Kate's Titanic Diary
Kate's portrait by famed photographer Annie Leibowitz (for Vanity Fair)
This is an actual diary written by Kate, candidly documenting the process of filming "Titanic" from her perspective. (Much like Emma Thompson's "Sense & Sensibility" Diary, full of fun details.) It was originally printed in the December 1997 issue of Australian Vogue, and I got it from KWFC. Obviously this is a must-read for Kate fans and "Titanic" enthusiasts alike!
December 7, 1995, Los Angeles.
Today I met [director] James Cameron. Even though I haven't read for him yet, he showed me a model of the Titanic and how they were going to do the special effects shots by using a pen which is actually a tiny camera.. The story is incredible, horrible. One lifeboat only just missed landing on top of another. Some were sent out with 11 people on them and yet so many people drowned. The character he's considering me for is called Rose DeWitt Bukater, a 17-year-old from Philadelphia who is about to marry a man she can't love. She's on this ship, feeling as if she is about to be condemned for life, only to find true love on board the Titanic...
December 27, 1995, family Christmas, Reading, England.
I've finished reading the treatment for Titanic. My God! I just saw True Lies and The Abyss: amazing. One of Jim's triumphs is that, in spite of the action, I really, really cared about those people. I wanted to know what happened in the rest of their lives. I want this part.
January 15, 1996, London.
Leonardo DiCaprio is being mentioned to play Jack [a boy from steerage Rose falls in love with]! He is the actor of the century after what he did in [What's Eating] Gilbert Grape.
February 26, 1996, Los Angeles.
My first proper screen test. For Jude and Sense and Sensibility and Hamlet I'd done a lot of auditions and reading and being put onto a video tape. But a proper Hollywood screen test! I arrived in the morning and it took an entire day, with hair, costume, make-up, on a sort of set that they'd built up, really working the scenes and doing dialogue to the camera. I think it went okay. My fingers are very tightly crossed.
March 19, on set with Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, Shepperton Studios, England.
Oh my God! I'm sharing a room with Tina [make-up artist] in this tiny bed-and-breakfast and my mobile rang at 5am! When I heard Hylda's [Kate's Hollywood agent] voice, I knew there was only one reason for her to call at 5am and I was screaming so much I woke everybody up, even Julie [Christie, playing Gertrude to Winslet's Ophelia in Branagh's Hamlet] in the next room. Then I had to go to work, where I was in a straitjacket, doing Ophelia's whole bloody mad scenes! Ken [Branagh] is so excited. He's so thrilled for me. The best thing is that I'll be playing an American in something that happens to be a really good story.
June 7, London.
I'm exercising like a freak. How vile. I've had to give up my daily swim because of all the red dye they are putting in my hair. Too many chemicals. So now I'm lifting weights and cycling my bum off. Jim has chatted to me about the weird eating habits you get into on a really long shoot. He can tell I'm a bit squirrelly about eating and things like that so he has suggested I should have a routine. Not that he wants me to bulk up like Linda Hamilton did in The Terminator but I must be strong enough for the task ahead. He's told me it's going to be tough, it'll be a long shoot. I'm flying to LA to start rehearsals at the end of August. Two months to no cellulite. Can it be done?
September 8, Interstate 5 South Freeway, heading to Mexico and the set of Titanic.
I'm in a car with this great driver called Patrick on the way to Mexico. We've been drinking ice-blended mochas from Starbucks and listening to the blues. It's a beautiful day, and this is a beautiful drive. The sea is to my right and there isn't a whisper of a cloud in the sky. The cigar Patrick is smoking is huge and smells divine.
September 9, Rosarito, Mexico.
I'm on my little balcony. All I can hear is the sea and the chug of a little fishing boat going to catch lobsters. The rooms where we are living are really nice, airy and clean, although nearer to Christmas they'll all be blacked out because from then on we'll be doing night shoots and sleeping by day.
September 10, Rosarito.
