Director James Cameron was first inspired to do a film on the Titanic during his shoot of "The Abyss," a deep-sea science fiction movie.
Cameron created the names of his lead characters using elements from his own life. For example, he chose "Rose" because it was his grandmother's name. In addition, "Caledon" and "Hockley" are two towns in Ontario, Canada, where Cameron grew up. Although the name "Jack Dawson" was purely fictional, Cameron later discovered that there was a real life passenger named "J. Dawson" who died in the sinking. The real-life Dawson was an engineer aboard the ship.
Although their love affair was fictional, Cameron borrowed a few historical elements to create Jack and Rose's relationship. For example, Rose's leap from the lifeboat was inspired by real-life Titanic passenger Ida Strauss's last-minute scramble from her lifeboat back to the sinking ship to stay with her husband, Isador.
Using bits of historical fact mixed with his own speculation, Cameron depicted First Officer William Murdoch committing suicide after shooting passengers and accepting a bribe. After the film's release, Murdoch's survivors and other historians were angered by Cameron's treatment of the heroic first officer. Studio executives have since issued an apology and made a large donation to Murdoch's memorial fund.
Cameron allowed actress Gloria Stuart to rework some of her lines. For example, Stuart changed Rose's line of "Wasn't I a hot number?" to "Wasn't I a dish?" (Stuart thought the original line was vulgar.) After the film's success, Stuart sent a letter to Cameron referring to her script change: "Dear Mr. Cameron: I am not a member of the Writers Guild. However, I think you will notice that the only laugh in the film I wrote, and I would like credit and a little payment." Cameron replied, in typically stoic humor, "No credit and not a penny."
According to the original screenplay, Fabrizio (Jack's friend in third class) was supposed to court a fellow European third-class passenger. A few frames of the couple dancing in steerage were kept for the final cut.
True to history, the original screenplay included a scene of the ship's Morse Code operators receiving an iceburg warning from a nearby boat. Because the operators prioritized messages for first-class passengers, the warning was never delivered to the Captain. Although those scenes were filmed, they were cut from the final version.
The scene in which Ruth laces Rose into her corset was originally written with Rose lacing her mother's corset. Cameron later decided that the reverse was more effective to symbolize Rose's feeling of entrapment.
Cameron included a scene of the older Rose with her dog, a Pomeranian. Only three dogs were known to have survived the real-life wreck, one of which was a Pomeranian. As the real Titanic sank, a passenger freed several dogs from their kennels. One survivor remembers seeing dogs paddling in the icy water. Cameron originally included a scene of the doomed animals in the ocean but later had it edited out.
AUDITIONS AND CASTING
When James Cameron first met Leonardo Dicaprio, he wasn't convinced that he was right for the role of Jack: "Leonardo was on a list of names. I didn't know him, I'd never met him. I think I had only seen ‘Gilbert Grape,' and so I didn't really know what to expect. And I noticed that when he came in for the first meeting... all the [women in the building] were all in the room. And I'm, like, This is a little odd, you know."
The first choice of studio executives for the role of Jack Dawson was Matthew McConaughey (known for his roles in "A Time to Kill" and the more recent "Amistad"). Cameron and Kate Winslet, however, wanted Dicaprio for the lead.
Cameron's first choice for the part of Rose was Gwyneth Paltrow. Claire Danes was also rumored to have been asked to audition.
After reviewing the screenplay, Winslet made every effort to land the part of Rose: "When I read the script before being given the part, I was in floods of tears. That has never happened to me before and I thought: 'I have to do this.' I made endless phone calls to the director James Cameron. 'Give me a go,' I pleaded with him. 'I promise I can bring energy to it. Just let me show you... You don't understand, I am Rose."
Despite her many insistent telephone calls (some made to Cameron's car phone), Cameron wasn't convinced that Winslet was right for the part: "She'd done... several period films... It seemed almost like lazy casting. Then a couple weeks went by, and she actually called me from England and said, ‘Hey, what's going on? How come you're not casting me as Rose? I'm Rose, it's obvious'... I did decide pretty quickly after that, not because of that... to cast her."
