As one of the biggest box office hits of all time, Titanic is an iconic film that’s become ingrained in the minds of audiences around the world. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet stealing a kiss on the bow of that ship. But as it turns out, there were a slew of well-known actors eager to play Jack Dawson and Rose Bukater. There were also a few celebs in the running for Cal Hockley, the Unsinkable Molly Brown, and other supporting parts. Here’s a look at some of the famous actors who could have starred in Titanic.
Titanic would have looked quite different if Academy Award-winner Gwyneth Paltrow had starred alongside Leonardo DiCaprio as Rose. But it almost happened–in a 2015 interview on The Howard Stern Show (as reported by Redbook magazine), the Shakespeare in Love actress revealed that she said “no” to the iconic role.
“My mother will kill me that I’m talking about turning down movie roles,” she said. “She says it’s not ladylike… I know that the story is that I turned it down. I think I was really in contention for it, I was one of the last two. I look back at the choices I’ve made and think, ‘Why the hell did I say yes to that? And no to that?’ And you know, you look at the big picture and think: There’s a universal lesson here. What good is it to hold onto roles?”
Homeland’s Claire Danes was another big star who decided the role of Rose Bukater was not for her. After starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in the 1997 hit Romeo + Juliet, she was a top contender for the part because of their chemistry. But Danes says she knew she didn’t want to star in another film with the What’s Eating Gilbert Grape actor. “I was really clear about it, I wasn’t conflicted,” the actress said in a 2020 interview with Dax Shepard on his podcast, Armchair Expert. “I was feeling eager to have different creative experiences and that felt like a repeat and it was going to propel me towards something that I knew I didn’t have the resources to cope with.”
Uma Thurman & Winona Ryder
Pulp Fiction actress Uma Thurman and Stranger Things star Winona Ryder were also up for the role of Rose–and according to Kate Winslet, their chances of nabbing the part were much higher than hers.
“[Director] Jim [Cameron] took a risk in casting me,” the Mare of Easttown star told USA Today in 2012. “A lot of my contemporaries–Uma Thurman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Winona Ryder–were much more likely candidates. I got lucky.”
Can you picture Interstellar star Matthew McConaughey as the free-spirited Jack Dawson? It could have happened. In a 2018 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, McConaughey revealed he had auditioned for the part–and thought he had nailed it. “I went and auditioned for [Titanic]. I wanted that,” he admitted “I auditioned with Kate Winslet. Had a good audition. Walked away from there pretty confident that I had it.”
Unfortunately, the True Detective actor never got the call, but not because of a lack of chemistry with the already-cast Winslet. “I auditioned with Matthew, which was completely fantastic,” Winslet revealed in a 2017 interview on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. “It would have been a totally different film. It just wouldn’t have been the whole Jack and Rose, Kate and Leo.”
According to Harrison Cheung, author of the 2012 book Christian Bale: The Inside Story of the Darkest Batman (as reported by The Huffington Post), Christian Bale was another well-known actor who came close to playing Jack Dawson in Titanic. In fact, it wasn’t the only part the American Psycho lost to up-and-coming star Leonardo DiCaprio. In the mid to late ‘90s, Bale was up for a number of roles that DiCaprio ended up nabbing, including the leads in This Boy’s Life, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Romeo + Juliet, and The Beach.
Unlike the other contenders on this list, Pirates of the Caribbean actor Johnny Depp was not at all eager to hop on board the epic set of Titanic. Back in 2001, Depp admitted to Howard Stern that he knew the role of Jack Dawson was not for him the minute he picked up the script. “I labored through about 15 pages of Titanic and, you know, it was horrible,” he said. “I couldn’t get through it.” We wonder how Depp feels about the movie now (or if he’s even seen it!).
Of course, Jack and Rose weren’t the only beloved characters in Titanic, which became the first film to ever reach the billion-dollar mark in box office sales. There were also colorful supporting players such as the real-life Molly Brown, who became known as “Unsinkable” because she survived the wreck and helped save others from her lifeboat. While Brown was famously played by Academy Award winner and American Horror Story alum actress Kathy Bates, country star Reba McEntire nabbed the role first.
In a 2019 interview with Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens Live (as reported by Oprah Daily), McEntire revealed that she had accepted the part and was eager to be in the movie but scheduling conflicts got in the way. “We were on tour and I had a lot of people on the payroll,” McEntire explained. “We had these three months already scheduled to do the movie, and then they got behind on scheduling and said, ‘We’ll have to move it to this time.’ So we couldn’t reschedule all the arenas and everything.”
As far as supporting characters (and villains) go, there’s no one we loved to hate more than the vile Cal Hockley, played masterfully by The Phantom star Billy Zane. But how would things have gone if Parks and Recreation star Rob Lowe played that part?
In a 2015 interview with GQ, the former Brat Packer admitted he was in the running for the part. But even though he ultimately lost it, the actor admitted he was just grateful to have been in the running after facing a sex tape scandal in 1989. “I’ve been fortunate that I’ve always, always, always worked,” Lowe told GQ. “Even after the sex tape was made public, it was like: You’re still a professional baseball player, but you’re playing for Double or Triple A. I lost the role in Titanic that Billy Zane got. But I was never banned from the game.”
Lindsay Lohan & Robert De Niro
According to the tabloid The Mirror (so take this info with a grain of salt), Hollywood legend Robert De Niro was offered the supporting role of Captain Smith. As reported by the mag, the part ended up going to British actor Bernard Hill after De Niro bowed out due to a gastrointestinal illness.
Another A-lister who The Mirror reports came close to nabbing a supporting role was Lindsay Lohan. Just 10-years-old at the time, she was tapped to play Cora Cartmell, the sweet steerage-level passenger Jack dances with and refers to as his “best girl.” According to The Mirror, director James Cameron ultimately decided to recast the part because her red hair would be too similar to Rose’s.