Leonardo DiCaprio: “When I can’t immediately define the character, and there’s an element of mystery to it and still a lot to be explored, that’s when I say yes”


Clint Eastwood‘s films always come with great expectations — he is one of the few filmmakers who seems to always get magnificent reviews — but the expectations for Eastwood’s J. Edgar might be even more anticipated than usual since the film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, an actor with a reputation for appearing in excellent films himself.

Playing the longtime FBI head honcho J. Edgar Hoover is quite the task, however, and in an interview with The New York Times it’s pointed out to DiCaprio just how challenging the role is.  After all, the part requires of DiCaprio, in the worlds of the reporter, “memorizing endless monologues that needed to be delivered with Hoover’s own breakneck cadence…  Oh, and wear a dress.”

DiCaprio, one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, has more-or-less his pick of any film he wants to make.  So why an enigma like Hoover?  He explains that the mysterious is part of the appeal, saying, “When I can’t immediately define the character, and there’s an element of mystery to it and still a lot to be explored, that’s when I say yes.  I like those kinds of complicated characters. I just do.”   The reporter suggests that part of the reason why DiCaprio is so successful at playing mysterious characters is that he remains a big of a mystery himself — with the exception of his high profile romances, DiCaprio’s personal life isn’t splashed all over the supermarket tabloids or celebrity gossip sites, which ultimately helps him play characters who are mysterious in their own right.

Still, there is one role that lacks mystery that will always define DiCaprio: Titanic‘s Jack Dawson.  While it’s not DiCaprio’s best role, it is his most widely known, as the 1997 film smashed box office records and remains one the the top grossing films of all time, even accounting for inflation.  DiCaprio, however, seems to shrug the role off, confessing, “I’m not haunted by it, but it certainly follows me.  I’ve been to the Amazon, and people with no clothes on, and I’m not exaggerating, know about that film. I’ve accepted it.”

To become Hoover at various stages of his life, DiCaprio had to wear layers of make-up, which is something he wasn’t keen about.  Two weeks of the shoot required five hours of make-up a day to make DiCaprio into the older version of Hoover was very frustrating for DiCaprio, and he exclaims, “To stay in character and to fight the urge not to rip it off at times and to not feel trapped inside it is extremely hard.  It’s like you’ve been slathered in honey and wrapped in a giant duvet.”  But make-up alone didn’t make DiCaprio into Hoover.

It also required extensive research, and DiCaprio met with Cartha D. DeLoach, one of the few people still alive who worked closely with Hoover.  DiCaprio asked him all manner of questions, saying, “I wanted him to tell me how he walked, how he talked, what his hands looked like, what his desk looked like, what was above his desk.  The research of these roles is half the fun and half the challenge — maybe more.  It’s what makes it exciting to me.”

Hoover, if nothing else, was a man seeking absolute loyalty and control.  Is DiCaprio worried that the power-craving traits of the former FBI Director have rubbed off on him?  He doesn’t think so, and admits it’s possible that his acting career won’t be as lengthy as Hoover’s FBI one.  “It’s not something that I actively worry about.  I’m fully aware that every career is fleeting in some respects.”

Then again, DiCaprio, while still young, has become one the most acclaimed actors of his generation and his career has never been “fleeting” in the slightest.  Perhaps there is more of a connection than the actor is willing to admit.

J. Edgar opens in theaters on November 9.

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