OSCARS: 'J. Edgar' Campaign Rolls Into High Gear With Eastwood, DiCaprio, Watts, Hammer At Packed Screenings, Q&As

With its splashy world premiere as the opening-night film of AFI Fest on Thursday and a series of Q&As and receptions, Warner Bros’ campaign for J. Edgar — one of its big Oscar hopefuls — swung into high gear this week. In addition to the hoopla around the premiere, director Clint Eastwood did a DGA screening and discussion with Academy directing governor and fellow DGA and Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow on Tuesday night; stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts and Armie Hammer appeared for a Q&A in front of a packed-to-the-rafters SAG audience on Wednesday night (I moderated that one); and on Friday they all appeared for yet another screening, Q&A and reception at the LA County Art Museum. The latter was a prelude to Saturday night’s inaugural Art + Film gala, where Eastwood is being honored. Warners plans many more voter opps like these in the coming weeks.

First reviews of the film that opens next week are mixed to good depending on what you read and who you talk to (Rotten Tomatoes has it at 57% fresh, but only seven reviews are up so far). But it is done in classic and classy Eastwood style and, whatever the ultimate commercial and critical fate of the film, it is absolutely clear DiCaprio has a strong stake on a Best Actor Oscar nomination. As the complex and controversial FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, DiCaprio ages from his 20s to late 70s with seeming ease and has some heavy dramatic scenes — including one in which he dons his dead mother’s dress and another fight/kiss encounter with Hammer, who expertly plays his constant companion Clyde Tolson (and could be a Supporting Actor contender himself). Older Academy voters who remember Hoover should particularly respond to this well-crafted look at his complicated personal and professional life.

At Friday’s LACMA reception, Eastwood was his usual cool self and very interested in the reactions the film is receiving. As I talked with him and producer Brian Grazer (Eastwood regular Robert Lorenz was the other producer on the film), he explained how the project came to him from Grazer, who initiated it and hired Milk Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black to write a script. “Brian had a deal with Universal, but it turned out they were not exactly too high on doing this story at that time, so I offered to take it over to Warner Bros, and about the same time Leo became involved so we were able to get it going,” he said. When I suggested that this is not the kind of heavy historical drama studios want to make anymore, Eastwood said they often don’t want things that later become popular with audiences. “I had a girl boxing drama and they weren’t high on that, but it worked out OK,”  he said with a laugh about 2004’s Million Dollar Baby, which won him another couple of Oscars including Best Picture. Because the start of his A Star Is Born remake has been delayed until summer due to the pregnancy of leading lady Beyonce, Eastwood has plans to first work in an acting gig in Trouble With The Curve (to be directed by Lorenz, as Deadline first reported). Even at 81, Clint keeps in constant motion and that’s a very good thing for movie lovers.

Hammer, who got a big taste of the awards-season Q&A circuit last year as a member of The Social Network cast (remember the Winklevoss twins?), said he actually enjoys doing the events now. “What actor doesn’t like talking about himself?” he asked.

Black, also at the reception, said that because Eastwood works so fast (the entire shoot for the period film was 39 days), he and Leo would spend weekends honing the script and working out scenes. Usually, Eastwood shoots scripts as they are, but Black says he is more comfortable working on changes during production havng spent a lot of time in TV doing just that, so it was a delicate balance. The structure of the script, going back and forth in time, is tricky, and much of the material regarding the closeted nature of Hoover’s personal life and relationship with Tolson is necessarily speculative but still convincing in the way it’s presented.

As for the scene in which Hoover puts on his mother’s dress and pearls, DiCaprio told me it was really in there as a kind of “wink wink” to the audience in order to take on the unsubstantiated rumors that Hoover was a cross-dresser. It plays now as more of a comment on Hoover’s incredibly dependent relationship on his mother (played superbly by Judi Dench). DiCaprio also talked about the extensive makeup he wears — not a process he loved. “It was difficult acting under all of that,”  he said. But based on the performance, he clearly found a way to get to the inside of the man he portrays, and that is what it’s all about.

