Leonardo DiCaprio became a household name in the mid-1990s following the 1996 movie adaptation of Romeo + Juliet, in which he starred as a fresh-faced 22-year old alongside Clare Dames.
It was his role a year later in Titanic, however, that catapulted him to Hollywood royalty, with the disaster film smashing box office records to become the highest-grossing film of all time, surpassing Jurassic Park. Opposite Kate Winslet, Leo played Jack Dawson, who falls for his co-star's Rose DeWitt Bukater character as the pair defy their social status differences to embark on an unlikely relationship.
The actor's performance resulted in a Best Actor nomination at the 1998 Golden Globe Awards, with Titanic scopping several gongs including Best Picture, Best Score and Best Director. It prompted Leo to confess: "I'll never reach that state of popularity again, and I don't expect to. It's not something I'm going to try to achieve either."
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Now, to mark his 49th birthday on Saturday (November 11), join us as we look back on a number of surprising facts concerning James Cameron's monster hit.
Almost missing out
Last year director Cameron made the stark revelation his lead actor almost missed out on the role due to his reluctance to read for the part during auditions. Cameron recalled the sliding doors moment in an interview with GQ, explaining that the screen test nearly didn't happen.
"So the meeting was funny because I’m sitting in my conference room waiting to meet an actor, right?" he began. "And I look around and all the women in the entire office are in the meeting, for some reason. Like, there’s a female executive producer, OK, fine. But our accountant? Why was she in the meeting? They all wanted to meet Leo. It was hysterical. I looked around, and I went, ‘I think I already know the answer to the question here."
Cameron continued, revealing that days later he asked Leo to return for an on-screen chemistry test with Winslet. However, he simply told him, "Oh, I don't read." Cameron said the pair then shook hands and he thanked him for coming. But on realising he could miss out, Leo suddenly pondered, "Wait, wait, wait. You mean, if I don’t read, I don’t get the part just like that?"
It prompted Cameron to tell the star it was "like a giant movie that is going to take two years of my life" and "you’re gonna read or you’re not gonna get the part."
As filming took place on August 9, 1996 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, an alarming incident took place that resulted in the cast being drugged with the illegal street drug, Phencyclidine (PCP). After recording famous scenes including Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) discovering Rose's necklace, crew members ate a serving of clam chowder, only to later realise the dish had been spiked.
Crew member Jack Clarke told Vulture: "We had a room for the grips and electricians, and one of the guys started talking really hyper. He’s a big guy, like six-four, and he says, 'Do you guys feel okay? Because I don’t. I feel like I’m on something, and believe me, I would know.'
"He was just chattering on like that. And just as he was saying this, we saw James Cameron run by the door and this extra running behind him. He said, 'There’s something in me! Get it out!'" Those affected were taken to Dartmouth General Hospital, whilst the identity of the culprit was never discovered.
Nude scene blunder
One of Leo's most famous Titanic scenes was actually unscripted, according to reports. It saw Rose strip off for Jack to sketch her after she uttered the line: "Paint me like one of your French girls." Whilst Rose's seductive line has to be one of the most memorable from the film, Leo’s follow-up proved equally as iconic.
Jack told Rose: "Lie on that bed – uh, I mean couch," something that wasn't part of the script. In the original dialogue, Leo was simply supposed to ask his co-star to "lie on the couch". However, Cameron was charmed by the slip-up and decided to keep it in the final cut.
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The duration of the film without modern-day edits and final credits is two hours and 40 minutes (160 minutes) – the exact amount of time the vessel took to fully submerge on its way to New York City in 1912. A coincidence? No.
According to CBC, Cameron had an eye-for-detail and opted to reflect the real-time sinking by ensuring his production ran for the "exact time it took for the Titanic to go down in the frigid waters off Canada’s East Coast". The collision with the iceberg, meanwhile, reportedly went on for 37 seconds – the same length as the collision in the film.
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