Leonardo DiCaprio Was Very Negative During His Biggest Movie

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Leonardo DiCaprio’s ego almost cost him his role in Titanic, as he initially refused to read for the part to director James Cameron.

By Vic Medina
| Published

It’s hard to imagine James Cameron’s Titanic without Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson and Kate Winslet as Rose Bukater, but that iconic pairing almost didn’t happen because of a young DiCaprio’s unchecked ego. In a new interview with GQ, director Cameron reveals that DiCaprio’s cocky attitude almost cost him the role in one of the biggest movies of all time. “I don’t read,” Cameron recalls DiCaprio telling him during his audition, refusing to read lines from the script in order to secure the part.

The audition set off a brief clash of personalities that almost derailed the actor’s appearance in the film. Cameron himself is famously demanding and difficult on the set, and didn’t care for Leonardo DiCaprio’s attitude towards such a basic request. The Terminator director recalls standing up and shaking Leo’s hand, thanking him for coming in, which caught the 21-year-old by surprise, apparently expecting Cameron to “woo” him for the part.

“Wait, wait, wait, if I don’t read, I don’t get the part. Just like that?,” DiCaprio reportedly asked, to which Cameron pointed out the gravity and size of the production meant he wasn’t going to ignore due diligence in getting the cast right. “I’m not going to f**k it up by making the wrong decision in casting. So you’re going to read, or you’re not going to get the part,” he said.

The actor did agree to read for the part with Kate Winslet, but the exchange didn’t exactly humble Leonardo DiCaprio, as Cameron recalls, as his attitude continued until it was time to become “Jack.” “Every ounce of his entire being is entirely negative right up until I said, ‘Action,’ and then he turned into Jack.”

Cameron recalls DiCaprio reading with Winslet, and the chemistry was instantly obvious. “Kate just lit up and they went into this whole thing and he played the scene…I’m like, ‘All right, he’s the guy.’”

leonardo dicaprio kate winslet
Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic (1997)

Looking back, it is understandable why a young Leonardo DiCaprio thought a little too much of himself. He had just appeared in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet, which had catapulted him to heartthrob status, just two years removed from his Oscar nomination for his role in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. The actor was at the top of Cameron’s list to play Jack, but his attitude was nearly the iceberg that sunk his chances.

Cameron had a lot riding on the production, so his patience for the young Leonardo DiCaprio was likely thin to begin with. The film had a $100 million budget, which included building a nearly-scale replica of the ship in a Mexico lagoon, only to actually sink it for the production. The budget later ballooned to over $200 million, as the extended shoot and post-production costs spiraled out of control.

It all worked out in the end, as the film went on to win 11 Oscars and gross over $1.8 billion at the worldwide box office (that’s not accounting for inflation). Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart ere nominated for Oscars, but Leo was famously shut out of a nomination.

Cameron is currently in the midst of promoting Avatar: The Way of Water, the long awaited follow-up to the 2009 mega-blockbuster, but every interview he seems to do shifts to his other blockbusters, usually his 1997 Best Picture Oscar winner about the doomed ship.

Leonardo DiCaprio would go on to have an iconic career post-Titanic, producing a number of films and appearing in hits including Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood, The Revenant, The Wolf of Wall Street, Inception, The Departed, and Catch Me While You Can.