Leonardo DiCaprio almost missed his part in it Titanic after refusing to take a screen test with co-star Kate Winslet.
“I remember there was a meeting with Leo and then there was a screen test with Leo,” Cameron said. “So the meeting was funny because I’m sitting in my conference room waiting to meet an actor, right? And I look around and all the women in the whole office are in the meeting for some reason. Like there was a female executive producer, okay, fine. But our accountant? Why was she in the meeting? They all just wanted to meet Leo, it was hysterical.”
The director explained that after Leo “charmed everyone” at the meeting, he was asked back for a screen test with Winslet, who played Rose.
Cameron added: “So he came back a few days later and I had the camera set up to record the video. 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.”
“And I said, ‘Well,’ and I shook his hand. I said, “Well, thanks for stopping by.” And he said, ‘Wait, wait, wait, you mean if I don’t read, I can’t just get the part?’ And I said, ‘Oh yeah, come on. This is like a giant movie, it’s going to take two years of 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.’”
DiCaprio went through with the screen test and despite being “negative” at first, Cameron was impressed by his sudden transformation into Jack.
“So [DiCaprio] comes in and he’s like, every ounce of his whole being is just so negative,” Cameron said. “Until I said ‘Action’, and then he turned into Jack. And Kate just lit up and they went into this whole thing. Dark clouds had broken open and a ray of sunshine came down and illuminated Jack.
Cameron explained that DiCaprio later returned to directing after convincing the studio to hire him, where he suggested changing Jack’s character so that he had “an affliction” or a “traumatic thing from the past”.
“I said, ‘Look, you’ve done all these great characters who all have a problem whether it’s addiction or whatever it is,’ I said, ‘You have to learn how to keep the center of attention and not all those things This isn’t Richard III,” Cameron recalled.
“’If you can do what you know Jimmy Stewart did or Gregory Peck did, they just fucking stood there. They weren’t limping or lisping or anything, then you’re ready for this. But I think you’re not ready yet because what I’m talking about is actually much harder. Those things are easier, those are props, those are crutches. What I’m talking about is much more difficult and you’re probably not quite ready for it yet.’
“The second time I said it clicked [DiCaprio] that this was a very difficult, challenging film for him. And I realized my mistake, I had not sufficiently mapped out the challenge for him.”
Cameron is currently promoting Avatar: The way of the waterthe sequel to the one from 2009 avatar. The film can be seen in cinemas from December 16.