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TITANIC – BEHIND THE SCENES. The most interesting stories

Titanic – behind the scenes, or: what did Cameron and his actors struggle with while working on set? Who urinated in the pool? Was there a drug in the soup during the break?

Przemysław Mudlaff

27 July 2023

James Cameron’s Titanic is undoubtedly one of the greatest cinematic achievements of all time. The 1997 film was both a huge box office hit and an impressive triumph of its director’s imagination and ambition. Today, it is hard to imagine the world of cinema and culture in general without the extraordinary story of the misalliance of Jack and Rose – passengers of a huge ocean liner, whose maiden voyage turned out to be also the last one. It is worth remembering, however, that the production of the Titanic was not without serious problems. Some of the dangers facing Captain James Cameron at that time were even comparable to an iceberg hidden in the mist. And this – as we already know – is a deadly threat. What problems are we talking about here? What did Cameron and his actors struggle with while working on the set of Titanic? Who urinated in the pool where the scenes were filmed? Was there a drug in the soup you ate during the break on set? Here are the most interesting behind-the-scenes stories of one of the greatest films in the history of cinema.

Planet Ice

All the behind-the-scenes stories of the Titanic below have a direct or indirect connection to its director. James Cameron is a perfectionist who pays attention to the smallest detail when creating his works. He treats each film in a special way, and it was no different with Titanic, which is after all a kind of sensation in the director’s filmography filled primarily with science fiction works. Interestingly, the Canadian’s passion for cinematic science fiction also manifested itself in the early stages of the creation of the 1997 megahit. Well, when working on potential blockbusters, instead of dazzling with the final title, which would probably attract hundreds of onlookers and arouse unnecessary press interest, something like a codename is invented for the film. In the case of the Titanic, the codename was Planet Ice. Cameron came up with it while filming needed footage about icebergs off the coast of Nova Scotia.

James Cameron's Underwater Life

In 2012, James Cameron, thanks to a special bathyscaphe called Deepsea Challenger, reached the lowest place on Earth, the Challenger Deep (10,944 m below sea level). After the expedition, he confessed that it was a transcendent experience and even the best film special effects cannot reflect what he saw deep underwater. Of course, immersion to the deepest place in the Mariana Trench was not the director’s first underwater escapade. The shots of the Titanic wreck that we can see in the 11 Oscar-winning production are mostly authentic and were shot by the Canadian. Cameron even jokes that he decided to make Titanic because he wanted to explore the wreck of the famous ocean liner. The first research of the wreck was carried out in 1995. At that time, the director chartered the Russian research vessel Akademik Mstisław Kiełdysz and, thanks to the bathyscaphes available there, Mir made as many as 12 dives. Each of them lasted about 16 hours. As a result, James Cameron spent more time on the Titanic than any of its hapless passengers. With the help of special devices on which cameras were installed, he also reached places where no researcher had been before. Thanks to perseverance, ingenuity and budget, he made sure that the appearance of the interior of the movie ship reflected the real one as closely as possible. In order to faithfully recreate the decor of individual rooms, the director even contacted the company that in 1912 weaved the carpet on board the Titanic, so that they would do it again especially for the needs of his film. Exactly the same. So imagine how serious an undertaking it must have been to create a scene of flooding all those painstakingly and expensively created elements of the decor (stairs!). There was no room for doubles here, because the film’s overstretched budget simply did not allow for them. Fortunately, everything worked out, and the scenes of the sinking of the ship and the flooding of the rooms are widely regarded as a masterpiece and a model of the use of practical special effects.

Every minute

That James Cameron was and probably still is obsessed with the Titanic and its tragedy is no secret. His film is therefore not only a beautiful story about the power of love, but also – and perhaps above all – an expression of the mad fascination of the explorer and history enthusiast. In view of the above, is it reasonable to suspect the author of the film that he did everything to ensure that the duration of the scenes taking place in 1912 coincided perfectly with the time of the sinking of the Titanic? This just might be a coincidence. The duration of the film’s collision of the ship with the iceberg is certainly not a coincidence. It lasted 37 seconds, which is the same as in reality.

Too expensive!

James Cameron’s perfectionism and ambitions generated huge costs. According to calculations (adjusting for inflation), the cost of building Titanic was less than the budget of Cameron’s film by about $ 100 million. No wonder that the prolonged production time and the increasing costs generated by the filmmakers annoyed the producers. As a result, no one believed that Titanic would become an unsinkable box office hit. I doubt that Cameron himself believed this at some point, but to complete his impressive project he backed him up by giving up his $8 million salary. Thus, he gained the trust of producers and improved his ratings in their eyes. At least until the movie is released. On this occasion, it was still believed that a three-and-a-half-hour film had no chance of even recouping the costs incurred.

