The cameras aren't here, but there is an A-list cast: Clint Eastwood, 81, TV and movie veteran and Oscar winner for directing "Million Dollar Baby" and "Unforgiven," and Leonardo DiCaprio, 36, former child star who still is trying to get rid of his baby face and play roles that are markedly different from himself.
The scene is the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, just off Rodeo Drive, a place the recession missed. Lurking behind the scenes is J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director who turned that organization into the top law enforcement body in the world but also used its power for his own political and personal power games.
The three are forces in "J. Edgar," which opened in local theaters this weekend.
This is not the first film about Hoover. "The Private Files of J. Edger Hoover," starring Broderick Crawford, was released in 1977. "J. Edgar Hoover" in 1987 starred Treat Williams. "The FBI Story," an episodic movie that hailed the efficiency of the bureau, starred James Stewart.
In this version, DiCaprio plays Hoover from 1924 to 1972.
The director and star have agreed to talk to us, but, as you'll see, don't always give complete answers.
Why is the film called "J. Edgar?"
Clint: "I didn't want it to be confused with either the president or the vacuum cleaner."
Were there scenes that required more than, say, three takes?
Leo: "There were scenes that required eight or 10 takes, or more. Clint moves amazingly fast. There is a lot of preparation, but when you start shooting, he moves quickly from one scene to the next. Sometimes the makeup required a bit of a slowdown, but Clint expects you to plant your feet and speak the truth. And get on with it."
Clint: "I have a reputation as being a one-take director, but it's hard to live up to it."
Leo, it is rumored you cut your salary from the usual $20 million to around $2 million to play this role. What is so fascinating about J. Edgar Hoover?
Leo: "The challenge of trying to figure him out. It was hard for me to accept the concept that he gave up his entire life for his country. At least, that's the way he saw it. He saw communism as a terrorist invasion. He reinvented police investigation. He was feared. He became a political dinosaur. His tragedy was, perhaps, that he stayed around too long. To play all that is a challenge that needs to be met. I think I understand what drove him. You could say he was a patriot, but at the same, to me, his methods were deplorable."
Why was it decided to tell the story in a nonlinear way?
Clint: "It was the only one to touch all the bases. After much consideration, it was decided that the story had to be told by Hoover himself -- through his eyes. The audience has to know that's what we're seeing, but we have to let them know that this should be questioned. That's a tricky thing to do. We're not saying this is the way it was. This is the way he sees it. We have the Lindbergh case, the civil rights movement, world wars. And we had a budget."
The film goes to the public with big questions of how it will approach the man. What do you think is the result?
Clint: "I wanted to maintain a good deal of ambiguity. I had a great deal of respect for the FBI and for Hoover from childhood. There were comic books about the G-men. He changes from the '30s to the '70s. I wanted to keep that mystery, and we do, but while still putting a light on it. As I get older, I think it's fine to just leave people alone. Not everything has to be exposed and analyzed."
What surprised you most about Hoover?
Clint: "What a political animal he was. He was much more into politics than I suspected. I like the scene when he curtly speaks to Bobby Kennedy. He knew his power, and he wasn't going to give it up easily."
Leo, as a celebrity, you face losing your own privacy. Do you think this affected Hoover's life?
Leo: "Hoover couldn't do the same job today he did then. We live in a different world. His absolute power and ability to control forces enabled him to get things done, but at what price? It is now required that the director of the FBI can serve for only 10 years. That was brought about because of him."
Clint, how do you approach aging and the fact that you are making more films now than ever?
Clint: "So far, OK. We live in a society that tries to put perimeters around people and rush them into retirement. I don't buy that. If you're doing the job, you're doing it."
While you have won Oscars for directing, you've never won for acting. It is rumored you will return to acting soon.
Clint: "I am going to play an older dude, the father in a father-and-daughter relationship, in a movie to be called 'Trouble With the Curve.' I'm trying to avoid grumpy old men roles, which is about all they tend to offer. I'll avoid them. I was going to next direct "A Star Is Born" with Beyonce, but that has been delayed because she is pregnant."
What is your take on Hoover's sexual preference, Leo?
Leo: "He left everything to Clyde (Tolson, Hoover's protege) when he died. I think he lived life as he needed to maybe find someone to love. But I think he cared, most of all, for the bureau and for his power in shaping America."
What are you doing next?
Leo: "I'm doing a remake of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby,'" co-starring Carey Mulligan as Daisy and directed by Baz Luhrmann, currently filming in Australia.
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