Leonardo DiCaprio rose to prominence as one of Hollywood’s promising young actors in the early 1990s with several blinding performances. Most notably with his roles in This Boy’s Life (1993), in which he acted alongside Robert De Niro and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), in which he flawlessly portrayed Gilbert Grape’s (Johnny Depp) developmentally disabled brother.
By the mid-’90s, DiCaprio had received further praise for his performances in The Basketball Diaries (1995) and Romeo + Juliet (1996) and was being scouted by several top-flight filmmakers. At this point, DiCaprio was met with a tough decision when he was approached by both Paul Thomas Anderson, who was casting a leading role for Boogie Nights, and James Cameron, who was beginning the Titanic project.
In an interview with the Smartless podcast, Anderson confirmed that DiCaprio struggled to choose between Boogie Nights and Titanic. “That is very true that I asked Leo to be in Boogie Nights, and he spent many, many months agonising and debating about it,” Anderson said.
“Ultimately, what I came to realise, about halfway into that long decision-making process, is that he had a choice to make—either to do Titanic or to do Boogie Nights, and he chose to do Titanic. Which, in the long run, catapulted him into this massive worldwide fame, but on the other hand, I think possibly—we laugh about it now—but he regrets missing the experience and doing it.”
DiCaprio then allegedly suggested Mark Wahlberg for the lead role in Boogie Nights. The two had become close after working together on the 1995 film The Basketball Diaries. Despite a great performance in The Basketball Diaries, Wahlberg was mainly known for his music career as the frontman of the hip-hop group Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch at the time. Wahlberg was subsequently auditioned and found success in the lead role for Boogie Nights. His dynamic performance proved his acting strengths and gave him wider exposure as one of Hollywood’s promising stars.
As for DiCaprio, Titanic became the jewel in his crown as he became the heartthrob of a generation and one of Hollywood’s most sought after leading men.