James Cameron's Academy Award winning film tells the fictional account of a love affair between a proper young American and a penniless artist aboard the ill-fated ocean liner, Titanic, in 1912. Kate Winslet is Rose Dewitt Bukater, a young American who is returning from England to America, where she is expected to marry the wealthy Caledon Hockley (Billy Zane). Although she is a first-class passenger, she meets the adventurous Jack Dawson (Leonardo Dicaprio) on the deck of the ship. There begins a passionate but ill-fated romance aboard the magnificent ship. Told in flashback by an older Rose, the romance between the young couple is threatened by the jealousy of Cal and the disaster that ensues when the ship strikes an iceberg. Winslet and Dicaprio deliver memorable performances as the lead characters in perhaps one of the most romantic movies made, and the film is stunning for its costumes, set design, soundtrack, and special effects.
The film may be inappropriate for younger audiences, as it does contain nudity, sexuality and some violent scenes as the ship breaks apart and sinks.
This film is rated PG-13 for violence, sensuality and brief language.
From History to Screenplay
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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." (A year after Titanic finished filming, Winslet
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 went on to marry another and in 2000 gave birth to her first
child. They have since divorced.
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.