Leonardo DiCaprio almost missed his role in Titanic after refusing to do a screen test with co-star Kate Winslet.
James Cameron, who directed the 1997 disaster film, recalled in an interview with QG DiCaprio’s audition for the role of Jack Dawson.
“I remember there was a meeting with Leo and then there was a screen test with Leo,” Cameron said. “So the meeting was funny because I’m sitting in my conference room waiting to meet an actor, right? And I look around and all the women from all over the office are in the meeting for a whatever reason. Like there was an executive producer, okay, okay. But our accountant? Why was she at the meeting? They all just wanted to meet Leo, it was hysterical.
The director explained that after Leo “charmed everyone” at the reunion, he was asked to come back for a screen test with Winslet, who played Rose.
Cameron added: “So he came back a few days later and I set up the camera to record the video. He didn’t know he was going to test. He thought it was another meeting to meet Kate. So I I said, ‘Okay, we’ll just go to the next room, we’ll play some lines and I’ll film it.’ And he said, ‘You mean, I read?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Oh, I don’t read.’
“And I said, ‘Well,’ and I shook his hand. I said, ‘Well, thank you for coming.’ And he said, ‘Wait, wait, you mean if I don’t read, I don’t get the part, just like that?’ And I said, ‘Oh yeah, come on. It’s like a giant movie, it’s going to take two years of my life, and you’re going to do five other things while I do post-production. So, I’m not going to ruin everything by making the wrong casting decision. So you’re going to read, or you won’t get the part.'”
DiCaprio went ahead with the screen test, and although he was initially “negative”, Cameron was impressed with his sudden transformation into Jack.
“So [DiCaprio] comes in and he’s like, every ounce of his whole being is so negative,” Cameron said. “Until I said ‘Action’ and then he turned into Jack. And Kate just turned on and they went into it all. Dark clouds had opened and a ray of sunshine came down and illuminated Jack.
Cameron explained that DiCaprio later returned to the director after convincing the studio to take him on, where he suggested changing the character of Jack so that he had “an affliction” or a “traumatic thing from the past.”
“I said, ‘Look, you’ve done all these great characters who all have a problem, whether it’s addiction or whatever,’ I said, ‘You have to learn to hold the center and not not have all that. It’s not Richard III,” Cameron recalled.
“When you can do what you know Jimmy Stewart did or Gregory Peck, they just fucking stood there. They didn’t have any limping or lisping or anything else, so you’ll be prepared for that. But I think you’re not ready, because what I’m talking about is actually much harder. These things are easier, they are props, they are crutches. What I’m talking about is much more difficult and you’re probably not quite ready for it.
“The second I said it clicked for [DiCaprio] that it was a really hard and challenging movie for him. And I realized my mistake, I hadn’t challenged him enough.
Cameron is currently promoting Avatar: The Way of the Watersequel to 2009 Avatar. The film is set to hit theaters on December 16.