Exactly twenty years after its theatrical release, our hearts still go on for Titanic. The three-hour epic romance is one of cinema’s most famous films. The special effects were and still are beyond what most productions can create. All in all, the film was nominated for over a hundred awards and took home most of them. Titanic was also the first film to be released on VHS (remember those? There were two of them, because no VHS could hold all three hours) while it was still playing in theaters.
As you can imagine, a lot of work went into making a major motion picture of this size and scale. James Cameron spent literal years researching and preparing for the film; he hired thousands of extras and dozens of special effects teams to make the movie absolutely perfect. We can all agree that the result is astounding, and James Cameron’s dedication and attention to detail have an amazing payoff. With that being said, some of Titanic’s more cinematically pleasing moments were actually the result of some pretty laughable–and even gross–moments. Filming happened over 160 days, and a lot happened during that time. Whether it was Kate and Leo goofing around, James Cameron’s meticulous attention to detail (earning him the nickname Mij–the name the crew gave his evil alter-ego who worked them like crazy), or Billy Zane showing off his acting prowess, a lot of crazy stuff went down on the set of Titanic. Here are just a few of the secrets we uncovered…
15. Kate’s Nickname – Kate “Weighs-A-Lot”
James Cameron has said that he thinks Kate Winslet is a terrific actress, but Kate said that the only way she’d work on another one of his films was if she was being paid a lot of money. Kate cites the rigorous working conditions, which many of the cast and crew also complained about. Kate received many bruises during filming, which the makeup department took pictures of to use as reference. But by far one of the worst things that happened to Kate was the way director James Cameron criticized her size. Kate Winslet was very aggressive about getting the role of Rose, and James Cameron may have resented her for it. Though she was only 130 pounds (over thirty pounds less than the average American woman today) at the time, Cameron made fun of her weight and called her “Kate Weighs-A-Lot”. It’s no wonder Kate doesn’t want to work with him again.
14. Kate Spitting on Billy Zane
Although Titanic started off with a pretty solid script, some ideas are better on paper than in practice. As Cameron’s characters came to life, they started making decisions of their own. As such, some of the script was ditched for more organic moments from the actors–even downright improvisation. One such moment is when Cal tries to stop Rose from going to find Jack and she spits on him to make him release her. In the script, Rose was supposed to jab Cal with her hairpin and then tell two burly-looking men that he had tried to assault her. Kate Winslet thought it would be much more effective (and a satisfying nod to her earlier scene with Jack) if she spit in Cal’s face. However, Kate neglected to tell Billy Zane what she was doing, so his disgust and shock in that scene is genuine. Maybe that’s why Zane and Winslet have never worked together since?
13. The Ocean Was Three Feet Deep
A woman’s heart may be a deep ocean of secrets, but not all oceans are that deep. While James Cameron did film a significant portion of his film in the ocean, he couldn’t exactly bring hundreds of crew members, extras, and his stars to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean–not only would they freeze to death (much like the characters they were portraying), but the water is too deep and unsafe for such a shoot to happen. Instead, Cameron shot in a pool that was meant to look like the Atlantic Ocean in the middle of the night. And to make sure no one drowned or got in over their heads, he kept the water at a depth of three feet.
There were some scenes that were shot in a deeper pool, of course, all of which required stunt teams and special effects, but when Jack and Rose were hanging onto that door, it was in a whopping three feet.
12. My Heart Will Go On Was An Accident
Of all the moments from Titanic, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” is by far one of the most iconic. Celine Dion’s most celebrated song was written specifically for Titanic, and believe it or not, Celine Dion didn’t even like it the first time she heard it–you wouldn’t know that from the way she sings it at her concerts today! James Cameron had specifically told composer James Horner that he didn’t want a song to play over the credits, but Horner knew that if he did the right song, it would be a huge hit. He secretly invited Celine Dion to the studio to do a demo. She did it in one take and then left, positive that Cameron would decline to include it in his film. When Horner played the demo, however, Cameron loved it so much that he insisted it had to be in the movie.
