After winning an Oscar for his screenplay for Milk, another biopic should have been a piece of cake for Dustin Lance Black. Of course, the life of infamous FBI leader J. Edgar Hoover is no ordinary biography — especially given Hoover’s penchant for secrecy about pretty much everything in his life, including his rumored lifelong love affair with Clyde Tolson.
The film covers a wide span of Hoover’s life. When you were writing it, did you know it would be played by Leonardo DiCaprio?
No, in fact I try not to consider casting when I’m writing — especially a biopic like this, when I don’t have the opportunity to meet the real guy. It’s enough work to try and figure out who he was and get a handle on how he might’ve been, how he might’ve talked, the things he might’ve been thinking and feeling, his behaviour — you know, all that’s tough enough.
At what point did you know Leonardo DiCaprio would be playing the part?
Things moved very quickly once I turned in the script. Brian Grazer got it to Clint Eastwood, and while Clint was reading it I got a phone call from my lawyer — who works at the same firm Leo’s represented by — and they said, ‘Hey, you’re not showing this to anyone else, are you?’ I mean, I was very excited that it was Leo, if that’s what you want to know about, because this movie was supposed to be about subverting some expectations — confirming some things and subverting others — and one of them was this was a young man who was very promising and handsome, and starlets did throw themselves at him and he could get the best seat at the best club in New York when he went. People don’t think of Hoover like that.