Director Michael Mann revealed he scrapped a “brilliant screenplay” about late “Rebel Without a Cause” actor Dean due to his dream lead, DiCaprio, looking too young for the part.
“That was so weird about James Dean,” Mann told Deadline. “It’s, ‘Who the hell could play James Dean?’ And I found a chap who could play James Dean, but he was too young. It was Leo. We did a screen test that’s quite amazing. I think he must’ve been 19 at the time.”
Screen legend Dean died at age 24 after a car accident in 1955 after starring in three major films.
“From one angle, he totally had it with him,” Mann said of DiCaprio. “I mean, it’s brilliance. 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.”
He added, “I found the absolutely perfect act of the play, in about three years from that. He respectfully undid the James Dean bio for me.”
Instead, Mann went on to helm “Heat” in 1995, while DiCaprio continued his rise to global stardom with “The Basketball Diaries” the same year, followed by 1996’s “Romeo + Juliet” and his breakout role in James Cameron’s epic “Titanic” in 1997.
Dean’s legacy has been portrayed most famously by doppelganger James Franco in the 2001 TV movie “James Dean.”
And DiCaprio has continued taking on real-life historical figures for the big screen, notably Howard Hughes for Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” J. Edgar Hoover, Frank Abagnale Jr., and Jordan Belfort. Up next, DiCaprio is also linked to play cult leader Jim Jones and former president Theodore Roosevelt in two upcoming films. The Oscar winner is also starring in Scorsese’s “The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny, and Murder” based on a true story.
Writer-director Mann may be getting the chance to work with the DiCaprio of Gen Z, Academy Award nominee Timothée Chalamet, in the “Heat 2” prequel based on Mann’s new novel. Original “Heat” star Al Pacino fan-casted Chalamet to portray a younger version of his cop character.