11. A Deep Ocean of…Pee?
James Cameron was dedicated to making Titanic as perfect as possible, which meant that he had to be strict. Breaks between filming were heavily supervised, something that only got worse as Titanic became more and more behind schedule. Ultimately, the film ended up being a month behind schedule. Because of this, James Cameron often refused to let anyone leave the set during breaks, afraid that if actors wandered off, they’d delay filming even further. This included bathroom breaks–that’s how strict Cameron got. So if you had to use the bathroom, you had to just hold it for hours at a time. Some actors got tired of straining their kidneys, however, and came up with a simple, if gross solution: they simply peed in the water. Not only was this the easiest way to solve their problem, but it was also sort of a “screw-you” to James Cameron.
10. Leo’s Lizard
A lot of weird things happened on the set of Titanic, and by far one of the weirdest things happened to Leonardo DiCaprio. Or, rather, it happened to his pet lizard. Young Leo would have a pet lizard, but why he brought it to the set of Titanic is a bit of a mystery. We don’t even know the lizard’s name–just what happened to it. Leo didn’t always keep his lizard in his trailer as one might think–we know of at least one instance where he just let his lizard roam the set. At some point during filming, Leo let his lizard stretch its scaly legs and scamper around the set, an action he would come to regret when the poor lizard was run over by a truck! Luckily, the wound wasn’t fatal–despite being nearly flattened, the lizard survived, and Leo was able to nurse the poor thing back to health.
9. James Cameron Drew Kate
The drawing scene is one of Titanic’s more iconic moments. It’s been parodied countless times, and any picture of any human or animal lying down is often captioned with “Draw me like one of your French girls.” And if we’re being honest, it’s a really good scene. After only knowing each other a couple of days, Rose is opening up to Jack and letting him see her at her most vulnerable.
Except, it isn’t really Jack drawing that picture. Or rather, it isn’t really Leonardo DiCaprio. As talented as Leo is, he isn’t much of a visual artist. So who drew Kate Winslet? None other than director James Cameron. Cameron is a skilled artist and did a tasteful photoshoot with Winslet where she wore a bikini (since they hardly knew each other). He later had himself filmed drawing a picture based off the photographs and made it look like it was all Jack’s doing.
8. When Kate Met Leo
Most co-stars meet for the first time in a rehearsal room of some kind, probably shaking hands and exchanging contact information. Well, that was just too boring for Miss Winslet. Since Kate knew that she was going to get up close and personal with Leonardo DiCaprio, and since she knew that their first scene together was going to be the nude drawing scene (what a way to begin filming!), she decided that upon meeting young Mr. DiCaprio, she would flash him. Talk about breaking the ice! (Ba-dum-chee.) Leo thought it was funny and the two quickly became friends. Their friendship got them through the movie, which often left the actors physically and emotionally exhausted. It is a friendship that has lasted to this day; now, 20 years later, they still consider each other very close friends. It worked for Kate and Leo, but be careful–it may not work for everyone else!
7. The Naked Drawing Scene Was Kate and Leo’s First Scene Together
Even though there was no actual drawing being done in the scene, Kate Winslet was indeed naked for the “Draw me like one of your French girls” scene. And it really is Kate Winslet–the actress has always been open about her body and being nude and didn’t want a body double (as more and more actors are starting to do these days). Most actors expect that well into the shoot–for Kate and Leo, however, that was their very first scene together! Two people who had barely met had to play two characters at their rawest and most vulnerable.
It’s little surprise that Leo was flustered. When Jack tells Rose to sit “on the bed–the couch”, that was actually Leo flubbing his line because he was so flustered. Cameron liked his genuine reaction so much that he decided to keep it.
6. PCP Prank
With any production, there are bound to be some pranksters. One prank on the set of Titanic, however, had serious repercussions.
On August 9th, the cast and crew sat down to an on-set dinner of clam chowder–which was laced with PCP. Over 80 members of the cast and crew got incredibly sick, leading many to initially believe that it had only been a severe case of food poisoning. When authorities looked into the matter, however, they saw that the chowder had traces of the drug more commonly referred to as angel dust. People were plagued with hallucinations and feelings of listlessness, including star Bill Paxton, spent two weeks recovering from the drug’s effects. The culprits were never caught, which is just as well for them, as they could be facing years in prison for such a dangerous prank. Definitely do NOT try this one at home.
