Titanic 3D: DiCaprio and Winslet–Then and Now

With a clear image of Jack and Rose as people, Cameron sought to find a pair of actors who could breathe life into these dynamic characters.  He selected two young rising stars, both Oscar nominees before the age of 21, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, who would go on to become the leading actors of their generation.  DiCaprio has since been nominated for two more Oscars and won the Golden Globe for Martin Scorsese’s THE AVIATOR.

Winslet received her second Oscar nomination for TITANIC, and went on to numerous nominations and to win the Academy Award for her role in THE READER.  She has also won Emmy and Golden Globe Awards, most recently for HBO’s MILDRED PIERCE.

“Luck was a major factor in casting Leo,” Cameron said then.  “I just felt you would care about him.  He has tremendous vitality on screen.  Leo has a kind of wiry, survival quality about him that’s pretty cool.  As for Kate, there was such a luminous quality in her face, voice and eyes that I knew audiences would be ready to go the distance with her, which was critical because it’s a hell of a journey and she’s ultimately the person you’re making that journey with.”

In 2012, Cameron is extremely gratified by the choices he made then.  “Kate and Leo were not really stars when we cast them,” the director says.  “We were taking a chance on them.  But the film was successful in part because audiences really believed and really cared about them.  They played so beautifully against each other and I could see that right from the beginning.”

In 1997, Winslet explained her attraction to Rose.  “She’s a very spirited girl,” she said.  “She has a lot to give and a very open heart.  She wants to explore the world but knows that’s not going to happen.  When we first meet her, there’s a sense of resignation and despair about her.  Then she meets Jack Dawson and an amazing love surfaces, which is based completely on trust and communication.”

Though she boards Titanic thinking she is headed to a destiny of polo matches, cotillions and the other trappings of her privileged class, all the class lines blur when she realizes Jack sees her better than anyone she has known.  “Jack is the first person, the first man certainly, who shows interest in her desires and her dreams,” Winslet said. “This story takes you to the point where you would do anything you could to stop that ship from sinking in order for them to be together.”

DiCaprio felt a similar affinity for Jack Dawson, a struggling young artist who wins his third-class ticket aboard Titanic in a lucky game of poker. “Jack is a sort of wandering person,” Leonardo DiCaprio said then, “who seizes on the opportunities life presents to him.  At a young age, I think he realizes how short life really is, and that’s a big factor in who he is as a person.”

Seduced by Jack’s artist soul, Rose at first cannot find the strength to extricate herself from her engagement to wealthy Caledon Hockley, played by Billy Zane.  He was drawn to the tumult of the times.  “The world of 1912 was on a precipice,” Zane noted. “You have the birth of a new era, embodied by Jack, who is kind of a reminder of the frontier spirit.  Cal represents a more imperious sensibility that is flawed and collapsing.  Cal is the guy you love to hate.  He’s coming to terms with exactly what a relationship is all about. Cal’s relationship with Rose is built more upon public appearance.  She is a catch — a bauble — and there lies the root of the problem.”

Portraying the modern-day pirate Brock Lovett, who roams through the wreck of the Titanic, is Bill Paxton, who had previously worked with Cameron on ALIENS, THE TERMINATOR and TRUE LIES.  “Lovett is the character who brings you into the whole story,” described Paxton.  “He knows all the technical details of the ship’s demise but has never really connected with the human drama that unfolded that night.”

The emotional core of that drama comes to life via the performance of the late Gloria Stuart, the film’s grown-up Rose. “Jim structured the story to bring a modern-day audience back to Titanic through her character,” Paxton explained.  “He interviewed quite a few women for the role, but there’s a kind of mischief about Gloria. Her irreverence is really like the character of Rose.”

Stuart, who passed away in 2010, was then 87, having initially pursued an acting career in the 1930’s, until World War II prompted her retirement. It was not until the mid-1980’s that Stuart would return to the screen, dancing with Peter O’Toole in the opening moments of MY FAVORITE YEAR.  Then came TITANIC.  Said Stuart at the time:  “After all the years and all my films, this one is the frosting on the cake.”

Stuart recalled that Cameron drew inspiration for Rose after meeting famed Ojai artist Beatrice Wood, who was renowned for her vivid persona.  It was Paxton who first suggested to Cameron that he should interview Wood, now 102 years old.  Ultimately, Stuart found the parallels between her character and Wood to be quite inspiring. “She was still working and very feisty,” Stuart said in 1997. “Very colorful.  Like Beatrice, Rose is a woman who survived.  She knew what she wanted at a very early age. She didn’t want the kind of life her mother had in mind for her.”

For Stuart, Rose offered a profound message in her moments on screen. “The strongest lesson is that you must live a good, productive life,” Stuart said.  “Be generous and open.  The material things in the long run don’t really pay off. What ultimately counts is the richness of your relationships with people. Only life is priceless.”