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Bizarre Things That Happened On The Titanic Set

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Writer-director James Cameron's 1997 epic "Titanic" exceeded all expectations. According to The Hollywood Reporter, at the time, "Titanic" was the most expensive film ever made, so all eyes were on Cameron to deliver. Luckily, "Titanic" smashed box office records and when award season come knocking, it walked away with 11 Oscars, including best picture (via IMDb).

While "Titanic" does follow the true story of the legendary unsinkable ship that hit an iceberg and tragically sinks, Cameron turns what could have been a run-of-the-mill disaster movie into something more: an emotional love story between wealthy and caged-in Rose (Kate Winslet) and free spirited artist Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio). Cameron also puts a face to the hundreds of lives lost, showing that whether you're rich or poor, in the end, we're all in the same boat.

According to The New Yorker, Cameron is known to have a rather extreme side when he's working. A perfectionist who puts a lot of pressure on himself, Cameron is known to even do makeup touch-ups himself to ensure that his films meet his high standards. Crews that have worked with James (or Jim) Cameron recognize the signs of Cameron's intense work ethic and have even given these darker personality traits the nickname Mij — a.k.a. Jim backward (via The New Yorker). 

So, it should come as no surprise that when working on "Titanic," the stakes were immeasurably high and some strange things happened on set in this high-stress environment. At the time, no one else was doing what Cameron was in order to create this movie and a bit of anarchy ensued. Let's take a look at 10 of the most bizarre things that happened on the set of "Titanic."

Leonardo DiCaprio's photo double had adoring fans

Brett Baker — Leonardo DiCaprio's photo double in "Titanic" — spoke to Vanity Fair in 2016 about his experience making the film. Baker was a struggling actor and was thrilled to join the project, even though the role wasn't exactly what he'd trained for. As a photo double, Baker's job was to silently take DiCaprio's place in shots where you couldn't see his face to give the star a break from more tedious work. Baker's presence in "Titanic" is undetectable, but he remembers how nervous he was to meet Cameron for the first time since he is both shorter and older than DiCaprio. Luckily, Cameron believed he looked enough like DiCaprio that it would work.

Baker looks back fondly on his time on the "Titanic" set, saying most actors don't get their big break staring in one of the biggest films of all time. Plus, the photo double life got interesting thanks to all of the teen fans waiting by the studio gate, hoping to catch a glimpse of DiCaprio. During the filming of "Titanic," the Leo-craze was in full fledge, as he was considered to be THE heartthrob of the era. Security would usher DiCaprio out the back to avoid the fans and instead, Baker would be brought out front for everyone to gush over. As Baker recalls to Vanity Fair, "[The fans] went berserk. Screaming, looking inside the window, waving their pieces of paper for an autograph. ... I don't know if anyone knew that was going on at the gate every morning." At least he got his own little fan club during filming.

The crew's food was spiked with PCP

One of the most bizarre things to happen on the "Titanic" set is someone spiking the crew's food with PCP while filming in Canada. Marilyn McAvoy — a background painter who worked on "Titanic" — spoke to Vice about the incident, which occurred in 1996 when some cast and crew sat down to enjoy a clam chowder lunch, which was spiked with PCP. Those affected — including James Cameron and actor Bill Paxton — were rushed to the hospital, although both Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio were spared this eventful dinner, since they weren't required for this Canadian shoot.

Marilyn McAvoy recalls how the evening began, with people going for seconds and thirds of the chowder because it tasted so good. There lay the problem, as everyone was having a lot more than they usually would. Soon people started tripping, and once they realized what was happening, Cameron allegedly went up to his room to make himself throw up and stop the hallucinogen from taking over.

McAvoy described how the crew was in the hospital all night, as some people were having a bad trip: "It became pretty chaotic. ... People had a lot of energy. Some were in wheelchairs, flying down the hallways. ... People were playing hacky sack." On her end, she said it all seemed like a dream, and that her experience wasn't too bad. Unfortunately for the crew, they never caught the perpetrator, resulting in that entire night going down as one of the weirdest on-set moments.

Kate Winslet suffered from hypothermia

Once the Titanic sinks, Jack freezes in the frigid waters, but Rose manages to stay alive and flag down a nearby boat looking for survivors. It's a tragic ending, especially since many have argued it's a moment in "Titanic" that makes no sense: Rose could have moved over to make room for Jack on the floating door and they would have survived together. The only way to get over this massive injustice of Jack's fate is to remember that it's a movie and that Jack is a fictional character. Nothing that happens to him in the film is real, the actors all survived filming and made it out okay ... kind of.

