J. Edgar, the biopic about J. Edgar Hoover, the legendary and controversial first head of the FBI, almost didn’t get made. Despite a script by Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black and the backing of producer Brian Grazer, the film failed to get a green light at Universal when Grazer brought it to the studio. That’s when the producer enlisted the help of Clint Eastwood, whose consistent ability to deliver Oscar-worthy work on a budget made his involvement a virtual green light at Warner Bros.
“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.”
Stephen Galloway, THR‘s executive editor, features, talked with the major players behind J. Edgar, including star Leonardo DiCaprio, and turned up some surprising insights into how both the octogenarian Oscar-winning director and his leading man got the film made.
THE EPIC STORY WHICH COVERS 50 YEARS WAS MADE FOR JUST $35 MILLION
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. 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 production designer James Murakami.
LEONARDO DICAPRIO SLASHED HIS FEE FROM $20 MILLION TO $2 MILLION
“He could have made a lot of money just doing spectacle movies with all kinds of CGI,” says Eastwood of his first-time collaborator, who at 36 is 45 years his junior. “But he wants to vary his career, like I’ve always looked to vary mine as a director.”
CLINT EASTWOOD PERFORMED FIGHT SCENES FOR HIS MUCH YOUNGER ACTORS
To teach DiCaprio and Armie Hammer (who plays Hoover’s longtime partner Clyde Tolson) how to perform a scene in which they get into an all-out brawl, the 81-year-old director decided to show them himself. “Clint was there with one of his stunt-guy friends, Buddy Van Horn, and they put on an impromptu fight scene for us,” Hammer marvels. “There’s Buddy standing in the middle of the room and Clint says, ‘I think it should be something like this’ — and he explodes into Clint Eastwood the fighter and they start smacking each other around and rolling on the floor. And then Clint just gets up and says, ‘OK, something like that.'”
LEONARDO DICAPRIO SAT HOURS IN THE MAKEUP CHAIR TO PORTRAY OLDER HOOVER
“We discussed the idea of relying on visual effects to make it easier for the actors,” says producer Robert 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 skull cap.
EASTWOOD SOUGHT ASSISTANCE FROM HIS FORMER CONGRESSMAN, LEON PANETTA
The director pored over each controversial aspect of Hoover’s life 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. Eastwood and Black discussed 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 ISN’T SURE IF HOOVER WAS A CROSS-DRESSER
“Along the way, people accused him of [that],” Eastwood notes. “But nobody knows how accurate it was. Evidently the woman who accused him of that, her husband had been sent to the slammer by Hoover. So you don’t know how much was vengeance.” Eastwood himself believes “there is a certain amount of truth” to all the allegations, but wanted to retain some ambiguity. One scene in the film shows Hoover wearing his mother’s dress.
BUT DICAPRIO AS HOOVER DOES HAVE A GAY KISS
Neither Eastwood nor DiCaprio has drawn any conclusions about Hoover sexuality. “Whether he was gay remains to be seen,” Eastwood says. “But [he and Clyde Tolson] were inseperable buddies. Was that becase he didn’t trust anybody else or was it a love story? I think they had a great affection; whether it was gay or not, I don’t know.” DiCaprio elaborates, “What you cannot doubt is that Clyde Tolson and he had a relationship that spanned most of their life; they lived with each other, had lunch and dinner, and [Hoover] left everything to Clyde. Unarguably, they were partners in some sense.” The film depicts Tolson aggressively kissing Hoover on the mouth at the end of their fistfight.
DICAPRIO IS EXCITED ABOUT ‘TITANIC’ IN 3D
“I haven’t seen the 3D [version] at all yet; I am scheduled to — I hear it’s going to be fantastic,” DiCaprio says. “Jim [Cameron] called me personally to tell me this was going to happen. I said, “Cool! I can’t wait.” There’s nobody who can do it better.”
EASTWOOD’S WAITING FOR BEYONCE’S BABY
The director’s remake of A Star Is Born has been delayed, since its star, Beyonce, is having a baby. “Until early next year, she’ll be on that project,” Eastwood says. “But we are going to do it later, in the early summer.”
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