J. Edgar: Leonardo DiCaprio

“J. Edgar” begins in the mid-1970s, when Hoover is nearing the end of his life and his time as Director of the FBI. Wanting to preserve everything he’s built, he begins dictating his memoirs, reflecting back on his early days as a man in his early twenties, when he first began working with what was then simply the Bureau of Investigation.

“I think he was interested in his place in history,” director Clint Eastwood surmises, “but probably prone to some exaggeration. There are proven moments where he fudged his stories a bit to make himself look a little better.”

“Early on in his career, solving the Lindbergh case and capturing outlaws like John Dillinger helped Hoover to fashion the G-Man image in the eyes of the general public,” Leonardo DiCaprio adds. “There were comic books about them, they were on cereal boxes, engaging America’s youth. It was all part of his publicity campaign to turn government into a force that was helping your family and keeping your children safe.”

Whether or not Hoover was ever able to feel the country was safe or that positive changes were on the horizon, is still a question.

“I think even as an old man, J. Edgar Hoover was still so obsessed with communism that he didn’t recognize things were changing for the better during the Civil Rights Movement,” the actor goes on. “He saw it as an uprising that had the potential to become something more destructive. That’s when he lost his footing. That’s when he failed to see the real future of our country.”


J. Edgar Hoover devoted himself to public service, essentially putting aside any personal relationships he might have wanted to have for what he considered to be the greater good. As one who served to gain authority as well as the public’s adoration, he saw his opportunity to achieve both by positioning himself as a supreme crime-fighting figure, a hero of the populace.

“Hoover was incredibly ambitious as a young man,” says Leonardo DiCaprio, who took on the character that would take him from a man in his twenties to one at 77.

“He was highly motivated to succeed in Washington, primarily due to his mother’s expectations of him. His father had failed to become a major political figure, and Annie wanted her son to carry the family name to great fame and fortune, with little or no regard for what else Edgar might have needed for himself. He became this stoic, bulldog enforcer who had to keep his personal life very personal. He became all about secrets.”

With so little known about the man’s inner life, DiCaprio did vast amounts of research in order to create a fully realized Hoover on screen. “It was a terrific challenge to breathe life into this person, because he was such a mystery,” he says. “I did find that he was very manipulative and very charming; he could charm anyone in the room but at the same time intimidate them. He liked the spotlight, but he concentrated so much on work that it defined much of who he was, his morals, the decisions that he made on really every level. I hesitate to use the word priest because J. Edgar Hoover was no priest, but he certainly looked at the FBI as his church.”

“Leo is a total professional, he comes completely prepared,” Eastwood says. “From the start, I could see he’d done all of his homework, thought a lot about what he had to do, and was interested in my take on things. I was really impressed by his focus, and I think it translated into the character.”

The actor was thrilled to be working with the legendary director. “Clint’s process is impeccable because he trusts his own instincts, he trusts his gut. There’s a beautiful simplicity to the way he works; he has one vision, which made it easier to do my job. He’s really like a corner man. It was like going into the ring and having your coach there, backing you up. And I think that confidence and support are evident on the screen.”

Trust was vital to J. Edgar Hoover, though he bestowed his on only a few individuals over the course of his lifetime, those few he felt were truly loyal to him. In order to paint a complete portrait of the man, it was critical to the filmmakers to capture those key relationships that helped reflect and reveal who he was, beginning with his colleague and friend, Clyde Tolson.

From Grazer’s perspective, “The relationship these two men had was one of companionship and joy, but also loneliness and isolation. They were both a product of their time.”

DiCaprio says, “They ate lunch and dinner together every day, went on vacations together. Whether they were together in any other respect…well, no one living knows the truth. In the film, it’s seen as almost an unrequited love, but a lasting one, nonetheless.”