Clint Eastwood, Leonard DiCaprio talk about making ‘J. Edgar’

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Leonardo DiCaprio, Clint Eastwood, writer Dustin Lance Black

LOS ANGELES — For nearly five decades, J. Edgar
Hoover was the face of law enforcement in the U.S., but to most
Americans, the longtime Federal Bureau of Investigations director
remains an enigma. “J. Edgar,” directed by Clint Eastwood and starring
Leonardo DiCaprio as Hoover, chronicles the FBI founder’s controversial
tenure as a hunter of gangsters and a collector of secrets and explores
his mystery-shrouded private life, defined by a devoted relationship to
his colleague Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).

week at Warner Bros. studio — on the stage where they shot much of the
film — Eastwood, DiCaprio and Hammer spoke about Hoover’s public legacy,
his secrets and the future of adult dramas in contemporary Hollywood.
The following is an edited excerpt of their conversation.

Edgar,” which was written by Dustin Lance Black and also stars Naomi
Watts as Hoover’s trusted secretary, Helen Gandy, and Judi Dench as his
imperious mother, opens in limited release Wednesday and goes wide

Q. Why J. Edgar Hoover?

I started hearing about him in the ‘30s. I don’t want to grab seniority
on you all — he was always the top cop. And so I was fascinated by what
he was about. When I read Lance’s material, I became somewhat
infatuated with the subject.

Q. Your two actors
sitting at this table were born after Hoover died, and many movie-goers
are as well. What would you say to them to make them curious about this

Eastwood: It’s hard to tell what will
stimulate curiosity nowadays because looking at some of the things that
do excite people, you kind of go, “Ohh, OK. So this hasn’t a chance.”
But we made it anyway. I think if people see the picture, they’ll find a
lot of parallels to today, ever since 9/11 and everything, that kind of
fear that’s going on in disturbance of the country.And Lance was smart
enough to put it in. Leo, Armie, everybody went along with that thing
“if you don’t pay attention to history, you’re destined to repeat it.”
That’s kind of the message of the picture, or one of them.

No one really knows the true nature of Hoover and Tolson’s
relationship. We only know that they were close. As an actor, do you
have to make a decision for yourself about what did or didn’t happen
between them?

DiCaprio: There are all kinds of
rumors in both directions. You talk to the FBI, they’ll tell you
“Absolutely not. These men, they were of service to their country. They
do their jobs.” And you talk to a whole other crew of people, and they
say, “Absolutely, without question. These men vacationed together. They
lived together. Hoover left Mr. Tolson everything he had when he passed
away.” Y’know. Come on. The way I looked at it was, they’re obviously
inseparable. They obviously have a great amount of respect for each
other. And there is a love there, something that in this film was never
culminated, but there is a huge connection between these two men that
you cannot question, that no one can question. These two men spent
almost every minute together for decades.

It was also at such a different time that, at 25 years old I would never
understand what it’s like to not be able to be myself. And these guys,
if they did just go “I love you,” not “we’re having sex,” not anything
like that but just “I love you, who you are as a person, I have great
respect and a tremendous amount of love for you,” it would cost them
their job. It would cost them their friends, their social standing, all
that. It’s a very difficult thing to understand in this day and age how
repressed that can be.

Q. What kind of direction did Clint give you about this relationship?

His philosophy is no rehearsal. And that causes you as an actor to make
these decisions for yourself…. When we did certain scenes, whether it
was hand-holding or not, we did one that was a little more, (one) a
little less. And we kept that sort of ambiguous. Clint kind of instilled
in us, “Let’s keep this up to interpretation, however people want to
perceive this.”

Hammer: It was also interesting
that we didn’t explicitly have these conversations because these guys
might not have explicitly had these conversations. So there was a little
bit of not really knowing how far we’re taking this, not really knowing
what’s going on. It added a little bit of an unrest to it and an
uncomfortability that I think read on the screen when you see these two
guys meet. They don’t know what’s going on. How do we know what’s going

Q. Why do you think Tolson was so loyal to Hoover?

This is a conversation I had with myself a lot before we started this
project. It seems like it’s “I need you to be with me,” “Now you walk
home,” “Now I need you.” That kind of thing. It seemed a little like an
abusive relationship. So I had dinner with a buddy of mine who’s gay,
and I just sort of walked through everything that happened in the
script, and he goes, “You break my heart.” And I go, “Why?” He goes,
“Well, now I’m convinced you’re 100 percent heterosexual … That’s just
the deal if you see even a spark of something in someone where they
look at you and they go, ‘I care about you. I could be there for you.’”
And that’s really all Clyde wanted out of Hoover was for him to make
those little gestures. That’s what kept him around.


There’s a very small group of people in Hollywood able to get this kind
of film made right now. Was it hard to get a studio to green light this

Eastwood: It’s getting smaller all the
time. Everybody wants to make something they think is a surefire winner,
though nobody knows what a surefire winner is, in my opinion. If you
can make a good picture that actually has some substance, that’s doubly
good nowadays ‘cause most everybody else is trying to address how many
CGI plates we’re gonna do, what little being is gonna come in from
another asteroid …

DiCaprio: … little being from another asteroid? You’ve got me laughing on that one.

Well, that’s the thing I can think of that I’d hate to do the most.
Whatever the formula of the moment is, I’m glad I’m not making it.

There has been a complete dropoff of rated-R dramas anywhere above $30
million. They just don’t exist. I did “Blood Diamond,” “The Aviator” and
“The Departed,” I don’t think any of those movies would be made right
now. Anything that has any sort of edge to it, those movies aren’t being

Q. What is the budget for “J. Edgar”?

Eastwood: $35 million.

Q. Is the industry aversion to R-rated dramas a cyclical thing?

Everything is cyclical. It’s all about that first-weekend box office. I
don’t know if “Double Indemnity” or “Sunset Boulevard” or “On the
Waterfront” would get made today. Everybody would go, “Oh, who wants to
see a picture about dock workers?” I’ve been through it with two
pictures in a row, with “Mystic River” and “Million Dollar Baby.” I
approached Warner Bros. and another studio simultaneously, and the other
studio said, “We don’t do dramas.” I said, “You don’t do dramas? What
are we doing here?”

DiCaprio: It does feel like
the middle ground has fallen out. I’m only saying that from personal
experience, saying, “I’d like to make that movie” and hearing, “Oh,
they’re not making those types of movies anymore.”

You have to go with your instincts. I remember when I was about to make
“Fistful of Dollars” a big article came out that said, “Italian
Westerns are finished.” I said, “Swell.” Then, of course, (the film)
came out, and it did something. I’m so glad for the dozens of times I
haven’t listened along the way.


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