Though Clint Eastwood‘s J. Edgar didn’t do the business — or get the critical acclaim — as many of the director’s recent films, there was significant praise for Leonardo DiCaprio‘s performance as the enigmatic J. Edgar Hoover. With the film finally be released in England, DiCaprio gave an interview to the Guardian about the film, touching upon playing a man over forty years and how working with his co-stars motivates him.
One of the challenges was that DiCaprio played Hoover over the FBI Director’s decades-long career. He confesses, “The ageing was difficult, that was a huge challenge. It’s a constant adrenaline rush every day – you have so much pressure and stuff to accomplish.” Nonetheless, DiCaprio says that it was all worth it, saying, “This was one of the most challenging characters I’d ever seen on the page, and it was terrific to breathe life into this person, because he was such a mystery.”
He also has praise for his co-stars. Of Judi Dench, who plays his mother, DiCaprio says, “She’s a sweetheart, she couldn’t be more lovely. But as soon as the cameras start rolling and you hear that voice, it’s powerful. We had a scene where I am freaked out, stuttering, and her voice just froze my spine. She has a way of commanding a scene in a room, and it’s just astounding.”
Similarly he praises Armie Hammer, who plays Hoover’s long-term associate director Clyde Tolson, who some postulate was Hoover’s lover. In order to portray that in the film, DiCaprio and Hammer kiss. What was kissing a man like for DiCaprio? Rough at first, since Eastwood wanted DiCaprio and Hammer to beat each other up first! He explains, “These are the things we do as actors – I was in character. Clint was very clear, saying, ‘I want you guys to beat each other up first, I want as much blood as possible, and I want you to grab each other as if you want to kill each other – and then it will happen.’ He was very adamant about the fact these men were of a certain time period and no matter what they felt it wasn’t something they wanted to express. There was so much bottled up with their emotions for one another, it resulted in two men going fisticuffs first.”
DiCaprio was nominated for a Golden Globe and there are plenty of rumors suggesting that DiCaprio might also be nominated for an Oscar. Like most actors in his position, DiCaprio shrugs off the possibility. He says, “I don’t think anyone would say that they wouldn’t want one. I think they would be lying. I have learned from my experiences in this industry that there is absolutely no way to control people’s opinions on your performance in your movie. You go out there, promote your film and hope people like the work you did. But they’re going to respond the way they’re going to respond when they’re in a room with that ballot. I’m thankful people are talking about it in that capacity, but ultimately I truly have no control over it.”
So if he isn’t motivated by awards, what motivates Leonardo DiCaprio? As you can tell from his comments about his co-stars and director above, it’s the satisfaction from collaboration. “I really am motivated by being able to work with great people and create a body of work that I can look back and be proud of. I grew up when I was 15 when I had my first opportunity in movies. I watched every great movie for a year-and-a-half, and since then I’ve asked myself how I can emulate such artistry. I want to do something as good as my heroes have done. I just really love doing what I do. I know every career is fleeting and there will be time periods when I don’t get the opportunities that I’m getting right now, so I am taking advantage of them.”