Clint Eastwood is unveiling the secrets of the 20th Century’s master secret-keeper in his new film “J. Edgar” starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the original FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. And the iconic actor-director opens up his own dossier about making the film for PopcornBiz, and reveals why he thinks he's still in his prime.
On how he viewed J. Edgar Hoover as a public figure growing up:
“I just had my own impressions growing up with Hoover as a heroic figure in the 30s, 40s, and 50s and beyond – but this was all prior to the Information Age, so we didn’t know about Hoover except what was usually in the papers, And this was fun, because this was a chance to go into it. It was fun to delve into a character that you’d heard about all your life but you never really knew and try to sort that out. We never knew too much about any of his close confidants, but through researching, that was what was fun about making the movie: you get to learn something about people. And then watching the other actors and everybody – we’re all just kind of learning history, or putting our stamp on history, our interpretation of it. Sure, a lot of things probably didn’t happen exactly the way they happen in this film, but they’re pretty close.”
On “J. Edgar’s” decidedly non-linear structure and unreliable protagonist:
“It was an interesting way to go back and forth in time and show him and his present day attitude, and how he was when he was younger and just starting out, with all kinds of vinegar and ready to roll. I think we stuck pretty well with the formula and it seemed clever to me. By the same token, it helped to justify all these characters. Hoover, I’m sure, felt that he was right in everything he did, and even the things that we don’t like about his character. Everybody always feels that they’re right even if they’re wrong, and that’s what a whole actor’s career is built around: rationalizing your way into whatever character you’re playing.”
On his observations about people in power:
“With people in high office, [it’s] the old adage: they go into the extreme of absolute power and absolute power corrupts. So there’s always the corrupting thing with [Hoover’s] 48-year stint as the director of the Bureau of Investigation. And because he formed it all and he had the trust of various executives along the way, they just relied on him and nobody could remove him. We at least approached it from that way. There are so many parallels in society today that you can use – whether it’s the head of studio, an organization, a major newspaper, a major factory or company – of people who stay too long, maybe, and overstay their usefulness.”
On reports that the FBI was less than enchanted with the film’s controversial depiction of its iconic first director:
“I have great respect for the FBI, and I knew there have been some rumors lately that the FBI was disenchanted because of what we were doing in the story, or doing a certain take: that’s not true. Actually, the FBI was tremendously enthusiastic about us doing this film. They didn’t read the script, though. They know nothing about it. Their philosophy is ‘Go ahead and make the story you want to make, and hopefully we’ll love it.’ So that’s that.”
On his reputation as a director who requires minimal takes:
“What I do is ‘Whatever it takes, it takes.’ Sometimes you see a scene right away and a take looks great, so you might print that. And you might print a couple more and take elements of all three. It just depends. You’re looking for the highlights. You’re looking for the best elements of the scene, but preferably you’d like to have one good take that would go all the way through. But I’m always trying for it on the first take. That was Don Siegel’s favorite thing: He says ‘I may not get it but I’m always trying for it.’ I’ve got this reputation for shooting one take, which is a wonderful reputation to have but it’s hard to live up to. If I did it, it would be kind of shoddy, I think.”
On his decision to return to acting again for “Trouble With the Curve” after suggesting that “Gran Torino” might be his last on-screen apprearance:
“I could say boredom. Actually, it’s kind of based on material. I’d been trying to retire to the back of the camera for quite a few years. And then in 1970, when I first started directing, I said ‘You know, if I could pull this off, I can some day just move in back of the camera and stay there.’ I never was able to pull it off, because somebody offered me a role. Once and a while they come up with a grumpy old men thing and they say “Okay, let’s get Eastwood for that.” So we’ll see. Every once and a while somebody writes a script – but regardless of what age you are, most actors would all agree that it’s all based upon material and the material has got to spark with you. It may be great material, but you think it’s great material for somebody else. Or it’s great material and I’m perfect for it. So you just have to make that judgment and feel in the mood to do it.”
On keeping his Hollywood career going strong at age 81:
“I think aging, so far, has been okay. I think it’s been good. A lot of people regret [it], because we live in a society that reveres being at the prime of life and everything, but you have certain primes at certain times, and mine happens to be, I think, now. I think I am doing better at certain things right now than I have in the past, and maybe not so good at others.”
"J. Edgar" opens in limited release today. It opens to a wider national audience this Friday.