October 7, 2022

Leonardo DiCaprio as James Dean?

“Heat” director Michael Mann reflected on what could have been if the Oscar winner, now 47, played the iconic film star when he was hoping to do a biopic in the ’90s.

Mann, 79, recently revealed that he opted to make the 1995 Al Pacino crime drama instead of a film about Dean, telling Deadline on Wednesday that he grew tired of waiting for DiCaprio to age up for the role.

“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.”

The “Thief” director revealed that DiCaprio even read for the part when he was a teen, likely around the time between “Growing Pains” and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.”

“We did a screen test that’s quite amazing. I think he must’ve been 19 at the time,” Mann said. “And from one angle, he totally had it with him. I mean, it’s brilliance.”

Mann noted how “The Great Gatsby” star could instantly change his facial expressions and turn into the “Rebel Without a Cause” actor.

DiCaprio’s youthful look in the ’90s helped establish him as one of the top actors in Hollywood at the time.

“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 respectfully undid the James Dean bio for me,” Mann explained.

DiCaprio cemented himself as part of the Hollywood A-list with career-making turns in ’90s projects such as “The Basketball Diaries,” “Romeo + Juliet” and “Titanic.” 

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By the time DiCaprio made the 1997 epic romance-disaster flick, he was 22. Dean was just 24 when he died in 1955 in a car accident after making just three movies.

James Franco portrayed the “East of Eden” star in a 2001 TV movie. Dane DeHaan also put on Dean’s famous leather jacket and teenage disillusion in 2015’s “Life.”