In 1997, Leonardo DiCaprio became the king of the world, starring in James Cameron’s Titanic–but he almost never wore the crown at all. In a new video interview with GQ, James Cameron broke down some of his most famous movies, offering behind-the-scenes stories of the successes, challenges and, yes, primadonnas he has encountered.
On the topic of his 1997 Oscar-winning, box office-smashing Titanic, James Cameron recalled how he ended up casting both Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in the roles of Rose and Jack. But DiCaprio almost diva’d his way out of what would become one of his most important performances ever.
DiCaprio was of course a hit with the ladies–one meeting saw various women in the building, from producers to accountants, trying to sit in on a casual meeting–but he didn’t get off on the right foot with Cameron. When the director said he would need to do a screen test with Winslet, “He said, ‘Oh I don’t read.’…I shook his hand, I said, ‘Well, thanks for coming by.’” And that’s when DiCaprio snapped out of it. “And he said, ‘Wait wait wait, you mean if I don’t read, I don’t get the part, just like that?’ And I said…‘This is like a giant movie, it’s gonna take two years of my life and you’ll be gone…so I’m not gonna fuck it up by making the wrong decision in casting. So you’re gonna read or you’re not gonna get the part.”
After some huffing and puffing, DiCaprio relented, although just before the cameras rolled, Cameron said, “Every ounce of his entire being [was] just so negative.”
It’s quite curious that DiCaprio would refuse to read for the part. While he had already earned an Oscar nomination for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, he wasn’t yet the leading man he would come to be. And who knows how long that would have taken had Cameron actually booted him from the Titanic running.
Cameron also went into details on the making of the first two Terminator movies, Aliens, The Abyss and Avatar. His next film, and first feature in more than a dozen years, Avatar: The Way of Water, hits theaters on December 16th.