Garber awash in ‘Titanic’ memories
Canadian actor says tough conditions on set helped cast mates form close bond
The first time Canadian actor Victor Garber met director James Cameron on the set of Titanic, the Canuck filmmaker lived up to his reputation for being intensely committed to the job.
“When I got there, they put me through hair and makeup and I got into costume and was taken to a tank where James Cameron was in one of those underwater suits with a snorkel,” Garber, who played the mighty liner’s Irish ship builder Thomas Andrews in the blockbuster film, recalled in a recent telephone interview.
“I just saw this huge tank and all these people in it and it was just crazy,” he said of the epic filmed in Mexico.
“The set was otherworldly. It was like being in, well, it was literally another world.”
As Cineplex Entertainment celebrates the 20th anniversary of the romance disaster — there was a screening on Sunday and another Feb. 15 to launch its Classic Film Series — Garber still marvels at the experience.
“It’s one of the things I’m recognized most for wherever I go,” said the London, Ont., native, whose credits also include the TV series “Alias” and “The Flash,” and the films “Godspell” and “Argo.”
“For me, it’s amazing. I sort of have to pinch myself when I think about being involved with that movie because it was such a cult and huge success. That story is something that grabs, especially young kids.”
And yet Garber said he and his castmates — from Leonardo DiCaprio to Kate Winslet to Billy Zane — didn’t fully realize just how epic the film would be.
Released in December 1997, it was the most expensive movie in Hollywood history at the time, with a budget of close to $200 million US. It went on to earn a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations and won 11, including Best Picture.
“There were lots of jokes because Waterworld had bombed and we thought, ‘We could be the next,’” said Garber.
“We didn’t know. It wasn’t really until I saw the première in Los Angeles, when I flew out there to see it, and I sat down and it started and I thought, ‘Holy ---- this is really great,’” he said, using an unprintable expletive.
Production on Titanic lasted about six months and Garber considered himself lucky he didn’t have to get wet like many of the actors, some of whom suffered various ailments from spending so much time in the tank. Still, “it was rough,” he added. “We shot mostly at night, which is my worst nightmare, literally. I hate that. I just don’t like working all night and I can’t sleep during the day. Everyone was sleep-deprived: the crew, everybody.”
But Garber has fond memories of bonding with his castmates and playing Scrabble together.
He still keeps in touch with David Warner, who played the valet and bodyguard of Zane’s character, and has a reverence for Cameron.
“He’s arguably one of the greatest directors we’ve ever known,” said Garber. “What impressed me most was his complete commitment. He expects everyone to be as committed as he is.
“Coming from the stage, my background is to be prepared and to just be always attentive to what the director requires and wants. So I had a great time with him.”
Cineplex’s Classic Film Series also includes the 25th anniversary of “A Few Good Men” and the 50th anniversary of “The Graduate.”
Cineplex Cinemas will be screening “Titanic” at select theatres Feb. 15 to mark the 20th anniversary of its release.
Victor Garber played Irish ship builder Thomas Andrews in “Titanic.”