It's extraordinary what's been done here. They are building studios, cold-water tanks, Titanic funnels, staterooms, dressing rooms, a production office, a gym...on what was derelict land by the sea. The time spent; the money spent! I've been shown my dressing room. People keep referring to "my trailer", but it's really a room, with a huge TV and a CD player and an enormous sofa and a bathroom with shower. I was welcomed with flowers and a little basket of soaps and eye compresses. I've just done 40 minutes on the bike. I'll do my stomach exercises later. Flabby tummy today. There is so much security here. There are men walking around carrying guns and truncheons. Very weird.
September 12, Rosarito.
Today there was an explosion 200 metres away from where Jim was directing me, Leo and Billy [Zane, who plays Rose's uptight fiance] in rehearsal. And Jim rushed out and came back saying it was 20 kilograms of dynamite - they are creating even more space to build on and the set is so massive as it is. So they just blew up a whole chunk of land. There are thousands of people working here, cranes swinging against the sky.
September 14, Rosarito.
I've been up since 5.45am, moved my furniture around a bit and made it a bit more cosy. I am on a mission to get rid of a horrid horsehair seat. I'm very tired and I need to get some sleep. I feel smelly, fat, ugly, talentless and uncommitted, frightened, lonely, nervous, mad and we haven't started shooting yet. If it's not rehearsals, it's weight training; if it's not etiquette, it's voice coaching. By the end of this film, if it's not suicide, it'll be an asylum.
September 15, Rosarito.
It is the night before shooting starts and here I am, all pin-curled up and hungry, ready to go. Thinking about Rose. She was so young. I need to think about her childhood, her youth and find my way through the 17 years of her life. I'll never sleep tonight.
September 16, Rosarito.
No sleep. This is it: day one of shooting Titanic. I'm thinking in American. Hair and make-up done, and cossie on. My life is not my own and probably never will be - and that's Rose talking. Spoke to Mum and Dad this morning from my little bed; it was 4am and strange, hot and still.
October 5, Rosarito.
The water in the first tank wasn't so bad, but now we've switched to filming in the massive tank where the water is pumped in straight from the sea. It is like swimming in...the coldest winter in the history of Scottish winters. I bet people will think it's heated, but it isn't. I am completely freezing. My dresser has been bugging me to wear a wetsuit, but I can't. I'd be too aware of it and anyway, my dress is too thin for it. Jim doesn't want see-through and says this isn't a wet T-shirt competition, but he does want the dress to cling to me when I'm wet and we've done all sorts of camera tests for that. It is so cold, but...it means my reactions are real, I hope! It literally takes my breath away.
October 15, Rosarito.
My dress is driving me bloody bonkers. Storywise, from the point the ship hits the iceberg, I'm in the same dress till the end of the film. It's layers and layers of chiffon and layers and layers of pain in the arse. It's supposed to trail behind me in the water like a big long snail, but instead it keeps wrapping itself around my legs and tripping me up in the middle of shots which is driving us all mad. Jim had a brilliant idea. Scissors. How satisfying. Now I look like Bo Peep in just the top of the dress and my bloomers. Fine for close-ups but not exactly glamourous, but who cares. Leo is finding this highly amusing. He would. He's wearing a suit.
October 22, Rosarito.
Jim asked me what I imagined I was going to be doing when I read in the script that the water came flooding up. I said, "To be honest with you, I only ever saw the story boards. I never saw me and Leo actually doing it". Also, then I was excited about it. I wanted to kind of wait and see. Now I know what it's like and it's pretty exhausting.
November 1, Rosarito.
I've just done a work-out with Diamond, the unlikely name of the burly black trainer. It no longer feels weird working out at 3am, but I am starting to find it too much. We've been shooting at night for weeks now. I get up at about 1pm and eat straight away so that my food has time to go down before I get into my corset. Mel [make-up artist] brought back some lovely scones from Starbucks over the border, will eat for tomorrow's breakfast.
November 10, Rosarito.
