Before he was King of the World, Leonardo DiCaprio could’ve been the Prince of Salem

“We shared a sandwich together,” Kenny Ortega tells EW of the day DiCaprio met with him to play the part that eventually went to Omri Katz.

Hocus Pocus director Kenny Ortega tells EW that his casting agents sent the future Titanic and Killers of the Flower Moon superstar actor in to read for the role of Max — which eventually went to Omri Katz — in the 1993 Disney classic, but that his team told him DiCaprio wouldn’t be able to take the part.

DiCaprio entered amid an intense casting search that saw Ortega and his team interviewing “a number of people” for the part of a teenager who resurrects the evil Sanderson Sisters witches (Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy) from a 300-year purgatory.

Leonardo DiCaprio, HOCUS POCUS

Leonardo DiCaprio at the 1993 Hollywood premiere of ‘True Romance’; ‘Hocus Pocus’. RON DAVIS/GETTY IMAGES; EVERETT COLLECTION
“[My casting team] called me up and said, ‘We’re sending someone in, but you can’t have him,'” Ortega remembers. “They said, ‘We want you to know who he is, we want you to meet him, he’s agreed to come in to meet you, but he can’t do the role. He’s being offered a movie with [Robert] De Niro and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.'”

Ortega says that, while he was disappointed, he still met with DiCaprio.

“He came in, and he was just amazing — so extraordinary and unique — he came and he was stressed. He said, ‘I feel bad that I’m here because I can’t do this, because I’m really focused on these other things,’ and I said, ‘Understandably,'” Ortega explains. “We shared a sandwich together. He was super cool. When he walked out, I called my casting agents and I said, ‘You’re murdering me, here.'”

DiCaprio wasn’t even asked to read Max’s lines during the session, as Ortega felt that soaking up the budding actor’s vibes in the room was enough to sell him on his talents.

“It was so clear to me that this guy was so special, but I have to say, when Omri came in, there was something there that was just so perfect and that I feel, to this day, he delivered all that I could’ve hoped for in that role,” he finishes. “He was adorable.”

Doug Jones and Omri Katz in 'Hocus Pocus'

Doug Jones and Omri Katz in ‘Hocus Pocus’. DISNEY/KOBAL/SHUTTERSTOCK
Though DiCaprio went on to win an Oscar for his work in The Revenant, Katz retired from acting several years after leading Hocus Pocus, and now runs a business as an “ambassador of the cannabis culture,” according to his website. It’s a fitting career move, given that Katz previously revealed to EW that he was high while filming certain Hocus Pocus scenes.

“That was at an age where I started experimenting with cannabis. Let’s just say, some of those scenes, I was having a good old time,” Katz told EW in 2022. “I’ll tell you what I do remember: I was misperforming and not hitting my keys or marks. Kenny [Ortega, the director] comes up to me and practically grabs me by the shirt, and he was like, ‘Are you high?’ and I was like, ‘No,’ and of course, I was.”

EW has reached out to a representative for DiCaprio for comment.

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