Earlier this week, Avatar: The Way of Water director and screenwriter James Cameron set down with GQ in order to talk about his latest movie. The acclaimed filmmaker ended upgoing through all his films, and revealed some behind-the-scenes information about every project he’s done. One of them was, of course, Titanic, a movie that is a landmark for both his career and cinema itself.
Titanic became the highest-grossing movie 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 putting together. That’s why he had the clear notion that the casting of 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 which he immediately regretted after watching her read him lines. For DiCaprio, however, the casting process started off on the wrong foot, and the director could easily have gone the other way if Leo hadn’t broken his own rules. Cameron states:
“So Leo came in, of course, 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 of days later […] he didn’t know he was gonna test. He came in, he thought it was another meeting to meet Kate. And I said ‘Okay, so we’ll just go in the next room and we’ll just, we’ll run some lines and I’ll video it.” And he said, ‘You mean I’m reading?’, and I said ‘Yeah!’ And he said, ‘Oh, I don’t read,’ and I said well, I shook his hand, and said ‘Well, thanks for coming by.’”
Needless to say, the Titanic story could have gone a lot differently if DiCaprio hadn’t felt angry at Cameron. As the director continues telling the story, he reveals that the young actor was so frustrated that the director wasn’t willing to give him the role on the spot, that he decided to audition out of spite. What happened next was magical:
“So he comes in and he’s like… every ounce of his entire 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 this whole thing and 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.’”
Titanic was, at the time of production, the most expensive film ever made. It held the title of highest-grossing film ever for 12 years, and it was the first one the cross the $1 billion in ticket sales mark. A lot of that success relied on the undisputable chemistry between DiCaprio and Winslet, which had to fuel the story for at least over an hour – the sinking sequence only begins about halfway through the movie. The cast also features Kathy Bates, Billy Zane, Gloria Stuart, Victor Garber, and Bill Paxton.
You can watch the full James Cameron interview below: