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Titanic was a behemoth, and I don’t just say that because of the eponymous ship’s size. Not only was it the first movie to cross the $1 billion mark and ranked as the highest-grossing movie of all time for over a decade, it catapulted stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet to worldwide fame. But in a different reality, Homeland star Claire Danes might have been the Rose to Leo’s Jack.
Claire Danes recently recalled how she believes she was offered the role of Rose DeWitt Bukater (later Dawson) in Titanic, but ultimately turned down the opportunity, saying:
I had just made this romantic epic with Leo in Mexico City, which is where they were going to shoot Titanic! And I just didn't have it in me!
The movie Claire Danes is referencing is 1996’s Romeo + Juliet, a contemporary take on the William Shakespeare tragedy that saw Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio in the title roles. So those two had already had experience playing romantic interests opposite one another, and that could have continued with Titanic.
But as Claire Danes laid out during her appearance on the Armchair Expert podcast, Titanic’s similarities to Romeo + Juliet led her to realize that the former just wasn’t the project for her. Danes explained how she ran into Leonardo DiCaprio driving donuts around the parking lot of their mutual manager’s office, and she learned he was “wrestling” over whether or not to do Titanic. The actress continued:
And he just looked up at me and said, 'I'm doing it! I'm doing it!' And I could see he wasn't sure. But he was like, 'Fuck it, I gotta do this thing.' And I looked down at him, and I was like, 'I totally understand why you're doing that. And I'm not ready for that.' And I think I really wasn't ready for it. And I remember after that movie came out... and he just went into another stratosphere.
“Another stratosphere” is certainly accurate, if not an understatement. While Leonardo DiCaprio’s notable pre-Titanic credits also included Growing Pains, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Basketball Diaries, the romance/disaster movie was a worldwide phenomenon and paved the way for him to become one of Hollywood’s most famous actors.
Claire Danes also mentioned how after Titanic’s release, she noticed that people were treating Leonardo DiCaprio differently, and sensing that she was “courting” that level of fame, or at least “proximate” to it, she didn’t want to have to deal with everything that came with it. So while Titanic could have also significantly raised Danes’ professional profile, she has “zero regret” about turning it down.
Of course, it’s not like Claire Danes hasn’t had a successful career without Titanic. In the years since, she’s appeared in movies like Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Shopgirl, The Family Stone and Brigsby Bear, as well played professor and autism spokesperson Temple Grandin in an HBO movie, for which she received an Emmy.
However, Claire Danes in unquestionably best known for her time as Carrie Mathison in the Showtime series Homeland, which begins its eighth and final season. Danes has collected two Emmy wins and three Emmy nominations for her Homeland work, so while she’s not at Leonardo DiCaprio’s level of prominence, she’s done quite well for herself in the decades since steering away from Titanic.