The extraordinary role Leonardo DiCaprio regrets turning down

Back in the late 1990s, there was no star in the cosmos of Hollywood that shined brighter than that of Leonardo DiCaprio, the young American actor who had retained his signature baby face long after his teenage years had come to an end. Rising to popularity throughout the decade thanks to box office hits and critical sensations that even led to an early Oscar nomination for 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, DiCaprio suddenly found himself as the industry’s hottest property.

But, as every sought-after actor quickly discovers, not every single project that comes one’s way can be completed, with tough decisions having to be made during decisive formative years in one of the world’s toughest industries. Such a choice arose for DiCaprio in 1997 when the young star made history by playing the lead role in James Cameron’s Titanic, creating one of cinema’s greatest box office sensations as a result.

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A gargantuan spectacle of cinema, Titanic was a dramatisation of the human tragedy of the sinking of the R.M.S Titanic in 1911, which took the lives of over 1,500 people. Focusing less on the facts and more on the potential romance of the tale, Cameron’s vision saw DiCaprio play Jack Dawson, a plucky young man who found himself being the “king of the world” for just one day, falling in love with Kate Winslet’s Rose Dewitt Bukater in the process.

His cute, romantic character was far different to that of Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler, who headed up Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, which was released in the very same year, however, if things had worked out just a little bit differently, DiCaprio could have ended up as the porn star in Paul Thomas Anderson’s classic, rather than being the love interest of Cameron’s hit.

A film worthy of cinematic deconstruction, Boogie Nights is a bonafide cult classic that frenetically examines the 1970s porn industry with a cast of some of the industry’s most talented stars, including Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, John C. Reilly and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Arguably, Paul Thomas Anderson’s very best film, Boogie Nights, is a powerful evaluation of the hedonistic excess of the ’70s, taking us to the trashy world of the emerging adult industry of Southern California.

A favourite film of iconic filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, Anderson’s second feature project featured Wahlberg in an unforgettable lead performance of Eddie Adams, an up-and-coming porn hopeful who operates under the alias of Dirk Diggler. Reeking of aftershave and boyish charm, Wahlberg’s performance is a true career great, with the actor’s sheer ability to shake off all inhibitions to play this character establishing his fate as a bonafide Hollywood icon.

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Wahlberg’s role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s classic would launch the actor into the Hollywood stratosphere and lead him to such opportunities as David O. Russell’s Three Kings and Martin Scorsese’s The Departedwhere he would appear alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, the very man who could have made his career very different, indeed.

Deeply regretting turning the role down in favour of the third highest-grossing film of all time, DiCaprio told ShowbizSpy, “My biggest regret is Boogie Nights. I’m a huge fan of Paul Thomas Anderson but the first time I met him for that role I hadn’t really seen much of his previous work. Now I love that movie”. It’s even something that Anderson himself has addressed, explaining on the Bill Simmons Podcast, “there was no Leo vs. Mark because Leo decided not to do the film” before explaining that Mark Wahlberg was the right choice for the role.

It’s hard to feel too sorry for Leonardo DiCaprio however, as the world-famous actor also reached international acclaim thanks to his role in Cameron’s Titanic. After becoming the highest-grossing film ever at the time, Cameron’s film remains one of the most iconic roles of DiCaprio’s career, though strangely, it is rumoured that he was ushered into the role by none other than Paul Rudd.

“My father was a Titanic expert and he used to take people all over the world talking about Titanic. He would go to universities,” Rudd said while appearing on The Graham Norton Show.

Rudd explained that after wrapping up the filming for Romeo + Juliet, some members of the cast headed for a drink: “We all went out to the bar…I was riding to the place with Leo, and he said, ‘I just got offered this movie, and it’s a big movie,’” said Rudd. Sensing that DiCaprio was unsure on his decision, Rudd said the news was “incredible” considering DiCaprio had only appeared in indie cinematic roles up until that point.

Rudd remembered: “He was saying, ‘Well, I don’t know what I’ll do,’ and I remember saying, ‘You should do it,’” he said while laughing. “I don’t think I had any say, but it is kind of interesting to think back on that,” he joked.

While it is unlikely Rudd had a role in the acquisition of DiCaprio to Cameron’s Titanic, it’s certainly nice to believe so.

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