5. The Almost-Cast
Hundreds of people auditioned for Titanic. We may have had a very different cast. Though it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack and Rose, there were lots of people who Cameron considered worthy of being the star-crossed lovers. For example, the studio really wanted Matthew McConaughey to play Jack. Can you imagine? Other considerations for the role were Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Tom Cruise, Macaulay Culkin, and Chris O’Donnell.
Jack and Rose weren’t the only roles that received careful consideration. Pierce Brosnan, Rupert Everett, William Hurt, Jason Isaacs, Rob Lowe, Matthew McConaughey, Rufus Sewell, and Hugh Grant were considered for the role of Cal; Faye Wray was considered for the role of Old Rose; Reba McEntire was considered for the role of Molly Brown; and Lindsay Lohan auditioned for the role of Cora Cartmell.
4. Kate Winslet Got Pneumonia
As we’ve already mentioned, Kate Winslet really ran the gauntlet while filming Titanic. From being teased about her weight to being nude in her first scene with her co-worker to being forced to stay in a watery tank for so long that she ended up peeing in it, Kate really got the short end of the proverbial stick. And as if the aforementioned things weren’t bad enough, Kate got pneumonia from spending hours in the water. She wasn’t the only one, as countless extras also got pneumonia–many of them left or, contractually unable to leave the film, fervently wished they could. Kate nearly backed out of filming herself, too traumatized by her experience to return to filming. Thankfully, she was encouraged to come back to work and finish the film she’d already worked so hard on. We’re glad Kate did come back, but it’s no wonder she’s so reluctant to ever work with James Cameron again.
3. The Stunt Men
James Cameron used a number of special effects to make the ship of dreams come to life. Most of these special effects were done with computers or scale models to accomplish feats that would not be possible otherwise. Some of these special effects, however, were surprisingly old-school. One such example is making the engine rooms look bigger. The rooms that you see in the movie are the actual size of the rooms that Cameron was filming–no models here. However, Cameron wanted the rooms to feel as big and overwhelming as possible, and in addition to a few camera tricks, he also made sure to only hire short stuntmen! Though the men in the engine rooms look tall and brawny, the truth is that they’re very muscular but on the shorter end of the scale. This way, the engine rooms look bigger and more imposing, something that’s especially noticeable when they’re being flooded.
2. Improvised Lines
Characters are only as good as their dialogue, and we can all agree that Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt-Bukater have some great dialogue. Many of the lines they exchange have become some of cinema’s most quoted. While a lot of that is obviously thanks to James Cameron, many of their lines were actually improvised. Though the actors started out with a script, many of the lines were altered or scrapped altogether as the production took on a life of its own. One of the most notable examples is the conversation Jack and Rose have on the deck of the ship the day after they meet. Though Cameron gave the two actors material to work with, almost the entire conversation between Jack and Rose was improvised by Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.
This wasn’t the only time Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio would improvise lines for the film; they came up with many on their own, including Rose’s famous, “Jack, this is where we first met” when they’re standing at the stern just before the ship sinks.
1. Billy Zane Flipping the Table
We’ve already mentioned that much of what you see in the film was the result of improvisation, but that wasn’t just limited to dialogue. Much of what you see extras doing in the background, especially during the sinking, was improvised–with Cameron’s blessing, of course. One of the biggest improvised actions was not, however, the work of extras during the sinking; rather, it was Billy Zane tapping into his character. In the scene where Cal interrogates Rose over breakfast, Cal was originally supposed to intimidate her with his threats. Billy Zane felt that the threats would hold more water if he did something to also physically intimidate Rose. So, without telling Kate Winslet what he was about to do, Zane flipped over the table to make Cal’s threats stick. The shock you see on Rose’s face is real–that was Kate Winslet genuinely reacting to her co-star’s spontaneous moment.