James Cameron Says Leonardo DiCaprio Nearly Lost Titanic Role Over His Attitude in Audition

TITANIC, Leonardo DiCaprio, 1997.
TITANIC, Leonardo DiCaprio, 1997.

20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

Leonardo DiCaprio came close to never playing his arguably most famous and iconic character when he somewhat butted heads with James Cameron during the audition process for Titanic.

In a video career retrospective for GQ published Tuesday, the Oscar-winning filmmaker spent a good portion of time talking about his 1997 historical drama epic, which for a span of years was the top-grossing film of all time.

Beyond his initial consideration of rebuilding the entire doomed ship (which launched in 1911 and sank on April 15, 1912), and his liking for Gwyneth Paltrow in the role of Rose before he met Kate Winslet, Cameron spilled on casting DiCaprio as Jack, which almost fell apart over the actor's poor attitude during auditions.

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TITANIC, from left: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, 1997
TITANIC, from left: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, 1997

Merie W. Wallace/20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

"There was a meeting with Leo and then there was a screen test with Leo," Cameron said, setting the scene. "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."

The filmmaker said the first meeting went well and DiCaprio "charmed everybody" so he was asked back for a read with Winslet, who had already been cast. It did not go as smoothly. At least, not at first.

"So he came back a couple of days later, and I had the camera set up to record the video," Cameron recalled. "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.' And he said, 'Wait, wait, wait. If I don't read, I don't get the part? Just like that?' And I said, 'Oh, yeah. Come on. This is a giant movie that is going to take two years of my life, and you'll be gone doing five other things while I'm doing post-production. So, I'm not going to f--- it up by making the wrong decision in casting. So, you're going to read, or you're not going to get the part.'"

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1/18/98 Beverly Hills, CA. James Cameron and Leonardo DiCaprio at the Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton.
1/18/98 Beverly Hills, CA. James Cameron and Leonardo DiCaprio at the Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton.

Ron Wolfson/Getty

DiCaprio reluctantly agreed to read and was indignant until the camera was rolling, Cameron claimed.

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"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," the director explained. "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.'"