Leonardo DiCaprio almost lost the role of the Titanic after he refused the screen test

According to director James Cameron, the audition process for Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Titantic” didn’t go smoothly. The Oscar-winning filmmaker took part in a retrospective video interview about his career for GQ magazine and recalled how DiCaprio initially refused to read for the role of Jack opposite Kate Winslet during a screen test. Cameron told the young actor, “You either read or you don’t 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’m sitting in my conference room waiting to meet an actor. And I look around, and all the women in the whole 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 somewhat controversial. By the time Cameron set up a screen test for DiCaprio, Winslet had already been locked in to play the role of Rose.

“He came back a few days later and I set up the camera 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 to the next room, and we’ll go over some lines and I’ll film it.’ And he said, “You mean I’m reading?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Oh, I don’t read.” I shook his hand and said, ‘Thanks for stopping by.’”

Cameron was ready to send DiCaprio off at that point, but the actor came back and said, “Wait, wait, wait. If I don’t read, I don’t get the part? Just like that?” Cameron replied, “Oh, yes. Come on. This is a huge movie that’s going to take two years off my life, and you’re going to do five other things while I do post-production. So I’m not going to screw it up by making the wrong casting decision. So you either read or you don’t get the part.’”

“So he comes in, and he’s like every ounce of his whole being is just so negative — until I said, ‘Action.’ Then he turned into Jack,” Cameron concluded. “Kate just lit up and they played the scene.” Dark clouds had broken open and a ray of sunshine came down and lit up Jack. I’m like, ‘Okay. He’s the man.'”

Bolstered by DiCaprio and Winslet’s chemistry, “Titanic” would go on to become the highest-grossing film of all time during its run. The film is now 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 below.

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