Alexandrea Owens was just eight years old when she was handed the opportunity of a lifetime: a role in mega-blockbuster Titanic. And playing the adorable third-class passenger Cora not only meant that Owens got to hang out with Leonardo DiCaprio on set, but that she even got to dance with him.
And it might come as something as a surprise, but little Owens had no prior acting experience before her performance in Titanic. She did, however, have a very supportive mother. And so when the makers of the film held an open casting call for extras, her mom drove her and her sister down to Mexico from San Diego to audition.
“My mom was just like, ‘I have to get my kids down there; they’re so cute; this could be such a great opportunity!’ Owens recalled in a 2015 interview with Cosmopolitan. “She knew I wanted to be an actress; I’ve wanted to be an actress since I was, like, four years old.”
In fact, Owens’ sister was also considered for the role of the crying girl near the end of the movie. Unfortunately, however, she was a little overenthusiastic in her sobbing. “We’re [at the auditions], and my mom was talking about the Titanic, explaining the sinking, and my sister started crying!” Owens remembered in her Cosmopolitan interview. “Just bawling. She was so sad that so many people had died.”
Owens, meanwhile, was asked if she wanted to try out for Cora. During the audition, the casting director asked her to do a bit of line-reading and dancing. It wasn’t until a few weeks later, however, that she got the good news: she’d been picked for the part. “I remember crying, screaming, running around the house like a little maniac,” she said.
But while the role of Cora may have been a small one, it was nevertheless an integral part in portraying the stories of those who lost their lives on the ship. The doll Cora carries in the movie is based on a real doll found among the wreckage of the Titanic. In a sense, then, Cora represents all of the 56 children who perished in 1912.
But despite the horror and heartache that the role of Cora represents, Owens has described making Titanic as a fun experience. “In a word, it was amazing,” she told Cosmopolitan. “But everyone was so nice to me, and I just did [what I was told]. You show up on set, and you get your hair and makeup, and then your costume, and then James Cameron directs you, and you’re like, ‘All right, I’m just going to do that.’”
Indeed, the first scene she filmed involved her “just hanging out and drawing pictures with Leo.” And although the scene took no less than three hours to film and even then was eventually cut, it didn’t sound like a bad first day at work at all. “I’m sitting with Leonardo DiCaprio, and we were drawing in his sketchbook,” Owens told Cosmopolitan. “And he sees Rose, and then [the actor] playing my dad comes up and says, ‘All right, say goodbye to Uncle Jack,’ so he could go off with her.”
Furthermore, Cora also described an on-screen moment that will almost certainly make diehard DiCaprio fans fall even harder for the heartthrob. During the famous scene where Jack dances with little Cora at a third-class passenger party, the actor was, according to a 2015 interview Owens gave BuzzFeed, “dancing around behind the camera trying to make [her] laugh.”
“There was so much of Jack in Leo, definitely,” Owens added to Cosmopolitan. “He was very sweet; he was very goofy, absolutely adorable.” In fact, the heartthrob even brought her peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on set.
Of course, at only eight years old, little Owens wasn’t even aware that she was starring alongside one of the world’s biggest teen idols. In fact, to her, he was just someone to mess around with on set. “I wasn’t really paying attention [to his heartthrob status] because I was thinking, ‘This is my new best friend Leo, and he’s so cool,’” she told Cosmopolitan.
And it wasn’t just Leo that Owens got to hang out with, either: Kate Winslet, who put in a memorable performance as English beauty Rose in the blockbuster, was also super nice to the child actors during filming. “Kate would come up and talk to us too,” Owens recalled. “She was obsessed with my sister’s hair, so she was always playing with it. And Leo would try to chase my sister around and tickle her.”
Sadly, Cora herself didn’t survive the movie: a deleted scene shows her perishing as the Titanic sinks. She also appears during the epilogue to the film alongside all of the other fallen passengers. But not even the fact that her character died stopped Owens from being the envy of all her friends.
“I’ve always been ‘the Titanic girl’ in school,” Owens told Cosmopolitan. “It’s mostly just people saying, ‘Hey, I saw you on TV last night,’ or they would call me Cora. Sometimes they would ask me to bring in the DVD so we could watch the parts I’m in in class.”
