Leonardo DiCaprio Says He Didn’t Expect Overnight Fame After Titanic: ‘My Whole Life Became About Things That Weren’t Acting’

When Leonardo DiCaprio first signed on to play Jack Dawson in Titanic he never expected it would become the highest-grossing film of all time.

Titanic was very much an experiment for Kate Winslet and I,” he told Deadline. “We’d done all of these independent movies. I loved her as an actress and she said, ‘Let’s do this together, we can do this.’ We did it, and it became something that we could’ve never foreseen.”

The current Oscar frontrunner admitted that after the success of the film, the level of fame he achieved seemingly overnight surprised him.

“It was shocking,” he said. “People said, ‘Do you realize how big of a movie this is?’ I said, ‘Yeah, it’s big. It’s a big movie.’ They’re like, ‘No. No. No, it’s the biggest movie ever,’ and I’m like, ‘Well, what does that mean? So it’s big.’ ”

DiCaprio quickly became a bona fide heartthrob, and found himself plastered on the covers of countless magazines.

“My whole life became about things that weren’t about acting,” he said.

However, he admits his performance in Titanic allowed him to take on virtually any leading role he desired. And while he was offered franchise roles that would create a clear path for his career, he immediately knew that’s not what he wanted.

“I knew there was an expectation of me to do a certain thing at that point, and I knew I had to get back to what my intentions were from the onset,” he explained.

Instead, The Revenant star, 41, focused on making movies that were important to him – and he used his newfound Hollywood power to make it happen.

“I had forged by then exactly what type of films I wanted to do,” he said. “I used it as a blessing, to make R-rated, different kinds of movies, to throw the dice a little bit on things I wanted to act in. People would want to finance those movies now. I’d never had that, before Titanic.

He continued: “I think there’s a yearning for adult movies out there that have some spectacle and some balls to them, and I’m a fan of those movies. I want to see these films being made. So if I can get them financed … I still feel that way and I still get excited about that.”

DiCaprio said his certainty of what kind of actor he wanted to be and what stories he wanted to tell were a result of putting himself through a “self-inflicted history lesson” early in his career. He also said it’s what pushed him to turn down a leading role in Hocus Pocus for a smaller spot in 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

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Looking back on his decision now, even he’s surprised by his ability to make such a risky and career-defining decision.

“I’d done This Boy’s Life, and they’d given me the offer for Hocus Pocus, and I’d told them no,” he said. “I wanted this part in Gilbert Grape, and it was a gamble, because I’d never had any real money in my life, and it was the first real money offer I’d ever gotten. But the gamble paid off. I was 16 or 17.”

DiCaprio said when it came down to it, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with Robert De Niro.

I really wanted that part. I look back and I don’t know how I, at that point, could have made that decision,” he said. “But after watching those movies, I just felt, ‘Holy s—, I’ve got one shot to be in this business, and I got a movie with Robert De Niro. I won the f—ing lottery.”

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