I told DiCaprio I had seen the 18-minute presentation of Titanic‘s 3D conversion in advance of its April 6, 2012 re-release. He has not seen it but is obviously interested, particularly when I told him they only spent $18 million doing the transformation. “Eighteen million? That’s it? Wow. They are going to make a ton of money off it,” he said, adding that his deal for that movie was done in the years before he had the kind of profit participations he can get now. I told him someone involved with it thinks it could make another $400 million-$500 million. He laughed, saying, “I won’t be getting much of that.”

  1. I just don’t see Leo as Hoover. So many other actors who would’ve fit the look and the time much better…

    1. Me neither. I see Leo doing a Fred Thompson-esque character. I don’t think this movie is going to be what the people were hoping for.

      If DiCaprio wins the Oscar over Clooney or Oldman, I will what little hope I have left in the Academy.

      1. Hahahaha. Clooney sucks. If Pitt doesn’t win for Moneyball. I’m done with this town, and I’m taking my money with me.

        1. Don’t think Oldman deserves a nomination, let alone a win. It’s not a leading performance and his thunder is stolen by all around him – Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones. If he does get a nomination, he won’t win anyway. It’s not the type of performance that voters would respond to in numbers – far too staid and subtle, with little to no emotional payoff. And in a year which has George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Jean Dujardin, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ryan Gosling in contention, there is no way that Gary Oldman will reign supreme.

      2. Michael Fassbender, Woody Harrelson and Michael Shannon all gave better performances than Brad Pitt and George Clooney. Gary Oldman in Tinker, Tailor, however, was great.

    2. Leo looks stunningly like Jack Nicholson as Jimmy Hoffa— but Hollywood/New York elites will rave as the movie seeks to show Hoover as a “poofter”, a fact NOT factually in evidence no matter how hard the left seeks to continue to defame J. Edgar. (BULLETIN FOR EASTWOOD: neither FDR, Truman, Ike, the Kennedys, LBJ or Tricky Dick were naifs bullied, threatened or blackmailed by that meanie Hoover. Hoover did the bidding of Presidents who used J. Edgar as their buffer from public scrutiny and for plausible denial.)

      Movie will die a long, slow death.

    1. I think he’s a great actor, but he always plays the same characters. I also am having a very hard time seeing him as Hoover :/

  2. Check out Gunner Wright as a young ‘Dwight Eisenhower.’ Almost shows up Leo. Next role is a star vehicle for this cat. Heard it here first.

    $$$

  3. Eastwood always delivers but DiCaprio is getting yet another role where he’ll simply play the same character as he always plays. I can’t see any difference here with J. Edgar than with Leo’s Howard Hughes as he lacks the ability to genuinely develop and portray a character. He’s in rank with the actors who play the same exact character over and over again…Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, George Clooney (yes, George Clooney), Julia Roberts, etc etc etc….but if the audience keeps buying tickets I guess there’s no reason to stop.

    For me I think I need to see a longer trailer because this looks very dry/boring.

    1. Yes, they should have just glossed over that fact of Hoover’s life. After all if you don’t know about it, it didn’t happen.

    2. even if he WAS gay? which he very well may have been…interesting that you presupposed for everyone that they wouldn’t want to see something that is, on the preponderance of the evidence, probably true. Nobody you said. I would say at least some people do…

  4. Glad I’m not the only one. DiCaprio consistently runs the range of emotions from A to B. Wanna like him, but am usually underwhelmed. And he’s so not J Edgar. Like Scorsese, Eastwood as an aging Hollywood great who, for whatever reason, hangs his hat on the young actor that all the kids like… despite not being J Edgar or Howard Hughes. What’s next? Leo DiCaprio starring in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Sam Fuller” Or maybe Lars von Trier’s “Adolph”. Or Warren Beatty’s “V. Lenin.” Let’s not stop there… Spike Lee’s “Jackie.” Leo can just work his way through the pantheon of the 20th Century’s greatest figures.