What’s more, Owens attempted to stay in touch with DiCaprio once filming for Titanic had finished by inviting him to go trick-or-treating with her. “He said something like, ‘That’s so sweet, I’ll talk to my manager and see if I can make that happen,” Owens later recounted to the magazine. “It didn’t.”
As for being a star herself? Well, Owens told Cosmopolitan that as a youngster, she found her newfound fame “really hard.” Initially though, the young star was keen to further her acting ambitions. “Right after Titanic, I got an agent,” she said. “I was auditioning for movies, but it was a really hard time for me.”
But after being unnerved when passersby recognised her as Cora on the street, Owens decided to stop pursuing further acting options for a while. “People would ask for my autograph, but when you’re eight, nine years old, it’s just like, ‘Ugh, who are you, I shouldn’t talk to strangers!,’” she added.
So for Owens Titanic became just a pleasant memory rather than a springboard onto anything else. Her mother kept an adorably misspelled essay she had written as a child about appearing in the movie, and Owens lived out her teenage years in relative anonymity.
And unfortunately, this essay was one of the only keepsakes Owens was able to take from her time on Titanic. Indeed, one memento in particular was actually stolen from the little girl while she was on set. “There’s another scene where Leo is drawing me and my dad, we’re, like, looking out at the ocean and he’s drawing us; it’s the scene where he sees Rose for the first time,” Owens told Cosmopolitan. “Leo signed that sketch for me, and it was [being kept] safe in a trailer, and someone went in and stole it. I was so upset.”
Then, almost two decades after Titanic first took the world by storm in 1997, nostalgic fans started to wonder where the movie’s supporting cast were now. It was just a matter of time, then, before they tracked down the actress who played angel-faced Cora all those years ago.
In 2015, moreover, Owens found a Facebook message from BuzzFeed. The site wanted to ask her some questions surrounding her experience of working on one of the biggest movies of all time. “I was like, ‘What do you mean you’re doing a BuzzFeed article on me? That doesn’t make sense!’” Owens later told Cosmopolitan.
And it turns out that Owens – who now uses the double-barrelled name Owens-Sarno and likes to be called Alex rather than Alexandrea – is now pursuing an acting career in Los Angeles.
In fact, the one-time star – who is now 28 years old – is currently taking drama classes. These days you can also find her performing on stage in LA as part of the improv comedy group Ugly as Sin. And so, it would seem that she never lost the acting bug after all.
Moreover, having a blockbuster like Titanic under her belt is clearly working in her favour. Owens has two new films wrapped as of 2016: A Closer Walk with Thee and horror movie The Sluagh.
And, perhaps understandably, Owens has gained a slew of new fans since BuzzFeed ran their article, with nearly 11,000 Instagram followers and counting now tracking her every post. She even began offering signed pictures, sending them to Titanic fans from all corners of the globe.
Aside from the odd Titanic snap with DiCaprio, however, Owens’ Instagram is very much that of a typical young woman. In between signing Cora autographs, she practices yoga and enjoys going on dinner dates and hikes with her friends. But it’s clear that Owens still has very fond memories of her Titanic days.
For example, on October 25, 2016 – to celebrate the blockbuster’s 20th anniversary – she posted this behind-the-scenes snap of her and her sister hanging out with Leo and Kate Winslet on set. “It was brought to my attention that this was TWENTY YEARS AGO TODAY!” she wrote. “Wow, how time flies. What a beautiful opportunity I had as a kid. I can’t wait for you guys to see new stuff.”
Plus, the former child star isn’t afraid to get involved in politics, either. With just days to go until the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, she took to Instagram to encourage her followers to vote. “Be heard. #vote #ivoted,” she tagged this snap.
But perhaps the biggest question on everyone’s lips is this from Cosmopolitan: does she still keep in touch with Leonardo DiCaprio? And sadly, she doesn’t. “It’s such a bummer. I wish I did.”
Bummer indeed. But she can still do the Irish jig she did with him from that party scene, right? “I don’t know if I can do the jig anymore! I think if I watched and really just dedicated time to relearning it, maybe I could do it,” she added.
“But you also can’t do it by yourself,” Owens added, by way of explanation. “When you’re getting, like, twirled around by Leonardo DiCaprio, you just go with the moment.” We can only imagine…