Actor Stephen Dorff auditioned but lost out to Dicaprio for the role of Jack. In retrospect, though, Dorff has no regrets: "I want to have a career like Johnny Depp, Sean Penn and Jack Nicholson. I want to win an Oscar one day. That would have been impossible if I'd got ‘Titanic.' Look at Leo. His career can only go downhill from here. He'll always be the guy on the boat."
Robert Sean Leonard (of "Dead Poets Society" fame) auditioned for the role of Cal but walked away when he realized that he would not be able to make the character more three-dimensional: "If I had a wife and child and had to pay my bills, I'd do ‘Titanic' in a second. But if I have a choice, I'll always go with the work over the possibility of money and fame."
Actor Rob Lowe hoped to be cast as Cal, and called Cameron in hopes of snagging the role. Lowe looks back at the film as "the one that got away."
When Gloria Stuart read the script, she immediately fell in love with the role of the older Rose. Because she had not acted for thirtysome years and was without an agent, Stuart contacted Cameron herself and "begged for the part."
Known for his distaste for big Hollywood productions, Dicaprio almost passed up "Titanic" to play the lead role in "Boogie Nights." Winslet had wanted to star opposite Dicaprio in "William Shakespeare's ‘Romeo + Juliet' " but thought she looked too old to play Juliet. Determined to have a second chance to star with Dicaprio, she reportedly tracked him down at his hotel room and persuaded him to accept the role.
Country singer Reba McEntire auditioned and won the role of Molly Brown. However, since the shoot was extended beyond the expected duration, McEntire had to bail out to keep up with her prior concert engagements. The role then went to Kathy Bates. McEntire remarks: "It would have been a wonderful movie to be a part of, because it will in the history books forever as one of the greatest movies of all time. But you can't cry over spilled milk. You've just got to keep going."
Although Madonna was rumored to have been in the running to sing the love theme, "My Heart Will Go On," composer James Horner chose Celine Dion. Unbeknownst to Cameron (who didn't want a vocal theme tagged to the soundtrack), Dion and Horner made a secret recording. Cameron was eventually persuaded but nonetheless very surprised when the song climbed to first place on the charts.
To keep the production of the film a secret, Director James Cameron used the fake working title, "Planet Ice."
Given his initial reluctance to take the part of Jack, Leonardo Dicaprio tried to make changes in the script, as Cameron recalls: "Leo was questioning everything in the script. At first I was like, 'Hey, man, why did you take the part? You don't seem to like anything about it.' Then there was this cathartic moment when we both just sat in my trailer and talked for a couple of hours, and we hugged at the end and went back to work."
The first scene that was shot was that of Jack drawing Rose's portrait. To loosen things up, Kate Winslet flashed Dicaprio before the filming. During one take of the portrait scene, Dicaprio accidentally read his line, "Lie on the couch," wrong: "Lie on the bed, uh... I mean couch." Cameron liked the mistake so much that he kept the Dicaprio's line in the movie.
Cameron drew all of Jack's sketches in the film. Since the release of the film, Cameron has been challenged by the estates of several artists, including Georgia O'Keefe, who believe that the sketches infringe on their copyrighted works.
Many of the paintings in the film, were authentic. For example, Pablo Picasso's "The Guitar Player" was flown in from the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris. In addition, most of the decor on the ship, from the carpet to the chandeliers, were reconstructed by, or under the supervision of, the original companies which furnished the Titanic.
A 90% scale model of one half of the Titanic was constructed on a beach in Mexico. In the scenes portraying the ship at the Southampton dock, all shots were reversed to give the appearance of the port side of the ship, as it was actually docked in 1912. This required the painstaking construction of reversed costumes and signage (the letters appeared backwards) to complete the illusion, which was achieved by reversing the image in post-production.
