Leonardo DiCaprio nearly blew his audition for Titanic

Director James Cameron wasn't a fan during his early auditions

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet Titanic
(Image credit: © Twentieth Century Fox)

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater have remained one of Hollywood’s most beloved onscreen romances, bringing audiences to tears in the mega-hit Titanic

But it turns out that things almost didn’t go DiCaprio’s way during casting when he nearly bailed on a part of the audition, according to director James Cameron.

Cameron stopped by GQ to film a video called James Cameron Breaks Down His Most Iconic Films and touched on the blockbuster. He spoke about the early pre-production years of the film and moved onto the topic of casting, which is when the conversation moved onto DiCaprio.

Back then, DiCaprio was making his name as a serious dramatic actor after sweeping awards for his performance in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? in 1993.

Moving to Titanic was a departure for the star and DiCaprio eventually came in for a meeting, then later a screen test.

Cameron recalled it was “hysterical” that all the women in the office, including an accountant, showed up for DiCaprio’s screen test where he “charmed everybody, myself included.” He later was asked to do a chemistry test with Kate Winslet, where he was expected to read a scene with her, which is where things went awry.

“He didn’t know he was gonna test,” Cameron explained.

“He said, ‘Oh, I don’t read.’ And I said ‘well,’ and I shook his hand and I said, ‘Thanks for coming by,’” Cameron recalled. 

“He said, ‘Wait, wait, wait, you mean if I don’t read, I don’t get the part - just like that?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’”

After Cameron gave him an ultimatum that he needed to do the reading, he continued: “So [DiCaprio] comes in and every ounce of his entire being is just so negative, right up until I said action. And then he turned into Jack.”

Although DiCaprio was eventually cast, the actor still apparently had some reservations about the role according to Cameron. He eventually approached the Avatar director to ask for some script changes to give Jack “some kind of affliction, or some problem, or some traumatic thing in his past” which Cameron eventually shut down.

He recalls he told the actor: “You gotta learn how to hold the center and not have all that stuff. This isn’t Richard III. I’m thinking you’re not ready, because what I’m talking about is much harder. Those things are easier, those are props. Those are crutches.”

After that, Cameron said it “clicked” for DiCaprio - leading to one of the biggest box office successes of all time. 

Throughout the video, Cameron also shared a few other tidbits about Titanic: including how at one point they nearly built the actual cruise ship as well as initial reservations about Kate Winslet, who was mostly known for acting in period dramas at the time. 

DiCaprio has largely strayed away from roles similar to Jack since then, instead pursuing other differently challenging roles in films such as Django Unchained and The Revenant (which he won an Oscar for). 

Cameron said: “He didn’t want something that was easy. He wanted something that was harder…He knew how to map a career, he just didn’t know specifically what to do in that moment.”

Megan C. Hills

Megan is a freelance journalist who covers entertainment and all things lifestyle, with a particular passion for fashion, beauty, travel and Keanu Reeves stories. She has previously worked on staff for titles including Marie Claire UK, CNN Style and The Evening Standard and has written for titles such as Bustle UK, Wallpaper*, Forbes and Hong Kong Tatler. She splits her time between London and her hometown Hong Kong, where she currently lives with the love of her life - an elderly dog named Poppy - and her husband.