Over 25 years after its initial release in theaters, the movie Titanic reigns supreme again at the box office, coming in third for the weekend of Feb. 10. The film, released in theaters in Dec. 1997, remains a smash with theatergoers and continues to resonate with those interested in the historical significance of the luxury liner’s 1912 sinking. The movie had many memorable moments, but one improvised scene left actor Billy Zane, who plays the wealthy villain Cal Hockley disgusted by Kate Winslet’s actions.
‘Titanic’ actors were encouraged to go off-script by director James Cameron
Titanic director James Cameron encouraged actors to go off script when it felt appropriate to the scene. One of the film’s most memorable moments came from the director. But Titanic star Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t get it, and it almost didn’t make the film.
The moment that almost didn’t make the movie? When Leonardo DiCaprio stood on the Titanic‘s bow with Danny Nucci (Fabrizio) and yelled, “I’m the king of the world.”
“It was made up on the spot,” Cameron said during an interview for BBC Radio’s The Movies That Made Me. “I was in a crane basket, and we were losing the light. I had tried this, and we had tried that. Tried this line and that line, and it was just coming up snake eyes.”
The actor was not convinced when the director fed him the now-iconic line. Leo’s response to James over the walkie-talkie was, “What?!” Cameron responded, “Just f****** sell it.” The next take was left in the film.
James’ direction was extended to the remainder of the cast, including actors Kate Winslet and Billy Zane. The latter used a prior scene as a reference for when she shocked and disgusted Billy Zane by spitting directly in his face.
Billy Zane had no idea Kate Winslet would spit directly in his face
According to Screen Rant, the director pushed his actors to do what felt right in a scene, within reason. Kate Winslet wanted to show just how disgusted the character of Rose Dewitt Bukater had become toward her fiance Cal, played by Billy Zane.
Therefore, she piggybacked on an earlier scene where she and Leonardo DiCaprio spit over the boat railing. Rose was fascinated by Jack and the freedom by which he lived his life, and the subsequent scene was reportedly entirely improvised.
Therefore, when Rose tries to escape from Cal as the ship sinks, she spits in his face. However, Billy had no idea Kate would go that far as an actor, and his shock and disgust are apparent. The script initially called for Rose to poke Cal with a hairpin to make him release her. However, Kate decided spitting in Billy’s face would be more effective.
Billy Zane got Kate Winslet back after the surprise spitting scene
In a different Titanic scene, Billy Zane had his revenge. In an interview for Vulture, the actor discussed Cal’s table-flipping scene, which stunned Kate Winslet with its intensity. The moment showed Rose just how determined Cal was to make her his wife. While the scene was rumored to be off-script, Billy explained this was not the case.
“It wasn’t in the moment. I’m trying to remember how we arrived there. I think it was simply, ‘Why go around it? Go through it.’ That was perhaps my suggestion [about the scene] to James Cameron,” Billy said. “As posh and elite and maybe effete as he could be, this he is also potentially dangerous.”
The actor then said the scene was not improvised. “Oh, I would never have done that randomly. It would have been dangerous and inappropriate. There’s improv, and then there’s chaos.”
Billy explained the take was done six times, and only once did a drop of orange juice get on Kate’s dress. “Somehow, the thing always flew in the direction of the camera, and she was safe from harm, which is more important. I would never have just done something like that with glassware. It was not improv, per se, but it arrived on the day. It seemed to be an effective choice.”
Titanic‘s 25th Anniversary edition is currently in theaters.