- Director Kenny Ortega had the chance to meet with Leonardo DiCaprio for a role in Hocus Pocus but couldn’t cast him due to his commitment to other films.
- DiCaprio impressed Ortega during their meeting, with Ortega describing him as “extraordinary and unique.”
- Ortega ultimately cast Omri Katz, feeling that Katz delivered everything he had hoped for in the role.
The director of Hocus Pocus has reflected on meeting with Leonardo DiCaprio for a role he knew he couldn’t take. The 1993 Disney horror-comedy starred Omri Katz and Thora Birch as Max and Dani Dennison, who move to Salem, Massachusetts, where – on Halloween night – Max accidentally unleashes the Sanderson sisters, a trio of witches played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy. Although the movie had a lukewarm box office reception at the time, it has since become a major cult classic that is frequently rewatched around Halloween.
Entertainment Weekly recently chatted with director Kenny Ortega about an unusual moment that happened when he was assembling the Hocus Pocus cast. He was given the chance to meet with a young Leonardo DiCaprio, even though he knew he wouldn’t be able to play Max due to his commitment to 1993’s This Boy’s Life and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Ortega reveals they chatted and ate a sandwich and young DiCaprio was “extraordinary and unique” so he told the casting agents, “You’re murdering me, here.” Read Ortega’s full quote below:
(My casting team) called me up and said, “We’re sending someone in, but you can’t have him.” They said, “We want you to know who he is, we want you to meet him, he’s agreed to come in to meet you, but he can’t do the role. He’s being offered a movie with (Robert) De Niro and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” He came in, and he was just amazing — so extraordinary and unique — he came and he was stressed. He said, “I feel bad that I’m here because I can’t do this, because I’m really focused on these other things,” and I said, Understandably.” We shared a sandwich together. He was super cool. When he walked out, I called my casting agents and I said, “You’re murdering me, here.” It was so clear to me that this guy was so special, but I have to say, when Omri came in, there was something there that was just so perfect and that I feel, to this day, he delivered all that I could’ve hoped for in that role.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s Early Career Could Have Taken a Very Different Turn
It wasn’t until several years after this meeting with Kenny Ortega that Leonardo DiCaprio would become a bona fide superstar. Roles in movies including Gilbert Grape, The Basketball Diaries, and Romeo + Juliet would culminate with his lead performance in the 1997 smash hit Titanic, which remains one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. Since then, he has gone on to star in huge movies including Inception, Catch Me If You Can, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, accumulating six Oscar nominations for acting and winning one, for The Revenant.
If DiCaprio had actually had the opportunity to star in the flop Hocus Pocus, his career may have turned out very differently. At the time, his career was leaning in a direction that would have supported a project like Hocus Pocus. After playing various child roles in family-friendly or children’s shows such as The New Lassie, Roseanne, and Parenthood, he starred in the 1991 horror sequel Critters 3. This provided him with the perfect breadth of experience to capture the mix of tones in Hocus Pocus, but the movie’s failure might have stopped his career dead in its tracks.
Indeed, it seems that something similar may have happened to Katz himself, as his last role in a major project was a 2000 episode of General Hospital. It can be difficult to imagine the movie being such an impediment by the time of the Hocus Pocus 30th anniversary, at which point the movie seems like a widely accepted classic and even earned a 2022 sequel. However, if he had played Max, DiCaprio might have remained an actor with a cult following rather than the marquee star he is today.