‘The Beach’: Leonardo DiCaprio’s Casting Led to a Years-Long Rift Between the Director and This Scottish Actor

After the huge success of Titanic, Leonardo DiCaprio was perhaps the most in-demand young actor of his generation. But rather than jump right into another project, the future Oscar winner took his time deciding on his next move. When he finally returned to the big screen in his first major role after a two-year break, it was in The Beach. In the film, DiCaprio plays an American backpacker in Thailand whose quest to find an idyllic spot to escape the modern world goes seriously awry.  

Landing DiCaprio for The Beach was a major coup for director Danny Boyle. Unfortunately, his casting as Richard led to a major falling out between Boyle and Ewan McGregor, who believed he’d be the one starring in the movie.

Ewan McGregor thought he would be cast in ‘The Beach’ 

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McGregor had a good reason for thinking that he and Boyle would be working together on The Beach. The actor had starred in all three of the director’s previous films, beginning with 1994’s Shallow Grave. He also appeared in Trainspotting and A Life Less Ordinary. So when he was passed over in favor of DiCaprio for The Beach, he took it personally. 

“I was in [Danny’s] first three movies,” McGregor said during a 2017 appearance on The Graham Norton Show. “And then I wasn’t in the fourth. And I was maybe a bit rudderless. I didn’t quite get it.” 

McGregor said his hurt feelings had less to do with losing out on the part in The Beach and more to do with feeling betrayed by his friend. 

“We didn’t speak for a long time,” the actor said. 

Danny Boyle says he handled the situation badly, explains why he wanted Leonardo DiCaprio 

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach
Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach | 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images

Boyle, was also a guest on the same episode of Norton’s show, admitted that when it came time to break the news about The Beach to McGregor, he handled it “badly.”

“I’ve apologized,” he said. “I kind of feel a shame about it.”

The Slumdog Millionaire director has admitted that he had let McGregor believe the part in The Beach was his.  

“We made this film called The Beach, and we gave Ewan the impression we were going to cast him in it and we didn’t cast him in it, we cast another actor, a wonderful actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who was a lovely guy, they’re both wonderful,” he said in a 2013 appearance on The Jonathan Ross Show.

Boyle blamed his career ambitions on the decision to go with DiCaprio over McGregor. 

“You think you’re moving up,” he said. “It’s the illusion that you think you’re moving up, therefore you‘re going to need a bigger star to sell the movie. You learn to stick with your roots.”

Ewan McGregor says his own ego played a role in the falling out

Ewan McGregor
Ewan McGregor | Mike Smith/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

While Boyle accepts responsibility for the decade-long rift between him and McGregor, the actor says his own ego also played a role.

“I put so much importance in being their actor. It defined me as an actor. I felt like it was a badge on my sleeve: I am Danny Boyle’s actor. It felt like it was the most important thing of my career,” he told The Times, adding that he was prepared to turn down his role in the Star Wars prequels to make The Beach.

McGregor says he now regrets the years he didn’t work with Boyle and the movies they didn’t make together. The two reunited in 2017 for a Trainspotting sequel. 

“I was arrogant when I was young,” he said. 

As for DiCaprio and Boyle, The Beach didn’t lead to a lasting partnership. The movie received poor reviews and didn’t come close to Titanic’s success at the box office.