Providing a contemporary narrative thread through "Titanic," the character of Brock Lovett is searching through the cold expanse of liquid space for a priceless jewel hidden within the tangled wreckage of the infamous ocean liner. Instead of a legendary diamond, the "Heart of the Ocean," he uncovers a drawing that reveals the tale of two hearts. When an elderly woman named Rose purporting to be the subject of the drawing -- and a heretofore unknown Titanic survivor -- comes to the salvage site, Lovett and his team discover more than a map of treasure. They have unintentionally stirred the waters of her past and the memory of a remarkable tale of love and heroism aboard the doomed ship.
In July 1996, Cameron began photography of the contemporary wraparound portion of "Titanic" onboard the Russian ship Keldysh in the waters off Halifax. The underwater footage that Cameron had painstakingly shot in 1995 was used as playback in these scenes on monitors documenting Lovett's on-going fictional salvage operation effort. Portraying the modern-day pirate Brock Lovett is Bill Paxton
"Lovett is the character that brings you into the whole story of 'Titanic,'" Paxton says. "He's just trying to find the treasure. This guy is there to plunder, but for PR purposes he's selling the whole idea of romantic treasure hunting and doing CNN spots. He knows all the technical details of the ship's demise but has never really connected with the human drama that unfolded that night."
"This mythic story has become almost Homeric in terms of being a modern-day legend," Paxton says. "You ask yourself, 'What would I have done?' It was a true test of character, being on that ship, having to say good-bye to your wife or children or giving up your seat to someone."
Also appearing with Paxton in the modern-day portion of "Titanic" are Suzy Amis as Rose's granddaughter; and Lewis Abernathy and Nicholas Cascone, who complete Lovett's expedition crew. In a case of life influencing art, Dr. Anatoly M. Sagalevitch, program director of the Institute that operates the Keldysh and the Mirs, was cast in a true-to-life role for the film. Dr. Sagalevitch had also accompanied Cameron in his deep-sea expedition to the wreck site in 1995 However, the emotional core of "Titanic"'s contemporary sequences is provided by Gloria Stuart, our modern-day Rose. "Jim structured the story to bring a modern-day audience back to Titanic through her character," Paxton explains. "He interviewed quite a few women for the role, but there's a kind of mischief about Gloria. She has a sort of irreverence that is really like the character of Rose." Stuart says she was moved by the eerie images captured by Cameron of the wreck site, which are displayed in a key scene involving Rose. The salvagers are able to give Rose a very detailed and clinical description of the great ship's demise, aided by an impressive high-tech computer simulation. Yet she offers Lovett and his crew a history lesson of her own.
"They're trying to pin her down as to where the diamond was the last time she saw it," Stuart explains. "So they have all the artifacts from her cabin and her mother's, all spread out on the table. There's a hand mirror and a brooch, proving to the men that she knows what she's talking about. And then she sees this beautiful butterfly comb that reminds Rose of her lover. It's a touching moment. She drops everything and picks up the comb and remembers the romance." For Stuart, Rose offers a profound message to the treasure hunters desperate to find the priceless diamond that for her represented a life less fulfilling.
"The strongest lesson is that you must live a good, productive life," Stuart says. "Be generous and open. The material things in the long run don't really pay off. What ultimately counts is the richness of your relationships with people. Only life is priceless."