Fans always seem eager to hear some behind-the-scenes Titanic facts. That could be how historically accurate the 1997 epic is, that time someone snuck PCP into the crew's food or a casting scoop like how Matthew McConaughey almost played Jack Dawson instead of the film's eventual star, Leonardo DiCaprio. But you might be curious about one particular piece of lore: the long-standing rumors that leading lady Kate Winslet used to urinate in the water tanks while filming the Oscar-winning romantic drama. Well, there's quite a story behind that.
The then-21-year-old actress famously portrayed distressed debutante Rose DeWitt Bukater opposite Leonardo DiCaprio's Jack. Some may be surprised by the notion that she had to succumb to going to the bathroom without actually going to the bathroom while on set. But we've dug up some bottom-of-the-sea history about the production of the nearly 30-year-old disaster film. Here’s the story behind why Kate Winslet peed in the tank while filming Titanic:
Why Kate Winslet Frequently Peed In The Tank While Filming Titanic
Our research took us to a 1998 article with The Rolling Stone. In it, the Oscar-winning actress admitted to "sometimes peeing" while filming in the 17-million-gallon water tank that director James Cameron used to mimic the frigid Atlantic in which the titular boat eventually sinks after hitting an iceberg. The actress told the outlet:
Yes, I admit to sometimes peeing in that water. Because you wanted to get it right. You didn’t want to have to get out and go to the bathroom, which would take half an hour with corsets and dresses and all that sort of thing. So, yeah, I peed. I mean, it’s the same with a swimming pool — do you really think about what’s in it?
Kate Winslet's Rose was heavily wardrobed throughout the film in period costume, like the aforementioned corsets. She spends the bulk of the sinking sequences in that iconic pastel "swim dress," which featured layer upon layer of ombre-dyed silk chiffon with pearl embellishments and a lace neckline. (Costume designer Deborah Lynn Scott was honored with an Academy Award for her work on the film.)
The British actress cited that exact ensemble when describing the difficulties of filming those underwater scenes, telling the publication:
There were some instances where we were literally swimming through corridors. And I didn’t like that stuff because my feet would get tangled in the chiffon dress that I sink in. But at one point Jim said, ‘Fuck it, I’m not gonna have my actress drown. Scissors!’ And my dress was cut this short, almost like a T-shirt. You could see my bloomers underneath it. We called it the Bo Peep dress.
Despite those much-welcome costume alterations, that didn't help other issues like, you know, biology. She continued:
There were days when you’d just think, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve got my period and I can’t get in that freezing-cold water today.'...I remember standing up and saying to everyone, ‘Listen, if it suddenly looks like Jaws, the movie, it’s my fault.
And apparently it wasn't only the women who had to deal with reproductive concerns while filming in the freezing water, as explained:
There’s the flooded-corridor scene, when I go into the water, an ax in my hand. Well, the water was so cold that my reaction was completely genuine. And I was the only woman down there. Here I was, surrounded by all these men on the crew, in all this freezing-cold water. What did that mean for their genitals? So I turned around and said, ‘So — little dicks, then?'
All of that past discomfort clearly paid off for her. She scored her second Oscar nod -- her first for Best Actress -- for playing Rose, and Titanic transformed her and Leonardo DiCaprio into generational icons. Still, there's still another aspect of this bathroom situation that we need to discuss:
Why Does Director James Cameron Notoriously Hate Bathroom Breaks?
It looks like lack of bathroom access wasn't exclusively for the film's leads. Yes, director James Cameron's moviemaking meticulousness may have made Titanic one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. However, production on the epic was so behind schedule and over budget that, yes, the filmmaker did once joke that he wished he could "tether the extras" to the set so they would stop wasting time in the bathroom. He told The Hollywood Reporter back in 2012:
I can be pretty demanding. [But] when we’re spending $25,000, $35,000 or $45,000 an hour and my hand is on the throttle, it’s my job to be impatient. I wish I could do it in every scene. Tether the extras so they can’t go to the bathroom.
Per that publication, Fox had initially greenlit the project at about $110 million. By the mid-point of filming on the historical drama, in November 1996, it was rumored to be toppling out at a then-unprecedented $200 million. The initial budget had allotted $7 million for visual effects -- those, which brilliantly mixed the use of miniatures with computer graphics to depict the sheer scale of the ocean liner and the horror of its sinking, would end up costing the studio a cool $30 million. James Cameron said of the pricey production:
We’re doing spectacle. Spectacle costs money.
In the end, filming on Titanic had to be extended, delaying the release from July 1997 to December of that year. And at the time of its release, its budget of more than $200 million made it the most expensive film ever made.
But, as we all know, it very much worked out for James Cameron and co. The disaster drama would pull in a staggering $2.2 billion lifetime gross, divided between its original run and its theatrical re-releases. Cameron would memorably snag the Academy Award for Best Director for the film, which itself would take home 11 of a record 14 nominations.
So worth a little pee in the tank, then, eh? I'd like to think so. You can watch Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio weather those waters by streaming Titanic with a Paramount+ subscription.