Apparently survivors said getting into the lifeboats was completely terrifying. They had to step out across a huge gap between the ship itself and the boats. Shooting the loading of the lifeboats is pretty scary for us. Our ship is a replica, almost as big, so we have to step out over - hello! - a massive great big gap! And our gap is considerably smaller than the real gap would have been. Diamond showed up on set today to show moral support. I've stopped training because it was all too much, but he's become a good friend and it is lovely having him around. He'd heard this was a really tough scene for me, so there he was, standing there watching, looking out for me...Very comforting.
November 20, Rosarito.
There's a section of the ship that moves on hydraulics right up to 90 degrees. It's bloody high up there, so Leo and I are in safety harnesses and clinging to each other for dear life. In some of the shots we have to lean over the railing and witness stunt people hanging off their harnesses doing falls and God knows what else. Survivors' reports say that it was a really still night. Strange, because it was really still tonight, too. The stars were amazing.
December 3, Rosarito.
Sarah, my stunt double, was being hit by a tidal wave of water in a corridor today. All in a day's work for her. How can she be so matter of fact about it when I stand and watch, cringing? She's really helpful when I do my own stunts, always there with kneepads and elbow protection. "Just bend your knees, just relax and control your breathing". Not so easy in the heat of the moment. I'm covered in bruises. Part of the job. It bloody hurts, though. My problem is I don't think I've done my job properly unless I walk away having suffered. Am I a complete masochist, or what!
December 15, Rosarito.
Day off. Much needed. I've been for a lovely swim and now I want to go back to bed. Lucky Leo gets more sleep than me. There's an extra hour-and-a-half added to the end of every day for my pin-curling. Kay [hairdresser] can do it pretty swiftly. Good thing we are both too tired to chat because half the time I'm asleep in the chair. On screen I have luscious red curls. Off screen I look like a bag lady with my headscarf tied in a bow at the front. So attractive. I think I've put on weight. I feel heavy, tired, physically swollen and so lonely without my family.
January 9, 1997, Los Angeles.
I feel revitalised. Christmas back at home was lovely. My brother seemed to have grown a foot since I left for Mexico. The new year brings much excitement and I am determined to be positive, especially as I have a new pair of shoes: very high with two big straps across the foot. New shoes, new walk: proud, tall and confident. I must sleep now - 7am pick-up and still jetlagged.
January 16, 1997, Rosarito.
It's the UK premiere of Hamlet today. In fact it's 1.15am in England, so they'll all be partying at the Dorchester [hotel]. I didn't get much of a chance to write yesterday - we [came] inside to complete the scene where Rose meets Jack. We didn't complete it, but we've done most of it. We did Leo's and my reshoot and close-ups, though. Initially, I was so fed up because we'd been shooting that scene forever and it isn't an easy one. But thank the Lord we did it again; I felt I really found beats that I couldn't find before.
January 18, Rosarito.
Nothing, nothing prepared me for the scenes we are shooting now. I vow I will look much more carefully at script directions in future! "Jack and Rose run through flooded corridor" has turned into the most arduous three days of my life. Scared. Terrified. My experience in the water seems like the worst of anybody's because of that bloody flimsy dress. Everyone is being very sympathetic. We never do more than three takes before we warm up. Jim is being really careful about hypothermia. You don't realise when you've got it, seemingly your brain just switches off and you don't know how cold you are. When you're in freezing cold water and you're acting your arse off, you forget about the temperature of the water. Thank God we have on-set jacuzzis. We fling ourselves into them for 10 to 15 minute stretches while the dressers attack our clothes with hair driers, ready for the next take.
January 23, Rosarito.