  5. I just love that. Yea, we know Hoover never really put on his mother’s dress, but we’re going to put it in there anyway as a “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” to the audience. So, let me get this straight … Hollywood, which vehemently pushes the idea that it is good to be gay and that it shouldn’t be held against a person, continuously associate “evil, conservative” characters as being gay. Umm, hypocrites?

    1. Your comment is so broad I’m impressed it’s gone unscathed around here. In this time and age I can objectively say we see all the gamut of gay characters both on the big and small screens. And that is precisely as it should be as, you know, in real life there’s a little of everything. Not all gays are victims or plain-ol-good, and not all of them are despicable or villainous. Yet I’m glad I’m seeing it all portrayed.

      And as you talk about “Hollywood” in such a generalizing way, should I give you a list of the movies with gay characters which have brought the Academy’s attention as of lately? Milk, Capote, Brokeback Mountain, The Kids Are All Right, A Single Man, Boys Don’t Cry, Before Night Falls. I guess all gay characters in them are “evil,conservative”. Sheez.

    2. And how many villains do we see each year in Hollywood movies? I’d say there is one in the majority of them. Yet I’d say about 1% (or less) is mentioned or inferred to as being gay. Really.

    3. My possible problem with this film is whether or not they gloss over his rampant racism, homophobia and other crazy power trips he was on. Being gay was the least of the problems Hoover had. I remember many people wanting to have his name removed from the FBI Building because of the pain he caused so many innocent people.

    4. The “HOOVER IS EVIL” screed is the endless work of the left— as is the “HOOVER WAS A HOMO” canard— due to the fact that going back to the WWI era and the “Palmer Red Raids”, ordered by then Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer to crush a nascent socialist/communist movement which swept Russia and parts of Europe and began to grow in America (SEE BEATTY’S “REDS”), was carried out by J. Edgar— under protest!

      Decades later, late 1940’s early 1950’s Hoover’s FBI— under the direction of the Truman administration upon request from the major movie studios investigated and crushed the growing communist influence into Hollywood and the film industry and SAG, as well as aspects of organized labor such as the then highly militant and abjectly corrupt Longshoremens’ Union. (SEE KAZAN’S “ON THE WATERFRONT”)

      Parenthetically, JFK’s AG, his brother Bob, was a little tyrant during his tenure and constantly sought to push Hoover around as his boss— yet Hoover was highly respected by Ambassador Kennedy as Hoover did many favors for the old man, including saving JFK’s ass on several occasions before and after election to the Presidency, going back to WWII when JFK was involved with a female German spy— and lastly, covered JFK’s dalliance with a female Soviet/E German espionage “mole”.
      Kennedy, like his father, actually a highly conservative cold warrior, liked and admired Hoover and kept him in his job— because Hoover was useful, efficient, experienced and patriotic.

      Eastwood should have done some simple research— but then that would have gotten in the way of the narrative.

  6. This is a slamdunk win for Leo, who has consistently done excellent work and somehow, oddly, gets overlooked. I can’t wait to see it. Finally, a Clint film I care about. All the elements are there for a major sweep at Oscar time.

  7. They have already been cutting DiCaprio from ads because his accent is all over the place in this movie. So my guess this movie will try hard to win some Oscars but will fail.

  8. Leo, like Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, and Paul Newman, is destined for multiple nominations, but will likely be empty-handed until he gets away from these silly bio pics he does. Howard Hughes? J. Edgar? Please, people. He needs to go back to the Leo of his youth, pre-Titanic, when the kid showed his acting chops time after time.

    You had to figure that with Lance Black writing that this movie would over emphasize the gay stuff. Say goodbye to Middle America at the box office.

    I just don’t see this working and I have absolutely no desire to see this movie nor Meryl Streep as Iron Lady.

