Leonardo DiCaprio almost played James Dean in biopic from Michael Mann

The director scrapped the biopic because DiCaprio was “too young”

Leonardo DiCaprio was almost cast as James Dean in a biopic after an “amazing” screen test aged 19.

Director Michael Mann revealed there was a “brilliant screenplay” about the late actor which he was going to direct before 1995’s Heat, but he moved onto the crime epic because his choice for the role, DiCaprio, was “too young” for the part.

Speaking to Deadline, Mann said: “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. He respectfully undid the James Dean bio for me.”

Michael Mann
Michael Mann CREDIT: Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images

Dean died aged 24 in a car accident in September 1955 after starring in three films: East Of Eden, Rebel Without A Cause and Giant.

DiCaprio had his breakthrough roles in the 1990s, including 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Romeo + Juliet in 1996 and James Cameron’s Titanic in 1997. His next film will be Martin Scorsese’s upcoming feature Killers Of The Flower Moon, set to be released next year.

Mann, meanwhile, is planning to adapt his follow-up novel to Heat into a “large, ambitious movie”, which takes place both after and before the original film.

“It’s totally planned to be a movie,” Mann said. “Is it a modest movie? No. Is it a very expensive series? No. It’s going to be one large movie.”