Leonardo DiCaprio Almost Played James Dean in '90s Biopic but Looked 'Too Young' in Screen Test
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Leonardo DiCaprio was deemed too young-looking to portray James Dean on the big screen.
Heat director Michael Mann told Deadline Wednesday that he abandoned making a biopic about the iconic Hollywood star — who died in a car crash at the age of 24 back in 1955 — after DiCaprio came off too young for the part when he was interested in doing the film.
"It was a brilliant screenplay. And then it's, 'Who the hell could play James Dean?' I found a chap who could play James Dean, but he was too young. It was Leo," said Mann, 79.
"We did a screen test that's quite amazing," he recalled. "I think he must've been 19 at the time. From one angle, he totally had it with him. 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.' I found the absolutely perfect act of the play, in about three years from that."
Mann joked DiCaprio, now 47, "respectfully undid the James Dean bio for me."
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Back in 2016, the Oscar winner recalled the audition in an interview with Deadline, also agreeing he "looked really young" at the time.
"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. But I was a very young-looking kid, even when I was young," said DiCaprio. "[Mann] decided to wait a couple of years, but I…looked really young."
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The Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood actor shared why Dean's career stuck with him: "I remember being incredibly moved by Jimmy Dean in East of Eden. There was something so raw and powerful about that performance. His vulnerability … his confusion about his entire history, his identity, his desperation to be loved. That performance just broke my heart."
Some actors who have portrayed Dean onscreen include James Franco in the 2001 TV movie James Dean, Dane DeHaan in 2015's Life, and Starship Troopers actor Casper Van Dien in 1997's James Dean: Race with Destiny.