James Cameron is an old hand at this Hollywood press cycle thing. He knows that if you want your movie to break even by being one of the highest-grossing movies ever, you’ve got to tell some funny, slightly humiliating stories about your former co-workers. And while someone somewhere might be interested in what it was like to work with Sam Worthington, it’s nothing compared to what Leonardo DiCaprio circa 1996 was up to. Heck, this guy was running around with a squad called “The Pussy Posse.”
Still, Leonardo DiCaprio was pretty famous by the time Titanic came around, having secured his first Oscar nomination for 1994’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in a performance that, for his sake, he’ll never, ever attempt to replicate. Of course, being a 20-year-old Oscar nominee has its perks, like being in the Pussy Posse, but one of them isn’t defying James Cameron.
In a career retrospective interview with GQ [via Variety], the Way Of Water director shared his first meetings with Leo. “There was a meeting with Leo, and then there was a screen test with Leo,” Cameron said. “The meeting was funny because I am sitting in my conference room, waiting to meet an actor. And I look around, and all the women in the entire office are in the meeting. They all wanted to meet Leo. It was hysterical.”
Cameron set up a screen test because they had just secured Kate Winslet for the part of Rose, and, well, this was an expensive movie, so it might help to see how they do together. “He came back a couple of days later, and I had the camera set up 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 in the next room, and we’ll run some lines, and I’ll video it.’ And he said, ‘You mean, I’m reading?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Oh, I don’t read.’ I shook his hand and said, ‘Thanks for coming by.’”
“Wait, wait, wait. If I don’t read, I don’t get the part? Just like that?” Cameron recalled DiCaprio saying.
Oh, yeah. Come on. This is a giant movie that is going to take two years of my life, and you’ll be gone doing five other things while I’m doing post-production. So, I’m not going to fuck it up by making the wrong decision in casting. So, you’re going to read, or you’re not going to get the part.’
So he comes in, and he’s like every ounce of his entire being is just so negative — right up until I said, ‘Action.’ Then he turned into Jack. Kate just lit up, and they played the scene. Dark clouds had opened up, and a ray of sun came down and lit up Jack. I’m like, ‘All right. He’s the guy.’
This wasn’t Cameron’s only discussion about Titanic stars with GQ. Yesterday’s profile with the director explained how he managed to get Kate Winslet back after the “ordeal” of shooting Titanic. “I think she had something to prove to herself,” Cameron said. “And so, I mean, no extra charge for the therapy, for the healing moment where she got to hold her breath underwater for seven and a half minutes and be the underwater queen.”
Winslet’s time on Titanic wasn’t for the faint of heart. “I chipped a small bone in my elbow,” Winslet told the L.A. Times in 1997, “and at one point I had deep bruises all over my arms.”
“[James Cameron is] a nice guy, but the problem was that his vision for the film was as clear as it was,” she says. “He has a temper like you wouldn’t believe.… As it was, the actors got off lightly. I think Jim knew he couldn’t shout at us the way he did to his crew because our performances would be no good […] There were times I was genuinely frightened of him.”
But all’s well that ends well. Winslet learned to hold her breath for nearly 10 minutes and became the “underwater queen.” Long may she reign.