In 2017, Kate Winslet appeared on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" and revealed that when shooting this scene in the water, she got hypothermia. She put it simply to Colbert, declaring, "I was really f***ing cold!" and explained that the reason the water was so cold — even though this was all supposed to be pretend movie magic — is that there was so much of it, the crew couldn't heat it up. So yeah, maybe Jack should have been allowed on the door to keep Rose warm. We're still not over it.

Kate Winslet almost drowned

It turns out, Kate Winslet suffered quite a bit during filming. In a 1997 interview with The Los Angeles Times, Winslet revealed a variety of injuries she got on set — bruises, gashes, and a chipped elbow — and described the moment when she felt like she almost drowned during one scene. What makes this even more bizarre is the fact that Cameron didn't notice and kept directing, as he was completely oblivious to her near-death experience.

The scene in question takes place when Rose and Jack are running through the ship as water is gushing in. They try to find an escape route, but soon get trapped in by a closed gate, with water pouring in on them. Once the scene cut, the production team opened the gate to allow DiCaprio and Winslet through. However, her coat got caught on the iron bars and she was submerged in the water. 

Winslet described the experience to The Los Angeles Times, "I had no breath left. I thought I'd burst. And Jim just said, 'OK, let's go again.' That was his attitude. I didn't want to be a wimp so I didn't complain." Although Cameron realized a few minutes later that Winslet was feeling shaken by the experience, he wanted to get back into it and shoot the scene again, comparing it to getting back on a horse after a fall. The show must go on, after all.

The dangerous staircase

For many, the staircase in "Titanic" is an iconic symbol of Rose and Jack's love. Early in the film, Jack waits for Rose at the bottom of the staircase to escort her to dinner with her family. He's blown away when he sees her looking fancy and beautiful, and the romantic tension between them is palpable. In the final scene of the movie, Rose passes away and the staircase appears again, reuniting her with Jack and all of the others lost on the Titanic. Both are beautiful and emotional moments, as they show the journey of Jack and Rose's relationship, culminating with their final embrace in the afterlife.

However, behind the scenes of this romantic tale is a puzzling one. In 2017, Cameron reflected on his time filming "Titanic" in National Geographic's "Titanic: 20 Years Later with James Cameron." When looking back at the iconic staircase, Cameron recalled, "The staircase has got a steel footing, then when we sank the ship, it lifted. Wood is buoyant. It ripped off that footing and it all floated up, and it actually pinned two stunt players. Fortunately, they weren't hurt, but it was a pretty scary moment" (via USA Today). The staircase was built to replicate the actual grand stairs that were aboard the famous vessel, so perhaps it brought some of its bad luck with it.

James Cameron and Celine Dion didn't like My Heart Will Go On

When you think of "Titanic," it's hard not to start belting out Céline Dion's epic ballad "My Heart Will Go On." Perhaps you've even outstretched your arms wide and acted like you were flying just like Rose did on the nose of the Titanic. The song is synonymous with the film, but oddly enough, Cameron didn't like or even want it in the movie.

In an interview with Andy Cohen on "Watch What Happens Live," Dion revealed that she didn't want to sing the song: "It didn't appeal to me. I was probably very tired that day." Her husband suggested doing a demo to see how the song sounded, so Dion recorded it once and that was it. The music was added and the final version we all know now is actually her first — and only take — for that demo.

Meanwhile, according to an oral history of the song in Billboard, Cameron didn't want a modern song with lyrics to be played in his historical romance. Dion remembered Cameron saying, "My movie is big enough, I don't need something bigger, I don't need any singer." The tides changed for both of them after Dion watched the film with Cameron and heard the song at the end. Dion wept during the movie and the two of them finally understood the necessary place the song had in the film. Jon Landau, executive producer of "Titanic," described the song as "a continuation of the epilogue of the film" that audiences could bring home with them after the lights came up.

Kate Winslet lost some jewelry from the set

Actors have been known to take things from set from time to time. Think of it as a piece of memorabilia that commemorates the time they spent filming. It's understandable when one goes through blood, sweat, and tears to make a film that they feel like they deserve a little something for their troubles ... aside from their massive paycheck, of course.