In every shot when Leo and I are in a confined space, there are safety divers underwater, untangling my legs from the dress. [Now Sarah has done the stunt] we are doing the close-ups in the scene where we're swept along by a tidal wave, then get trapped behind an iron gate. The water's rising and then, at the last minute when it's almost at the ceiling, we break through. It is frightening and claustrophobic. To make matters worse, at this point in the film, my fiance's coat has been put on me, up on deck. So for a lot of the scenes I'm wearing a huge soaking overcoat that I can hardly move in. Every time we get the gates open and break free, we then swim under a pipe that runs across the ceiling of the corridor with literally centimetres in which to breathe. And in every take the bloody coat gets caught and the poor diver is frantically trying to free it. I know there are escape holes in the ceiling and safety divers everywhere but this all feels very real and bloody frightening. It makes my drowning scene in Hamlet seem like a swimming lesson.
January 24, Rosarito.
We finished at 7am. Not easy to keep at it when I've been awake for 19 hours and just want to fall asleep standing up. But Jim was calm, kind and concise, giving fab direction. He helped me find all the things I was looking for but couldn't quite find and had to compromise somehow before. The sunrise is gorgeous outside, an orange, pink and yellow strip against the deep blue sea. The sunsets are always glorious here.
January 26, Rosarito.
I'm at work in my dressing room waiting to go on ship for another night's work. It was frantic yesterday - we got lots done. Jim was in a fantastic mood and we had a real laugh. How many close-ups can that man do though? "Can we do another shot of Kate, please?" I can't bear close-ups. I wonder if any other actors like them? I had to spit in Billy's face in one part of the scene today. We stopped between takes for a private lesson on the side of the ship. Tina [make-up] had a bowl of beaten eggwhite, but in the end I used my own spit. When we started rolling again, Sian [make-up] ran over with a tube of K-Y jelly, and put a splodge on my tongue to make it look more dramatic - more spit - not a pleasant experience.
January 29, Rosarito.
Underwater close-ups and it was horrible! I was weighted down, on top of a small stepladder, which is weighted down to the bottom of the tank. There were stunt boys around that I'd known from doing the drowning scenes in Hamlet which made me feel a bit better while I still had my mask and breathing gear. Leo is so happy in the water! He is over there doing backflips like he's a water baby! Then I'm at the bottom of the tank and someone takes the mask off for me and I feel completely naked and helpless. I couldn't see Leo. The surface seems miles away. Jim was absolutely brilliant. He wouldn't have made me do that if I didn't say, "No, I'm okay." So they take the mask off again and I can't see anything...and it is really petrifying when they yell "action" and suddenly that regulator is out of my mouth and I have nothing and I cannot go anywhere because I am weighted down to this ladder. Take after take I reminded myself that I wanted to be part of this. I will not admit defeat - I will not do that.
February 1, Rosarito.
I managed to get seven hours sleep, woke about 4pm and ate two scones that Amy (my dresser) made - pear and blueberry - and drank coffee on the couch with Tina and watched the sunset. It's windy outside. I've got lots of hope and courage at the moment. I've started to feel good about the work I've done on Titanic. Before I was just a bit bewildered and depressed about it, not knowing whether what I was doing was good or bad or indifferent or what.
February 2, Rosarito.
I had to wear a wetsuit today, it was so freezing cold. We did a very wide shot outside in the huge tank, with lots of extras and me surfacing having gone down with the ship.
February 4, Rosarito.
Well the week has begun again and thank God. I was becoming stir-crazy, being called in to work to do nothing when I could be here eating Granola bars, watching movies and seeing Mel and Lisa [make-up artists] dye their roots! I went for a midnight walk. I spoke to Mum. February 5, Rosarito.
They've found rats on set in steerage corridors - very authentic! I spent the night soaking wet, cold and in the see-through dress. I now strip off anytime I can and dive in the jacuzzi. Forget about a flabby arse when you just want to get into hot water and warm up.
February 6, Rosarito.
We didn't complete the scene where the third-class passengers try to escape, so more tomorrow. My feet are pulsating, because they were so trampled on by all the steerage extras, like a herd of elephants. They reduced all my toes on my left foot to a pulpy mess in one take.
February 9, Rosarito.
At last the week has come to an end...the worst week so far. I had an amazing massage. I lay on the table and zonked out. I didn't even bother to dress afterwards. I stayed in my white dressing gown, shoved my sore feet into my slippers and fell into the car, then walked through the front door and proceeded to pick the coffee icing off the top of a maple walnut scone from the freezer.