    Bring on Sherlock Homes II.

    1. Yes, I agree. He should not play a character who was born before 1970. He simply doesn’t have the look. I think he’s a great actor but when you don’t fit the part, the audience sees Leo acting as Hoover, instead of seeing Hoover. Thought he was great in The Departed and magnificent in Basketball Diaries.

      He should be doing roles similar to Matt Damon.

    2. Leo should only be so lucky as to be the quality actor as Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, and Paul Newman ? He has a long way to go

  9. Leo is in for being nominated for best actor for this role. With Eastwood directing, this will be a heavily nominated movie. But then again it all comes down to how well it’s received by critics and money made in the first few weeks of release.

    1. This film will not be heavily nomintated. Leo, yes, will most likely be nominated and perhaps Armie Hammer might be nominated, but that is far from a lock. But Eastwood’s driection, the screenplay and the film itself are not guarantees for nominations. They aren’t even likely to be nominated at this point.

  10. I would be curious to know how many of you have seen the entire movie?
    You appreciate Clint so why don’t you trust him enough to give DiCaprio a chance to make you see through the eyes of Hoover.

    1. I don’t appreciate Clint. The guy hasn’t made a good movie in over 15 years. Every year he churns out some bland, boring piece of Oscar bait that induces snores, but because he’s CLINT, everyone kisses his ass.

  11. I wish people would stop casting Judy Dench. There are other actresses out there who could play the type of parts which she hogs. I’m sick of looking at her.

  12. Check out The Greatest Miracle movie it’s a great way to get some much needed warmth in all are hearts. The Greatest Miracle Movie

  13. Can we please not reference rotten tomatoes when talking about a movie? That system makes no sense. A film with 2 1/2 stars out of 4 counts as ROTTEN. 2 1/2 starts isn’t great but it’s better than average – it certainly isn’t ROTTEN. There are better sites like metacric and film intelligence that aren’t so black and white.

    I haven’t seen this movie but I don’t want the rotten tomato website to be used as a reflection of what reviewers think.

  14. —Korea era vet, who NEVER went to Korea,
    Clint Eastwood, has BALKED the –20th –30th
    –40th –50th –and NOW 60th Anniversaries
    of the awesomely relevant

    ————–KOREAN WAR——————

  15. Meh. I’d prefer it if DiCaprio took a break from these self-important historical films. He always looks like a Hollywood brat playing dress up. It’s a little bit dilettantish, like the desperate effort of someone who never graduated high school trying to class up his act. Why couldn’t he do a movie like Crazy, Stupid Love or Drive (not to only name Gosling movies, but still). These Scorsese pictures and now this just bug me. Calm down, Leo. Calm down.

  16. Actually one of Leo’s early roles was playing the French poet, Arthur Rimbaud. And not too badly, as I recall. So Leo likes history, God bless him. I’m so sick of cop films, thrillers and zombies I could puke. It’s The Departed that put me to sleep, personally. I’d seen the same story FAR too many times before.

    As to pulling off Hoover, the poster at least is impressive, and the extracts did not put me off. I was far more skeptical about Cate Blanchett (or anyone) pulling of Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator, but by God, she did it in my book, just through voice and mannerisms so I’ll definitely be curious to see how Leo plays Hoover. As for all you gay-haters, from what I’ve read in the reviews, Hoover is not portrayed as definitely gay. It’s a tricky line to walk, given how little we know for certain, and Black has gotten kudos for his handling of it. These are fascinating stories worth telling as opposed to the stupid popcorn films some folks here are clamoring for. I’m just grateful there are still some people around still willing to do smarter films.

  17. I don’t know about the movie but the poster is terrible. If I didn’t know anything about the subject, that wouldn’t make me want to find out more.

  18. Leo you were brilliant in CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.

    Have fun, boy. You’re a fun guy.

    The biz will kill you if you let it.

    Play to your strength, my friend.

    “Why so serious?”

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