Power of one
One of modern history’s most enigmatic men has been put under the microscope by master director Clint Eastwood,
FOR almost 50 years, J. Edgar Hoover was one of the most powerful and high- profile men in America.
A sometimes charming but often malicious public servant, he had filing cabinets full of dossiers stuffed with secrets about friends and foes.
Hoover was first elevated to the position of acting director of the Bureau of Investigation in 1924, maintained the top job when the agency became the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935 and incredibly remained at the helm until his death in 1972.
Just as Hoover delighted in investigating and airing rumours and innuendo about others, whispers also targeted Hoover – including gossip that he delighted in dressing in women’s clothing and was a closeted homosexual.
In the new Clint Eastwooddirected, Leonardo Di Caprio-starring biopic J. Edgar, Hoover’s private life and intimate relationships are the focus – although it does not go behind the bedroom door.
The film examines the relationship Hoover, played by Dicaprio, had with his almost inseparable colleague, Clyde Tolson ( played by Armie Hammer).
It also looks at the devotion Hoover’s secretary Helen Gandy ( Naomi Watts), who worked for him for almost 50 years, had for her boss.
Dicaprio, 37, underwent a major physical transformation to play Hoover from a man in his early 20s until his death aged 77.
His wardrobe included prosthetic double chins, nose augmenters and a bald cap.
Dicaprio’s trademark widow’s peak was plucked. The actor also embarked on a fact- finding mission to get a grasp of Hoover.
This involved reading many books devoted to Hoover and visiting the FBI and other Hoover haunts, including a restaurant where Hoover and Tolson ate at almost every day.
‘‘ I retraced his steps,’’ says Dicaprio, who has been in Sydney recently shooting Baz Luhrmann’s
The Great Gatsby. ‘‘ I visited his house and where he passed away. I went to the FBI where I sat behind his desk.
‘‘ I visited the restaurant where he went every day. I met with [ former deputy director of the FBI] Deke Deloach . . . who is aged in his 90s and is the last man still alive who worked with J. Edgar Hoover.
‘‘ He was the man who got me closer to him than any book could.
‘‘ He really captured him for me. He told me what his sense of humour was like, the way he would sit in his chair, how he would hold his hands, the foods he liked and his relationship with Tolson.’’
‘‘ He is giving a sermon and speech about catching criminals and he’s looking into the camera, but then they switch lenses and you get a moment where he doesn’t think he’s on camera and he’s scratching his face,’’ Dicaprio excitedly says.
‘‘ You get to see him relax for just three or four seconds. I was like ‘ Oh, I got that little moment’. It was a habit. Youtube is great.’’
Dicaprio believes he accumulated enough information about Hoover to shoot down the story that the FBI director went to a party wearing a dress and in make- up.
The actor believes Hoover was too protective of his personal life to do that.
‘‘ Not in a million years would he be dressing up as a woman at a party,’’ Dicaprio says. ‘‘ That was the biggest joke.
‘‘ That has stayed with J. Edgar Hoover for so long that he dressed up in a woman’s dress, put makeup on and went to a party.
‘‘ He was so damned paranoid about anyone thinking he was homosexual.
‘‘ He was incredibly paranoid about everything in his life. The idea he would be an open homosexual and dress like a woman was absurd.’’
On the question of whether Hoover was gay and in a relationship with Tolson, Dicaprio says anyone who knew the truth is dead.
‘‘ At the end of the day, the truth is no one knows the real truth,’’ Dicaprio says.
‘‘ I think if you talk to the FBI and certain others they will tell you, ‘ No way there was a homosexual relationship going on. These men were of service to their country and they were professionals’.
‘‘ Then there is a whole other group who will tell you ‘ Are you out of your mind? They were incredibly gay. They were a couple. Look, they drove to work together. They had lunch and dinner together. They lived together. Neither of them ever married or had relationships with women that anyone knows about. They went on vacations to Florida and Palm Springs together. They went to the track together every weekend. There wasn’t a minute that they didn’t leave each other’s side. Hoover left Clyde Tolson everything he had when he passed away. They are buried next to each other. They lived together. Put the pieces together’.’’
Instead of focusing on a possible sexual relationship, Dicaprio, Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black focused on Hoover’s inseparable relationship with Tolson.
‘‘ Whatever happened behind closed doors, we didn’t show in this film,’’ Dicaprio says.
‘‘ We showed the tension buildup of two men who obviously had strong feelings for each other.
‘‘ There’s no way you could spend your life with somebody like that and not have those intense feelings for one another.
‘‘ Whatever happened behind closed doors was their business and I don’t know if there is anyone living who truly knows the answer.’’
English- born, Australian- raised actress Watts, 43, admits to not knowing too much about Hoover and, particularly, Gandy, before she received a phone call from Eastwood asking if she would be in the movie.
However, after embarking on a research mission, Watts came to respect the loyal secretary.
‘‘ There’s a great strength and poise to her,’’ Watts says.
‘‘ There weren’t big, flashy moments that are always fun for an actor to play, but I liked her composure and that she was able to stick it out for that long and see everything she saw play out and hold to her word to keep all of his secrets.
‘‘ She did just that. I thought that shows a remarkable strength.’’
Hammer, 25, best known for playing the Winklevoss twins in
The Social Network, hired a researcher to dig up information about Tolson and was surprised with what was unearthed, particularly intimate photos Hoover took of Tolson sleeping that added to speculation they were lovers.
‘‘ I definitely found some stuff that would lead to speculation. Absolutely,’’ Hammer says.
‘‘ The pictures of Clyde Tolson sleeping. That’s pretty intimate.
‘‘ They lived together. They were buried next to each other.
‘‘ You would, of course, make assumptions if you knew male and female co- workers who showed up to work together, then went to lunch together, then went to dinner together, then left together, then showed up together the next morning together and they did that for 40 years.
‘‘ I don’t think it would be a stretch to make an assumption.
‘‘ Yes, there was no proof but that’s what made this movie more interesting.
‘‘ Everybody knows the details and dates of Martin Luther King, the civil rights movement and the [ anti- communism] Red Scare, but it is the small scenes . . . that breathe life into those dates and make it more than just a documentary.’’