Leonardo DiCaprio almost played one of Hollywood’s iconic legends on the big screen.
In an interview with Deadline about his new novel Heat 2, director Michael Mann reveals he once had plans to adapt James Dean’s life into a biopic. He even had his leading man in mind – a young DiCaprio.
“That was so weird about James Dean. It was a brilliant screenplay. And then it’s who the hell could play James Dean?” recalled Mann. “And I found a chap who could play James Dean, but he was too young.”
They even got as far in the process as a screen test with DiCaprio with mixed results.
“We did a screen test that’s quite amazing. I think he must’ve been 19 at the time. And from one angle, he totally had it with him. I mean, it’s brilliance,” said Mann. “He would turn his face in one direction and we see a vision of James Dean, and then he’d turn his face another direction and it’s no, that’s a young kid.”
Dean was 24 at the time of his death in 1955.
Joking about the unfinished project, the director put the blame on DiCaprio.
“I found the absolutely perfect act of the play, in about three years from that,” he added. “[DiCaprio] respectfully undid the James Dean bio for me.”
Mann would go on to helm “Heat” in 1995 and DiCaprio would work on “The Basketball Diaries”.
The 47-year-old actor once spoke about the screen test in a Deadline interview in 2016.
“I did a screen test with him, I think I was 18. It turned out pretty well. We saw clips of Giant, and then he put me in the back of the car with that cowboy hat,” DiCaprio said. “But I was a very young-looking kid, even when I was young. [Mann] decided to wait a couple of years, but I…looked really young.”
Dean’s legacy was eventually captured in a 2001 TV movie with James Franco in the role.