The Making of 'J. Edgar'
It was around that time that Grazer approached Eastwood, with whom he'd worked on Changeling.
"I read it and thought it was extremely interesting," says Eastwood. "I grew up, of course, in an era where Hoover was always the top cop, but I'd heard different stories over the years. Anybody who stays on a job as long as he did is bound to have some controversy."
Eastwood pored over each controversial aspect with Black, repeatedly questioning him on sourcing. He also drew on his friendship with then-CIA chief Leon Panetta to arrange a private dinner with FBI director Robert Mueller.
"He wanted to know about the stutter [that Hoover had as a youth]," Black says. "He said, 'Did you make up the stutter?' Things he thought were really good, he wanted to make sure weren't just convenient. I really respected that."
Another matter they discussed was the injections Hoover allegedly received when he was older. "The FBI had a problem with that in the script," Black notes. "Clint wanted to know about it. But it was not uncommon at the time to have a little amphetamine-vitamin boost."
Eastwood asked for two key changes: He wanted the film to be called J. Edgar to avoid any confusion with the president or the vacuum cleaner. And he cut a sequence that would have proved exorbitant.
"That's where the young Hoover is going home on a trolley car, in the middle of the race riots [in 1919]," says Black. "But it was so incredibly expensive."
Throughout, manager Rick Yorn had been keeping close tabs on the script on behalf of DiCaprio. With Eastwood on board, DiCaprio quickly followed.
He immersed himself in the role, even going to Washington, D.C., to see where Hoover had worked and lived. "I went on a little tour of his life -- his childhood home, his bedroom, his workplace," DiCaprio recalls. "I walked through his daily routine, saw his office, met the historian at the FBI -- they have an incredible amount of respect for him and rightfully so. He did a lot of wonderful things for our country, and also some pretty heinous things."
"He's intensely curious," Black says of the actor. "He had a team looking for video of Hoover and found things I'd never seen. He'd pull me aside and say, 'Listen to this speech. Can we get that in there?' "
A case in point: The animal metaphors that DiCaprio discovered Hoover loved. "We put a lot of slithering, slimy, snaky words in those speeches," Black says. (On one occasion, he tells a Congressional committee, speaking of criminals: "We must not for a moment forget that their squirming, their twisting and slimy wriggling, is no less than an assault on every honest citizen.")
Still, even with two superstars on board, financing wasn't readily at hand. Then Warners came in.
"It's a biopic, and there's a limit to how much those can make," says Jeff Robinov, president of the motion picture group for Warner Bros. "But the bet was on Clint and Leo," helped by a major rebate from the Los Angeles shoot.
"With Clint, it's a really unique thing," Grazer observes. "They don't use the two-letter word; they don't say no. What they say is, 'Yeah, let's do it, but let's try to do it at a good price.' "
That price was $35 million.