“Music to drown by. Now I know I’m in First Class.”
“Do story with modern bookends of present-day scene of wreck, using submersible, intercut with memories of survivor and recreated scenes of the night of the sinking. A crucible of human values under stress. A certainty of slowly impending doom. Many dramatic moments of separation, heroism and cowardice, civililty versus animal aggression.”
That was James Cameron's notion ten years before he won any backing. For what he often called his $150m chick flick, Back then, his notes concluded: “Needs a mystery or driving plot element woven through...”
What better than a love story?
Cameron, after all, had loved this way
through five wives in 22 years
- including his actresses and producers.
It was then easy to create his lovers. A brash, Cameronesque Irishman Jack Dawson, possessing all the natural energy and purity of spirit to transform Rose DeWitt Bukater's “Edwardian geisha” into a vibrant modern miss. With feelings... and desires.
Finding them was harder. “Who,” he asked, “was 19 or 20, and a star and who filled my requirements? The answer was... nobody!”
Tom Cruise was keen. Tom Cruise was always keen. He was also too old. “I would have to change the whole thing.” And Jim Cameron was not interested in making a Tom Cruise movie.
Although he had thought of him for his stymied Spider-Man film, Leonardo DiCaprio bothered Cameron - all the more so when Leo said, flat out, he didn't want to do it. He was, in fact, hesitant about such an epic. So, Cameron examined Billy Crudup (from Stephen Frears' Western, Hi-Lo Country). “When they asked to see me, I said no. That type of proposition is never repeated.” Or, not until he made Famous, 2000. Next ideas: vapid Chris O'Donnell and the overly hyped Matthew McConaughey. Plus Christian Bale... until Cameron felt two British leads was one too many.
At first, Cameron wasn't too keen on the Oscar nominees suggested by casting director Mali Finn. Kate Winslet had made period movies but Cameron was after “a conduit for our present-day emotions.”
For Rose (named after his grandmother), Jim looked into British Gabrielle Anwar (opposite Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman), Claire Danes (Juliet to DiCaprio's Romeo in 1996) and the blonde with the greatest buzz around her, Gwyneth Paltrow. But she “never took it seriously. Just not my thing: all that money! I don't think it's a good film and I don't know anyone who does - at least not among the people I respect.”
Reversing to square one, Cameron felt audiences would go the distance with Kate and Leo.
“I always trust my first impression.
It sounds corny, but
that's what the audience does.”
He sweet-talked Leo (“he’s like Jimmy Stewart, pure of heart”) and suddenly saw Kate as “the most talented actor for her age.” Their test blew him away. No one else saw it. Leo refused for it to be taped. DVDs were already an influence...
And the film aided both Winslet and Paltrow. It earned Kate enough money to move home - and she sold her old place North London’s Belsize to… Gwyneth Paltrow and her Coldplay singer husband Chris Martin.
Older Rose . Retired since 1960, Marguerite Chapman was too ill, at 79, to be the old Rose. Frances Dee came out of retirement to test and at age 90, the King Kong scream-queen, Fay Wray, rejected Cameron’s request to play the old iceberg survivor role. And so it was Gloria, at 87, who became the oldest person to win an Oscar nod. She said one of the reasons of her longevity was... masturbation!
Hockley . Both Cameron regular Michael Biehn and Canada’s X-Files heavy Nicholas Lea tested for Cameron’s Mr. Nasty: Caledon “Cal” Hockley. "Not my thing," Hugh Grant told Cameron about the awful fiancee of Kate Winslet. He never added that he thought the script was "a little too close to Judith Krantz."
Molly Brown . Having proved herself an actor by in various tele-films and an award-winning Broadway debut, Reba McEntire was Cameron's first choice for The Unsinkable Molly Brown. But the flame-haired Queen of Country Music was on tour. As usual.
Cameron's previous venture, True Lies, cost $100m. Titanic doubled that - costing far more than the ocean liner, itself. And with his eighth movie, Cameron was ”king of the world” with the #1 film in history with receipts of $600,788,188 (but #6, to Gone With The Wind in inflation-adjusted figures). It also collected eleven Oscars, including Best Film and Director, from 14 nominations - one for Kate, zero for Leo.