February 12, Rosarito.
It's been so mad these last few days - me running scared in freezing water. Very tired. More of it to come, though. Hyperventilating and fainting, no less. Never let it be said that I don't suffer for my art! Very stressful. I had a good cry tonight for a lot of accumulated reasons. I want to go home now. I really want to go for a ride on a London bus. I wish my spots would go away.
February 16, Rosarito.
I was wrapped early because I'd hurt my arm - I fell during a take and since it was already sprained from something else this week, it just made it worse. I'm exhausted and ache like hell...I'm bruised and battered from head to foot. Just realised that this is the first time in ages that I'm going to sleep in the dark - it's the night!
February 22, Rosarito.
No-one seems to know when we will wrap. I had a letter from Mum today which was really lovely. Hamlet's out and the reviews are: so far so good. Ken [Branagh] has been nominated for best production/screenplay Oscar. He won't win it though, because he's up against The English Patient.
February 25, Rosarito.
Just finished another night of work: a civilised dry scene on the bridge. Jim did one particular shot on me, and when we'd finished, he took my hand and walked me to the monitor and made me watch it and said, "She may have had a shit morning, but look how gorgeous she is!" He was referring to the previous scene: rowing at breakfast with my fiance Cal, and a corseted lecture from my mother, Ruth - scenes we hadn't shot that day, but scenes that precede the one we were doing. It made me feel good. It was Billy's birthday and I didn't know, so no pressie. Whoops!
March 18, Rosarito.
Mum's here! The thrill of tasting home cooking again! She's been cooking scrambled eggs for my breakfast although I'm still on my odd timetable and she's on normal, so she wakes me up at 1pm with: "Darling, shall I put on the coffee, then?" and by the time I've showered she's cooked the eggs. Marvellous. I feel happy while I trot off to work and when I get back I just crawl into bed with my mum.
March 22, Rosarito.
Five o'clock in the morning. I can hardly believe that this is the early hours in the morning of this, the final shooting day of Titanic. How am I feeling? I don't know yet. It's lovely having Mum here, though shes going to have to come off the sun-drenched terrace and do some serious packing for me. Still got one more night of work to do, though. Under the stars and in the water - under the water, in fact. I think this will be day 164. Longer than True Lies, apparently. Seven months, such a long time, and it's gone so quickly. It's the little lines that trip you up. "They go down together. They are separated under water. Rose kicks for the surface." Sounds so simple, but no. I've been having lessons on how to "equalise", pinching my nose and blowing really hard. That's so your ears fill up with water and no more water can get in and burst your eardrums. You have to equalise as you're going down. We go down with the ship. We swim towards each other. We're looking at each other and then I wrap my legs around Leo and cling like a monkey. We rehearsed wearing masks and we're in the heated pool this time. Then we hear Jim's voice say five, four...and we both take a deep breath, then Leo pulls us under, do [to about three metres], then we get down there and he [Jim] says, "Action", and we have to swim around each other. I'm holding onto him and then we get separated. Then we have to surface and we have no breath left and we're kicking as hard as we can. I'm wearing high heels, the dress and a life jacket.
August 22, 1997, Los Angeles.
This is too weird for words. One year ago exactly to this day, I was on a plane to LA to start shooting Titanic. I'm still shooting it. Today Leo and I were Jack and Rose once more, shooting an insert, running down a corridor looking wet and bedraggled on the Twentieth Century Fox lot. It was like looking at a ghost when I looked in the mirror. Red wig (because my hair is blonde now) the same make-up and God-awful costume that makes me want to die because it is so uncomfortable, soaking wet and I've worn it so much that it's like a very nasty second skin. Surreal as hell. We may as well have never stopped shooting. Five months of life that I've just had may as well have not happened. The most frightening part was that it all felt so normal. It was great to see [those] people again, but get me to the airport...get me home.