Inside ’J. Edgar’ :: DC politics, power & the closet
One thing you can always count on arriving at the same time as the end-of-year holidays is the Oscar-worthy film crop. For the most part, film studios hold onto their biggest bets for nabbing Academy Award nominations until this time of year so they’ll stay fresh in their minds when voting happens in the early part of the new year.
A major entry in the race for the Oscar comes this week with the Clint Eastwood-directed film, "J. Edgar," a bio pic about the man who helped create the Federal Bureau Of Investigation.
He also happened to be a closeted gay man who shared his later years with companion Clyde Tolson, his right hand man at the FBI. As portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer, Hoover and Tolson may not have had the most traditional of relationships but, as the film shows in the actors’ distinct performances, there was much love there that the film explores.
A tough one to research
Written by out screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who knows a thing or two about writing bio-pics from his Academy Award-winning turn as writer of the 2009 movie "Milk," the beginning of this project came with the research on Hoover, and Black is the first to admit that it was anything but easy. "This was a tough one to research," he explained during the film’s press junket in Los Angeles last week. "You read any of the biographies on J. Edgar Hoover [and] you find that they contradict each other more than they agree oftentimes. They’re often told from a political perspective [and] they feel like they have an agenda oftentimes."
However, once he sifted through the various research, he said that suddenly an image of who Hoover was began to come together. "At a certain point, you’ve met enough people and you’ve read enough people’s biographies and first-hand accounts and [you are] able to come to conclusions about who the man was." One thing that helped Black stay on track is the one question he made to sure to constantly be asking himself. "For me," he explained, "it was always important to answer the question why. I know that this is someone who attained a lot of power and he maintained that power for longer than he probably should have and I was so curious as to why. Most of my questions were to answer that and to see because I thought that was how we could make this into an emotional story and how we could maybe learn from it both in the good that he did and the bad..."
Unfulfilling personal life
What Black found in his research was a man who may have been seen as a major influence in crime enforcement but had a less-than-fulfilling personal life. Was that just a sign of the times for a man who happened to be attracted to other men? Again, the question why came into play for the writer.
"For me," Black explained, "that why was answered with his inability to love and learning about the atmosphere that he grew up in and that had to do with interviews with a lot of older gentlemen who are still alive, thankfully, who could describe what it was like to grow up in that time - pre-sexual revolution, pre-Stonewall - and the behavior and the rules of what you could say and couldn’t say even in private, even with the person you might be falling in love with..."
And why was this closeted man’s life worthy of exploring? That was an easy question for Black to answer after all his research. "All of a sudden it really started to match up with Hoover’s behavior and I felt that I understood this man. It was a creepy feeling at times because I’d have hard feelings about so much of what he did and I started to empathize with him and I started to feel for him and you start to question that and you start to worry about that. I always stopped myself and said ’Hey, if we ever want to keep this from happening again...we need to understand that why so we can keep it from happening again.’"
Story continues on following page.
Watch the trailer to "J. Edgar":