The actors who almost played Jack and Rose in 'Titanic'
This article is part of Yahoo's 'On This Day' series
On this day in 1997, James Cameron’s epic drama “Titanic” celebrated its world premiere and a box office reign that would eventually earn the film more than $1.8 billion USD worldwide.
In addition to praise from film critics and earning 11 Oscars at the 1998 Academy Awards, the film quickly became part of pop culture canon. From the epic “My Heart Will Go On” theme sung by Celine Dion, to the unforgettable lines of “You jump, I jump,” “I’ll never let go, Jack” and “King of the World,” Titanic-mania cemented the film into the pre-millennium ether, and catapulted its stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, to international stardom.
While it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the roles of Jack Dawson, the American drifter abroad with a penchant for sketching, and Rose DeWitt Bukater, an unhappy socialite engaged to marry, DiCaprio and Winslet were not Cameron’s first choices for the now iconic roles.
Stars like Claire Danes, Reese Witherspoon and Winona Ryder reportedly turned down the chance to star in the film. Other names who were rumoured to have auditioned for the part include Nicole Kidman, Madonna and Angelina Jolie— but it was Gwyneth Paltrow who came closest to landing the leading role.
In an interview with Howard Stern, Paltrow played coy about the role but said she was “one of the last two” actresses in the running to play Rose.
“I look back at the choices I’ve made and think, ‘Why the hell did I say yes to that? And no to that?’ And you know, you look at the big picture and think: There’s a universal lesson here. What good is it to hold onto roles?” Paltrow told Stern.
Winslet, on the other hand, campaigned hard for the job as the leading lady. In an interview with Rolling Stone, the actress said she told Cameron he would be “mad” if he didn't cast her for the part.
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“I closed the script, wept floods of tears and said, ‘Right, I’ve absolutely got to be a part of this. No two ways about it,’” Winslet said.
The then 21-year-old actress also revealed she was the one to convince DiCaprio to take the role.
“I was thinking, ‘I’m going to persuade him to do this, because I’m not doing it without him, and that’s all there is to it,'” she said. “‘I will have him.’ Because he is f—king brilliant. He’s a f—king genius, and that was absolutely why.”
DiCaprio said he was initially hesitant to do the film, and didn’t grasp the scope of the project or its $200 million USD budget.
“Titanic was very much an experiment for Kate Winslet and I,” DiCaprio told Deadline in 2016. “We’d done all of these independent movies. I loved her as an actress and she said, ‘Let’s do this together, we can do this.’ We did it, and it became something that we could’ve never foreseen.”
Were it not for Winslet’s prodding, who knows who she may have shared some of the most unforgettable scenes in cinematic history with. The search for Jack was just as difficult for Cameron to cast.
According to reports, Johnny Depp turned down the film, while Jared Leto refused Cameron’s requests to audition. Several big names made a bid for the part, including Tom Cruise, Billy Crudup, Chris O’Donnell and Matthew McConaughey — but Cameron thought many were too old for the job.
“I wanted that,” McConaughey said during an interview on “The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter” podcast. “I auditioned with Kate Winslet. Had a good audition. Walked away from there pretty confident that I had it. I didn’t get it. I never got offered that.”