Leonardo DiCaprio Was Almost Cast As James Dean in ’90s Biopic

SANTA BARBARA, CA - FEBRUARY 06: Actor Leonardo DiCaprio attends the Cinema Vanguard Award to Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio at the Arlington Theatre on February 6, 2014 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for SBIFF)

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Leonardo DiCaprio almost played James Dean in a 1990s biopic that Michael Mann was going to direct, Mann recently revealed.

DiCaprio didn’t get the role because he was considered too young for the part, Mann told Deadline in an interview published Wednesday. And after that happened, the project didn’t pan out.

“He respectfully undid the James Dean bio for me,” Mann said of DiCaprio.

After that project fell through, Mann went on to direct Heat, arguably his best-known movie. At the end of a discussion about the iconic crime film starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, Mann mentioned the DiCaprio role that never happened.

“That was so weird about James Dean,” Mann said. “It was a brilliant screenplay. And then 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.”

Mann continued: “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. 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.”

After that project fell through, Mann and DiCaprio did work together on one project: 2004’s The Aviator. While directed by Martin Scorsese, Mann produced the biopic about Howard Hughes, while DiCaprio starred in it.

Heat 2 (Minus Leonardo DiCaprio) Around The Corner?

Mann recently released a prequel/sequel installment of Heat — a novel he wrote titled Heat 2. When asked about the possibility of the book being turned into a film and who should play his younger character, Lt. Vincent Hanna, Pacino said he knew exactly who should play the part.

Pacino, Robert De Niro, and producer Art Linson were present at a Q&A panel at the Tribeca Film Festival. They were commemorating Heat’s 25th anniversary. The festival had a two-year hiatus due to COVID, with Variety reporting lines around the block to see the event.

Pacino brought up Timothée Chalamet. “I mean, he’s a wonderful actor,” he quipped. “Great looks.”

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