Twenty years after its release, “Titanic” is still making waves. The blockbuster will be re-released in theaters on Friday, and the behind-the-camera memories from the notoriously overbudget and overschedule shoot, which dragged on for roughly 7 months and cost an estimated $200 million, are as entertaining as the film itself.
Billy Zane, who played Cal, the wealthy fiancé of Rose (Kate Winslet), remembered shooting the sinking scenes in a seaside tank in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, filled with icy, 54-degree seawater. To stay warm, the actors were constantly jumping into hot tubs scattered about set between takes.
“It became so commonplace to just keep getting in and out of hot tubs in a tux,” Zane told The Post. “Then someone walks by and you just reach into a basket and you’re noshing on a hot dog in a tux in a hot tub, just deadpan, without any reaction, like this is completely normal.”
Less waterlogged scenes also posed unique challenges.
Zane recalled shooting a scene in which his character yells at Rose for spending time with Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and flips the breakfast table in anger.
“I think Kate only had two of those dresses, so all of the food and the orange juice had to hopefully fly anywhere but on her,” Zane said. “I think after, like, seven takes, I got maybe one drop on one of the dresses.”
Second-unit director Jonathan Southard recalled another challenging scene with flying dishes. They did at least a dozen takes of a shot of china falling off the shelves as the ship is sinking. “We ran out of dishes,” Southard told The Post.
In the off-hours, there was a camplike atmosphere, thanks, in part, to the dormitory-style dressing rooms in Mexico. “People would be in and out of each other’s rooms, sharing food and movies and video games,” Zane said. “While warned to not go to this particular spot, the cast would always gather and go down for forbidden tacos and cervezas and have just the best time.”
It was less of a good time when they were filming in Nova Scotia, Canada, and someone laced the cast and crew’s lobster chowder with PCP, sending 80 people to the hospital. Winslet and DiCaprio were reportedly spared, but even writer-director James Cameron and co-star Bill Paxton were stricken.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic
20th Century Fox
“The worst part: The people that went to the ER had to drink something like a liquefied charcoal, this black gunk, that very rapidly absorbed the toxins and took away the effects in like an hour, but you had to be able to stomach this stuff,” Southard said.
Who spiked the chowder remains a mystery.
There were sweeter moments, however, too. Even the notoriously harsh Cameron was charmed by Gloria Stuart, the late actress who played Old Rose. According to her grandson, Benjamin Stuart Thompson, Stuart, who was in her late 80s at the time of shooting and passed away in 2010, called Cameron “Herr Director.”
Recalling one of her memories, Thompson said, “[She] had just done a close-up of her climbing up onto the rail to throw the diamond, and Mr. Cameron said, ‘Gloria, what’s with the red toe nail polish?’”
Stuart hurried to explain her mistake, when a benevolent Cameron changed tack. “It doesn’t matter, I love it!” He replied.
Despite their friendly banter, even the lovable octogenarian couldn’t get Cameron to divulge one of the film’s biggest questions. Is Old Rose dead or alive in the film’s final shot, which shows the character lying in bed, eyes closed, dreaming of her younger self reuniting with Jack.
According to Thompson, when his grandmother asked Cameron, “He said, ‘Just lie still, Gloria. You don’t need to know!’”