Most actresses would gladly submit themselves to hours in makeup to turn back time before appearing in front of those pitiless cameras. But to play Old Rose, the 101‑year‑old Titanic survivor, Gloria Stuart went through two hours of makeup each day to move the clock in the other direction. After all, the actress who so convincingly plays a plucky centenarian is a mere 87.
Photography Director: Mary Dunn
Stuart would happily have endured far worse than elaborate makeup to play Old Rose, whose recollection of the tragic voyage frames the film. While she didn't have as much screen time as the young Rose (Kate Winslet), the role afforded Stuart her meatiest part in years ‑and a place in Hollywood history: With her first Oscar nod, she becomes the oldest actor ever nominated by the Academy.
For Stuart, it was worth the wait. As a contract player for Universal and Fox in the 1930s, the beautiful blond seldom played characters who were as intelligent or articulate as she. Director James Cameron, she later heard, decided to test Stuart after seeing one of her better films, 1932's The Old Dark House, on laserdisc. "Jim was looking for an actress who worked in the '30s but wasn't too recognizable," she says. "He wanted someone who could be aged to 101 without much trouble and still remember her lines and stand up straight." She quickly signaled her willingness to audition. "I was told that Jim wanted to know if I'd read for him without makeup. I said, 'I'll read without clothes if he wants.'"
Stuart's confident that the movie will do well on Oscar night, even if she's passed over. "Titanic is every bit as great as I thought it would be," she says. "It certainly compares [favorably to] Gone With the Wind." Stuart should know: She was a movie star long before Vivien Leigh slipped into her first hoopskirt.