As America's top cop for five decades, J. Edgar Hoover oversaw the creation of the FBI, helped popularize fingerprints and other forensic evidence, and wielded nearly unchecked authority to manipulate evidence and investigate supposed enemies of the state such as Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Now director Clint Eastwood is turning the tables, prying into Hoover's life in a big-screen biopic that would doubtless make the notorious G-man squirm.
The movie traces Hoover's life from his childhood in Washington, D.C., through his ascent to power in the 1920s, his 50-year reign over the FBI, and his death in 1972 — with Leonardo DiCaprio donning prosthetic makeup to portray the man well into his bulldog-like elderly years. ''To me, it's really a story of how absolute power corrupts absolutely,'' says the star. ''He was always an outsider.''
Clint Eastwood talked about growing up with Hoover, and what he was like:
Well, I grew up with Hoover in the 30’s and 40’s as The G-man. He was always the authority; always sort of the top cop. Certainly the FBI was considered somewhat revered, and [we were] somewhat in awe, I guess. When you talk to FBI agents now who’ve worked with him, they all have different opinions of him. A lot of them liked Hoover very much, liked working for him very much.Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black explained in a recent interview how he approached Hoover in the script:
Here’s this guy starting the Bureau of Investigation, which later became the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and then goes on to stay for 48 years through eight presidents. Of course nobody could fire him, because he had something on everybody.
He knew what he could do to everybody else by finding out what their life was like, but on the same token, everything in his life was pretty much kept between he and Helen Gandy and Clyde Tolson.
(On Hoover and Tolson possibly being gay] Some people might interpret it that way. Some people might say [he and Tolson] were just inseparable pals. Or maybe it’s a love story without being gay, I don’t know. But it’s very interesting, the way Lance laid out the script. It was nicely written. It didn’t go to the obvious.
I started to become curious about the ‘why.' He did wonderful things for this country, but why did he ended up doing so many things that were heinous and harmful? I think it was all in the name of trying to fill that void, where love goes, with public admiration. This is a guy who from his earliest years was told he could never express the love he felt.DiCaprio added
They were just guys going around asking questions. Almost like reporters, trying to create a story to give to the localized police, and the police are the ones that had all the power. It was almost like our country was fractioned off into little city-states that have their own jurisdiction, and here comes a man that creates a federal police force where you’re held accountable in our country for your actions and your deeds.
We’re not simply relying on testimony from eyewitnesses that can often be misleading and can take you in different directions. He brought forensics into it. The modernized way that we convict people and people are put on to trial and the evidence we use is all a result of the way J. Edgar Hoover designed the FBI.
I think that he was always an outsider. I think that’s what this story is about, how he sort of lost touch towards the end of his life, to say the least. Hoover was obsessed with pretty far-fetched, bizarre, highly paranoid stuff.