Having once weighed in at 185 pounds and nicknamed "Kate Weighs-a-lot" by Cameron, Winslet dieted to 120 pounds for her portrait scene. A native Brit, Winslet also worked hard to perfect an American accent: "A period American accent is quite difficult to do... A lot of work focused on that, and the specific area, Philadelphia, that she came from... It was endless days of ‘rude Ruth's two rooms are near the school's pool,' and that kind of thing."
Billy Zane, who prefers a cleanly shaved head in real life, wore a wig for his role as Cal.
From the beginning of the shoot, Winslet faced grueling conditions: "The first day started at 5 a.m. and went on to 1 a.m. Nothing could have prepared me for it. There were quite a few 20-hour days. And two-thirds of it was night shooting because the Titanic sunk at night. It was every man for himself on the set. You had to ensure that you snatched some sleep during the day, with a black eye mask on. Sometimes you'd find yourself having lunch at 2 a.m. or breakfast at 4 p.m. It was very disorienting."
Dicaprio found it challenging to jump into the cold water fully-clothed, as Cameron recalls: "Leo was like a cat. He always made this big drama about getting wet." After months of slowly pouring buckets of warm water over the star, Cameron noticed that Dicaprio grew comfortable with the water, even doing underwater somersaults between takes.
Winslet, who admittedly has a fear of water, found the underwater filming very difficult: "Within a month I [began] to think, 'What have I done?' Some days I'd wake up and think, ‘Please God, don't let me die.' We were plunged in freezing cold water which had been pumped directly in from the sea. It was like swimming in the coldest winter in the history of Scottish winters. No acting was required because my reactions were real." Although her costume assistant pleaded with Winslet to wear a wet suit underneath her dress, Cameron refused, insisting that it would show through the chiffon.
Cameron arranged to have jacuzzis on the set so that the actors could warm up for a few minutes after an intense shoot in the frigid waters. To make sure all actors were safe during the sinking scenes, Cameron also had thirty lifeguards dressed in costumes, floating between extras and stunt persons.
Winslet almost drowned during the scene where Jack and Rose are trapped behind a locked gate (her coat was snagged). Cameron gave her only a minute to catch her breath before demanding another take. After the shoot, Winslet returned to her room in tears.
Winslet found the scene where Rose steps into the lifeboat unexpectedly difficult because Cameron insisted that the distance between the lifeboat and the ship, was as large as it was in real life. Actual passengers had to be chided into stepping into a lifeboat because it required a big leap.
Dicaprio was known for his sophomoric humor on the set. Co-star Zane remarks: "Grossing Kate out was purely Leo's job." Other crew members recall Dicaprio's uncanny impersonations of his co-stars, bodily humor, and antics with his pet lizard, Blizz. Blizz was run over by a truck on the set, but Dicaprio nursed him to health.
Frances Fisher (Ruth Dewitt Bukater) always brought a huge bag of goodies with her on the set every day, as a co-star recalls: "She was like Mary Poppins... She had something for everyone," including jelly beans and paper fans.
Although extras were instructed not to strike up conversations with the stars, an extra recalls that Zane was particularly down-to-earth: "In between scenes [Zane] told me he started out as an extra and doing commercials. It was refreshing to talk with someone like him." Another extra recalls that Zane, never pretentious, tagged along for evening excursions with the stand-ins.
Kathy Bates (Molly Brown) recalls having a lot of idle time on the set: "It wasn't fun, I'll be honest, sitting around in a corset for six hours until someone calls you to the set.. wearing a hat and wig. Waiting. Of course I was only there three weeks."
Dicaprio's nickname for Winslet during the filming was "Katie Cane."
