He’s one of our more celebrated actors today, but shockingly, Leonardo DiCaprio wasn’t seen as a bankable star by Hollywood executives during production of Cameron’s epic. DiCaprio, a new industry hot-shot who was recently nominated for “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?,” didn’t want to read for the role of Jack at first, causing friction during the casting process.
Even after Cameron was finally convinced DiCaprio was the right actor for the role, the studios weren’t convinced that DiCaprio could effectively play the leading man. “I had to sell him to the studio,” Cameron said to ET in 2022. “And they were like, ‘Based on what? “Gilbert Grape?” Come on, we’re gonna hang this giant movie, romantic film on “Gilbert Grape?” Give me a break.’ So, you know, then I had to talk him into it. But see, Leo wouldn’t let me film [him reading]. So, I was like, ‘OK, you just have to take my word for it.'”
Of course, there was the onset drama. The then-unresolved PCP laced chowder incident (yes, PCP laced chowder), stories about overworked crew and their “sweatshop-style” labor conditions, reports about Cameron’s screaming tirades — all the negative attention lodged at “Titanic” eventually came to a boiling point. On April 19, 1997, the Los Angeles Times published a tell-all, which chronicled the cast and crew’s woes working on set of “Titanic,” describing it as a production “as strenuous as filmmaking ever gets.”
Even lead actress Kate Winslet voiced her disdain for the “Titanic” shoot, sharing her story of suffering from hypothermia and almost drowning. “If anything was the slightest bit wrong, he would lose it…” Winslet said. “You’d have to pay me a lot of money to work with Jim again.”