Actresses and actors for the role of Rose and Jack

Kate Winslet wasn’t James Cameron’s first choice for the role of Rose. Reportedly, Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston were closer to winning the race for this character. Kate’s pleading calls to the director finally convinced him to cast her. In turn, in the case of Jack Dawson, apart from Leonardo DiCaprio, the candidatures of Johnny Depp, Matthew McConaughey and … Macaulay Culkin were allegedly considered (can you imagine?). Although the roles of Winslet and DiCaprio in Titanic turned out to be groundbreaking in their careers, these actors are quite critical of their memorable performances in retrospect. Kate said her American accent was terrible at the time, and Leo described himself as a young punk in the film.

J. Dawson

Let’s stay for a moment with the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Jack Dawson is a name allegedly completely made up by James Cameron. What a surprise must have been on the face of the director, who was also the author of the script, when he found out later (after the premiere) that one of the passengers on the real Titanic was a man with the same name. Ba! Even his name starts with the letter J, and his age matched. Joseph Dawson sank with the Titanic in 1912 and was buried in Nova Scotia. Since the premiere of the film, his grave has been visited by many people. Were the ghosts of the ship haunting the director?

"Sketches" by Leonardo

Leonardo DiCaprio is certainly an amazing actor and a man of many other abilities. However, they cannot include sketching or drawing. Probably, if James Cameron hadn’t intervened in the famous scene portraying Rose by her beloved, then instead of a wonderful sketch, which was sold to a fan of the film in 2011 for $ 16,000, we would be dealing with something like a man consisting of several lines and circles. The intervention of the director revealed his artistic talent. It is the hand of the Canadian holding the pencil that we see in this scene. All other sketches in Jack’s briefcase are also by Cameron. Drawing a naked Rose also required imagination from the creator of Titanic. The actress posed for a portrait in a bikini outfit.

Kate Winslet's Injuries

Kate Winslet tried hard to get the role of Rose in James Cameron’s megahit, but some situations from the plan certainly made her think like: why was it even for me? The actress was injured while working on Titanic. At some point, she even got used to the bruises appearing regularly on her body. But that’s not all. The artist’s medical history during this period indicates a broken arm in the elbow joint and pneumonia. The second problem occurred with Winslet, as it were, at her own request, because she refused to wear a wetsuit under her dress during the filming of the pool scenes. Perhaps she did not expect the water in the tank to be so cold, and that the realization of these sequences of shots would take so long. The endless shooting of scenes in the water also took its toll on the actors and extras. The firm Cameron, who additionally had a knife at his throat in the form of comments and complaints from the producers, forbade his actors to go to the toilet in order to complete the production as soon as possible. He even threatened them with dismissal. Many artists – including Kate Winslet – later admitted that they relieved themselves in the pool. They certainly felt warmer for a while.

Herr Director brings hot dogs to the hot tub

With all the crazy perfectionism of the director, which often made working on the set of Titanic not easy, there is something pleasant that Cameron also organized. After leaving the cool reservoirs, the actors could warm up in specially prepared hot tubs, and their hunger was satisfied by serving delicious hot dogs. How do I know that the buns and sausages were so tasty? From a big fan of breaks on the set of Titanic – Billy Zane. Perhaps after relaxing in a warm bath, Gloria Stuart would no longer be so inclined to refer to Cameron as Herr Director.

Soup with a dangerous ingredient

Speaking of the wonderful Gloria Stuart, it is worth recalling the event that took place just after the filming of the “modern” scenes of the Titanic was completed. The then 85-year-old actress was very lucky that she did not try the soup served to the crew by a catering company. It could have ended very badly for her. There was a certain hallucinogen in the dish, known “in town” as Angel Dust. Everyone who ate a plate of soup was high, and after the mad visions stopped, they felt very, very bad. Cameron was also the victim of a prank by an unknown perpetrator, but his presence of mind made him vomit before the drug was well absorbed into his body.

My Heart Will Go On

The Céline Dion song we hear over the credits is probably the only thing that wasn’t influenced by James Cameron. The director thought that it would be nice to end this beautiful, epic story with some musical accent, but with the ears of his imagination he listened to the piece not by Dion, but by Enya. So where did the director’s homie come from on board the Titanic? Well, first of all, the Irish singer Enya did not agree to record the song for Titanic. Secondly, Cameron hired James Horner – the author of the music for the film – behind his back persuaded Dion to perform the famous song My Heart Will Go On. As it turned out later, these conspiratorial activities brought unexpected success. The song won an Oscar, and the album with the music for the movie Titanic became one of the best-selling soundtracks in history.

That’s it! I hope you found some unfamiliar tidbits behind the scenes of Cameron’s epic production above. Do you know any others? Be sure to share them in the comments!

Przemysław Mudlaff

Przemysław Mudlaff

He appreciates the truth and sincerity of the intentions of its creators in cinema. He loves to be emotionally kicked and abused by the film, but also happy and amused. A hunter of film curiosities, references and connections. A fan of the works of PTA, von Trier, Kieślowski, Lantimos and Villeneuve. What he likes the most is talking about the cinema over a beer, and the beer has to be cold and thick, you know what.

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