The Making of 'J. Edgar'
On Feb. 7, production on the 128-page script started in downtown Los Angeles and the Warner and Paramount backlots. The small budget and 39-day shoot put enormous pressure on the cast and crew.
Eastwood hired actors he admired, like Naomi Watts as Gandy and Judi Dench as Hoover's mother. Casting director Fiona Weir talked an initially reluctant Hammer into signing on. With his cast in place, Eastwood focused on some of the technical aspects of the film, turning to veterans of his team, like cinematographer Tom Stern, who flew in from his home in the south of France, and production designer James Murakami, who says the shoot was especially challenging.
In one case, when a house is bombed, the whole set had to be transformed within an hour. "It went from an unscathed building into a bombed-out one during the dinner break," says Murakami.
A far bigger challenge for him was creating the vast set that would represent a huge part of the Department of Justice where Hoover had his office, built on Warners' stage 6. While tactics such as photographing the actual terrazzo floor and digitally reproducing it on fiberboard saved money, the realism of Murakami's set created challenges for Stern. Lighting a long hallway proved complicated: lights couldn't be hung from the ceiling as it was visible in many tracking shots.
"In one scene, we start in Hoover's office and he and Clyde take off and they're joined by Naomi Watts and go through the hall and into the crime lab -- and it's all in one shot, 200 feet long," Stern recalls. "It was really tough, but we did the whole thing in two or three takes."
That was typical of Eastwood's style. "With Clint," says DiCaprio, "you prepare, you prepare, you do an incredible amount of research and it's like getting ready for a stage production, because you move at an unbelievably fast pace and it keeps you on your toes. But then you get this instant adrenaline rush."
That was one reason he endured so many hours in the makeup chair. "We discussed the idea of relying on visual effects, to make it easier for the actors," says Lorenz. "But Leo was insistent; he wanted to be sure it was going to look right." Both makeup artist Sian Grigg and Hammer marveled at DiCaprio's intense prep: he spent hours every day walking and talking with fake teeth, a nose stretcher, aging makeup and a skullcap.
With production concluding March 30, Eastwood embarked on an unusually long editing phase as he brought the picture down from a rough cut of three hours to two hours and 15 minutes. He never backtracked on Hoover's more controversial aspects, which didn't surprise Black, having observed the master at work.
"I'd wondered how Clint would treat [the homosexuality]," he says. "But when we were shooting and I saw the tenderness with which he approached some of those scenes, I felt I was in very safe hands."
Looking back, Eastwood says he had no trouble with that material, and yet he admits he remains divided about Hoover.
"He's a mystery man," he says. "You understand little elements of him, but that's all. And that's what made his story appealing: to bore in and figure out who he was."