Michael Mann almost made a James Dean Biopic with Leonardo DiCaprio

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Michael Mann’s planned James Dean biopic hit the buffers over a worry to do with Leonardo DiCaprio.

We have to admit that in terms of roads not taken, a Michael Mann biopic of James Dean starring a young Leonardo DiCaprio would sit pretty high on our list of the intriguing films that never came to be. Mann has a knack for telling compelling stories about tragic figures, and sometimes those figures happen to be real people as we saw in The Insider and Public Enemies. 

Mann even got as far as screen testing for the planned James Dean film, and decided that a boyishly-young 19-year old DiCaprio would be perfect for the role… the only problem being that he looked too young to play Dean. Dean was of course the silver screen legend who was closer to his mid-twenties when he tragically died in a car accident, just as 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause was about to release.

Mann spoke to Deadline about the process, stating “that was so weird about James Dean. 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. 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.”

Mann wasn’t prepared to wait for DiCaprio to grow into the role and so everybody involved ultimately went their own separate ways, both to great success we might add. Mann would go on to make Heat next, a film which which many consider to be his finest work. Still, it would really have been something to see that James Dean biopic. You can read the rest of Mann’s interview at Deadline.

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