the scene. Dark clouds had opened up, and a ray of sun came down and lit up Jack. I’m like, ‘All right. He’s the guy.”
As you can see, the rest is history. Titanic went on to become the highest-grossing movie of all time until Avatar and Avengers: Endgame took its spot. Titanic left the 1998 Academy Awards with 11 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. It also made Leonardo DiCaprio even more of a star, so he would probably agree that reading for Titanic was worth it in the end.
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