And since Winslet almost drowned and got hypothermia, we think it's fair to say that she wanted to take a little something extra on the way out. In an interview with The New York Times, Winslet noted that she likes saving things from sets and during "Titanic," she snagged some jewelry: "I did take a pair of Rose's earrings, but somewhere I lost one."

This is ironic, as "Titanic" begins with the search for lost jewelry. Rose pocketed and hid the "heart of the ocean" diamond for years after surviving the Titanic's sinking. And by the end of the film, she drops the necklace into the ocean, effectively making the piece of jewelry lost all over again.

How Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet's decades-long friendship began

It's no secret that Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet have enjoyed a decades-long friendship. Ever since starring as star-crossed lovers in "Titanic," the two have freely shown each other their admiration and support over the years. A decade after "Titanic," the two starred in the post-war romantic drama "Revolutionary Road." 

Winslet talked about her friendship with DiCaprio in an interview with The Guardian, noting that they've known each other for half their lives: "He's my friend, my really close friend. We're bonded for life." Winslet won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in 2009 for "Revolutionary Road" and gushed about her co-star in her off-the-cuff speech.

For his part, DiCaprio has described how Winslet broke the ice between the two right off the bat. In the official behind-the-scenes book of the film, Ed W. Marsh's "James Cameron's Titanic," DiCaprio shared their bizarre first encounter that did just that. The first scene he shot was the one where he draws naked Rose: "[Winslet] had no shame with it ... She wanted to break the ice a little beforehand, so she flashed me. I wasn't prepared for that, so she had one up on me. I was pretty comfortable after that." A 1998 Rolling Stone profile on Winslet detailed how things snowballed from there, with Winslet and DiCaprio spending the rest of the shoot pranking each other.

The film's portrayal of real people on Titanic

While "Titanic" follows mostly fictional characters, the director did incorporate many real-life facts into his story about the 20th-century historical sinking of this luxury cruise ship, which was considered to be the biggest and best of its time. However, on April 15th, 1912, the Titanic hit an iceberg off the North Atlantic coast of Newfoundland and sank, costing over 1,500 people their lives (via History).

In National Geographic's "Titanic: 20 Years Later with James Cameron," Cameron spoke with the families of some of the victims, whose stories appeared in the film. Cameron wanted to ensure that although his movie is a love story, it would not undermine the horrific real-world tragedy of what happened. 

One of the family members he met with was Paul Kurzman, the great-grandson of passengers Isidor and Ida Straus. Isidor was a self-made millionaire and co-owner of Macy's. Kurzman explained that when people began to evacuate the ship, Ida got into a lifeboat, believing that her husband Isidor would follow. However, he refused to enter until all the women and children boarded first. So, Ida left the lifeboat to stay on the doomed ship with her husband, which is shown in one of the film's deleted scenes. They would die as they lived: together.

Near the end of "Titanic," we see a couple holding each other and laying in bed as water pours into their cabin and in fact, they're based on this true story of Isidor and Ida Straus, who stayed together until the end.

James Cameron almost didn't cast Kate Winslet

Kate Winslet will forever be remembered for "Titanic." Winslet was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress in 1998 for the role (via IMDb), and the film sky-rocketed her career. However, she was almost left out of the project entirely. According to Yahoo, Cameron was interested in other actresses playing Rose. Bigger names at the time like Claire Danes, Reese Witherspoon, and Winona Ryder are reported to have turned down the role. Rumors swirled that Nicole Kidman, Angelina Jolie, and even Madonna auditioned, but it was Gwyneth Paltrow that Cameron had his eye on, and she very nearly got the role.

However, Winslet is not one to take no for an answer. In a 1998 interview with Rolling Stone, she revealed that after reading the script, she wept and decided she had to get cast. She got a hold of Cameron's number and told him, "I just have to do this, and you are really mad if you don't cast me." Winslet took things even further by convincing DiCaprio to take part as well. 

DiCaprio was wavering on playing Jack, so when the two actors happened to be at Cannes, Winslet bombarded him at his hotel to persuade him to do "Titanic." Years later, DiCaprio told Deadline that he agreed because he loved Winslet as an actress and she was the one who convinced him they could do this film. Thankfully, all of Winslet's dedication paid off, and she was cast as Rose. And to be honest, we can't imagine anyone else bringing that character to life.