By the end of the shoot, Winslet had chipped an elbow bone and was ready to go home: "If I look frightened, cold and exhausted on the film during the sinking scenes, it was because I genuinely felt frightened, cold and exhausted. After three months, I felt physically swollen, bruised and lonely without my family. I had to keep on thinking to myself, 'You wanted this -- now just get on with it.' "
Cameron and actor Bill Paxton discovered on the last day of filming in Nova Scotia that someone had laced the crew's lobster chowder with an illegal drug, PCP. Dicaprio first noticed something was amiss when members of the cast and crew got up and formed a conga line on the set. Eighty cast and crew members were hospitalized. Paxton felt listless for two weeks after the incident.
Because the filming went over budget, Cameron forfeited $8 million of his director's salary just to finish the movie.
The crew was so confident that the film would be a success that Stuart was told, "See you at the Academy Awards," on her last day of filming.
After filming was completed, crew members distributed T-shirts with the logo, "I survived working with James Cameron."
RELATIONSHIPS ON AND OFF THE SET
Of Leonardo Dicaprio, co-star Kate Winslet remarks: "I honestly thought there would be [a romance with Dicaprio]. He is absolutely gorgeous. Yet from the moment we met, I thought, 'He will make a great mate.' And that is what we became -- good friends and a shoulder for each other to cry on when the work became too much. There were days when I would say... 'I can't be without Leo.' He was my rock. We were such a team, nothing could break us, nothing could come near us... If Leo needed me anywhere tomorrow, I'd be there. Once you're friends with Leo, it's like he's a part of you."
On the media speculations of her relationship with Dicaprio, Winslet remarks: "Sometimes I think I should announce that... I'm going to get married to Leonardo DiCaprio and move in with him." (Winslet has since married a British director.)
Gloria Stuart and James Cameron shared a unique friendship, as Stuart remarks: "He likes me because when I met him, I said, 'What's your name, little boy?' He's just not treated like that. It's always, 'Yes, Mr. Cameron' or, 'Whatever you want, Mr. Cameron.' Now he's crazy about me, and I'm crazy about him."
Winslet shares a different picture of Cameron: "He's a nice guy, but the problem was that his vision for the film was as clear as it was. He has a temper like you wouldn't believe. As it was, the actors got off lightly. I think Jim knew he couldn't shout at us the way he did to his crew because our performances would be no good [but] were times I was genuinely frightened of him." As the shoot progressed, however, Winslet began to develop an affinity for Cameron: "I did like him, and I did come to understand him. There were times he was very understanding. A couple of times I felt he was someone I could take a country walk with and enjoy it."
Although she had no scenes with them, Stuart hobnobbed with Winslet and Dicaprio on the set. Of Winslet, Stuart found her a "very lively girl," and of Dicaprio, she remarks: "Leo was nice. He always had his mother or his grandmother with him."
THE ACTORS ON THEIR ROLES
Kate Winslet shares a few things in common with Rose. For example, soon after "Titanic" was released, Winslet mourned the death of her first love (boyfriend of five years and once her fiancé), Stephen Tredre. Of Tredre, she remarks: "Stephen was with me all the time [as I did acting projects] -- he was the other half of my soul. I had an absolutely extraordinary relationship with him. My dear, former boyfriend will always be an incredible love of my life." Like Rose, Winslet has gone on to marry another and recently gave birth to her first child.
After the shoot was completed, Winslet felt a sense of sadness in finishing her role as Rose: "There was a part of me that couldn't believe it was all over... I thought, 'I'm not going to be speaking Rose's words any more.' But I've been part of something amazing. And it's fantastic to think I've been such a big part of it."
As Rose looks up at the night sky awaiting a rescue boat, Cameron had computer graphics artists generate a vague outline of the "Heart of the Ocean" necklace in the stars.
Cameron makes a cameo appearance as a third-class passenger getting his beard checked for lice before boarding the Titanic. He reappears near the end of the film, as a passenger standing behind Fabrizio on the deck, waiting for a lifeboat when Murdoch shoots into the crowd.
Cameron, a gifted artist, sketched Winslet's portrait for the movie. The film editors then spliced frames of Cameron's hands and juxtaposed them with frames of Dicaprio's eyes.
Thanks a lot to Treggy !