Leonardo DiCaprio Questioned One Of Titanic’s Classic Moments

Leo DiCaprio in Titanic

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

“You’re going to need a bigger boat.”

“You talking to me?”

We obviously love writers around these parts, but sometimes, the best laid plans of a screenplay simply don’t work out as intended. In rare instances when the film gods are really smiling down on a movie set, the result can sometimes be that improvised lines, like the three listed above, are etched into cinema history and end up becoming the most famous lines of their respective films. Such is the case with James Cameron’s box office behemoth (and flat-out terrific film) “Titanic,” which has several memorable lines, but thanks to Cameron utilizing it in his eventual Oscar speech, perhaps none are as famous as when Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack Dawson shouts “I’m the king of the world!” from the bow of the doomed ocean liner.

Despite that line being synonymous with “Titanic,” it wasn’t in Cameron’s original script. In a 2019 interview with BBC Radio 1’s Ali Plumb, Cameron explained that when he came up with it in the spur of the moment, his lead actor was initially hesitant about saying the line.

“It was made up on the spot. I was in a crane basket, and we were losing the light, and we had tried this and tried that, and we’d tried this line and that line, and nothing was really working. And I literally was just coming up snake eyes, and I said, ‘All right. I got one for you. Just say, I’m the king of the world, and just spread your arms out wide and just be in the moment, and just love it and celebrate the moment.'”

It turns out DiCaprio, who turned 22 years old during production, apparently wasn’t thrilled about the idea.

James Cameron had to convince DiCaprio to say Titanic’s most famous line

For someone like DiCaprio, who at that point already had a reputation as something of a womanizer (he was a member of a group of guys who were famously dubbed the “Pussy Posse”) and was presumably thinking an awful lot about his image and his perceived cool factor at the time, you may be able to imagine what it might feel like to be standing on a fake ship and asked to embrace this ridiculously cheesy line. As Cameron explained:

“[DiCaprio] goes, ‘What?!’ I’m getting this over the walkie talkie. ‘What?!’ I said, ‘I’m the king of the world, just say I’m the king of the world. But you’ve gotta sell it.’ And he goes, ‘What?!’ I said, ‘Just f***ing sell it!’ So then he gets up there, and [says it].”

Leonardo DiCaprio on 'Titanic': 'I'm incredibly proud of it'

The secret weapon of “Titanic,” though (aside from just an all-timer scumbag villain performance from Billy Zane), is that the film’s cheesiness is actually an asset, not a hindrance. Cameron’s screenplay (one of the few aspects of the film that the Academy did not recognize with an Oscar nomination) is perfectly modulated to be endearing rather than off-putting. The writing is broad, yes — but it’s also a grand love story set among the greatest maritime disaster of all time, full of archetypal characters and relatable class commentary and swooning romance. One could look at “Titanic” as something of a template for what Cameron would later do with “Avatar”: By painting with the broadest brush story-wise and letting his performers work within those confines, he’s crafted a universal love story that everyone can understand. Some people — even DiCaprio himself! — may roll their eyes at lines like “I’m the king of the world,” but you can’t argue with the results.



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