To portray J. Edgar Hoover, a historical figure whose name is well-known but much of whose life is not, Leonardo DiCaprio did extensive research before taking on the Clint Eastwood-helmed “J. Edgar.”
Among other things, DiCaprio visited the FBI offices, Hoover’s hometown and watched old videos of the late FBI chief.
“I just wanted to know everything there was to Hoover,” said DiCaprio in an interview with the Associated Press. “He’d always been shrouded in so much mystery, from his personal life to his politics to his tactics to his highly controversial means of manipulating people politically.
“I wanted to know more about him, and the script (from Dustin Lance Black) for the first time answered a lot of questions I had about him and shaped a fundamentally interesting character.
“There was so much stuff to work with, but more than anything, I just liked the idea of this element of a man that didn’t have any kind of personal life,” DiCaprio continues. “He got to enjoy himself, go to the track, go on vacations, but his whole life was about infiltrating other people’s secrets but repressing his own and attacking anyone who ever tried to reveal anything about his own life. It’s a pretty stressful existence.”
Much as with Howard Hughes, whom DiCaprio portrayed in “The Aviator,” Hoover had eccentricities that DiCaprio wanted to explore.
“To me, you couldn’t write a character like J. Edgar Hoover and have it be believable,” DiCaprio says. “I mean, he was a crock pot of eccentricities,” most notably, he said, being an incredibly powerful man who “lived with his mother until he was 40 years old.”
Hoover’s close relationships with his mother, secretary Helen Gandy and close associate Clyde Tolson are a major theme of the film.
“He was this incredibly ambitious young genius that really transformed our country and created this federal bureau that to this day is revered and feared. Yet he was a mama’s boy. He was incredibly repressed emotionally,” DiCaprio says.
The film covers 50 years of Hoover’s life, and required extensive makeup.
“I had a lot of weight on me, too,” DiCaprio recalls. “I kept adding this weight just because I wanted to feel the weight of the country and the world on his shoulders.”