Victor Garber got his part in the second most successful film of all time, Titanic, at the very last minute. From audition to being on the Rosarito, Mexico set was within days, he tells Movie Fanatic exclusively.
We caught up with Garber as the Titanic Blu-Ray arrives September 10 to get some exclusive insight into the filming of a James Cameron classic, and we even get him to talk about his upcoming film, Ben Affleck’s Argo.
Movie Fanatic: How does your time on Titanic rate when you look back at your career?
Victor Garber: Obviously I feel incredibly fortunate to have literally walked into that role at the very last minute. I was one of the last people cast and they were already shooting when I got to Rosarito. I met James Cameron. They put me in costume. We’d never met. I walked onto the set and they were all in a big tank and James was in his wetsuit with his camera and snorkel. I was sitting there waiting for him to come over. I thought, “I may not get it yet.” And he walked over and said a couple of words and said, “Okay, great. See you tomorrow.” And there I was for five-and-a-half months doing Titanic.
Movie Fanatic: How has Titanic resonated for you personally?
Victor Garber: I’ve never not talked about this movie. It’s always people’s first question on a movie set, on any movie I’ve been on. Anybody, any crew member, wants to know what it was like and what James was like and what my experience was. It’s a part of who I am and continues to be.
Movie Fanatic: During filming people really questioned the production, the cost, the time. On set, did you feel that questioning or were you shielded from all that?
Victor Garber: The speculation, it became a joke. Everybody was trying to figure out: Was this going to work? How much is this going to cost? Is this going to be a disaster? It never stopped until the movie came out.
Movie Fanatic: Nothing answers speculation like a giant success…
Victor Garber: Yes, it does make it a lot easier [laughs]. It was a difficult shoot for everybody, and obviously worth it.
Movie Fanatic: How much research did you do before tackling the character?
Victor Garber: Well, he was a real guy. Thomas Andrews was the architect and he lived in Belfast and his family was there. In my mind, he was a lot like James Cameron. He really knew what he was doing and James reminded me often of him as he was talking. James sort of focused on the ship and his knowledge of it was so extraordinary.
Movie Fanatic: What was it like to be directed by James Cameron?
Victor Garber: I was very nervous. I was frightened. It was such a huge project. I have to say I was amazed and thrilled by what a hands-on director James actually is with actors. He guided me through all those very difficult scenes where I was talking about what was happening with the ship, how it was going to sink and all the stuff with Kate. I did have sort of private quiet moments in that movie that most people didn’t get to have and they were completely directed by him. I remember thinking at the time, “I feel so lucky.”
Movie Fanatic: You have such an esteemed career, when you’re at home flipping through TV channels, is there anything you’re in that gets you to stop and watch?
Victor Garber: I don’t watch things I’ve done very often, if ever. I watched Argo recently. I watched Milk when it came out and I certainly watched Titanic when it first came out. But it’s hard for me to sit through. I don’t really enjoy watching myself. But I will watch Argo again. I think it’s really, really a good film.
Movie Fanatic: Speaking of Argo, the story is fascinating… yet hardly heard.
Victor Garber: The CIA plot which was hatched by Tony Mendez, the character Ben (Affleck) plays, and was facilitated by the Canadian ambassador, was unknown. It was classified information until 1991. That’s what’s so fascinating about this story is that people really don’t know it. It’s wild. Ben has done it brilliantly.