Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Titanic” audition process wasn’t smooth sailing, according to director James Cameron. The Oscar-winning filmmaker participated in a career retrospective video interview for GQ magazine and recalled how DiCaprio originally refused to read for the part of Jack opposite Kate Winslet during a screen test. Cameron told the young actor: “You’re going to read, or you’re not going to get the part.”
“There was a meeting with Leo and then there was a screen test with Leo,” Cameron said. “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 “charmed everyone” in his first meeting, but the screen test was a bit more contentious. By the time Cameron set up a screen test for DiCaprio, Winslet was already locked in to play the part of Rose.
“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.’”
Cameron was ready to turn away DiCaprio right then and there, but the actor came back to him and said, “Wait, wait, wait. If I don’t read, I don’t get the part? Just like that?” Cameron responded, “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 fuck it up by making the wrong decision in casting. So, you’re going to read, or you’re not going to get the part.’”
“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.’”
Bolstered by DiCaprio and Winslet’s chemistry, “Titanic” would go on to become the highest grossing movie of all time during its run. The film now ranks as the third highest-grossing title with $2.2 billion at the box office, unadjusted for inflation.
Watch Cameron’s full video interview with GQ magazine here.
This story first appeared on Variety.com.