leonardo_aviatorEXCLUSIVE: Leonardo DiCaprio is in early talks to play FBI director J. Edgar Hoover in Hoover, an epic drama that Clint Eastwood will direct and that he and Brian Grazer will produce with Rob Lorenz through Imagine and Malpaso. Talks with Leo are just getting underway, but I’m told that DiCaprio will play the lead role in the film written by Dustin Lance Black, with production to begin later this year. The project began at Universal, where Imagine is based, but is mobilizing at Warners, where Eastwood’s Malpaso has long called home, and where Eastwood is in post production on Hereafter, the film that stars Matt Damon.

52060692_166039dSources tell me that Imagine had been developing “the story of the beginning of the FBI” for a year when it finally showed the script to Universal, where the reaction was negative. “This is exactly what we don’t want to make,” Uni execs reacted. “It’s period, and we have lost enough money with these things.” But then Grazer got the screenplay to pal Clint (they did The Changeling and have had a personal relationship ever since), the two men met about it in mid-February, and suddenly Universal has a tough decision to make since. As a Uni exec admits, “Clint is an amazing director with an extraordinary trach record, and you can’t possibly dismiss anything he gets excited about. The first question now to ask is how much will it cost to make?” Universal’s reticence is understandable, as the studio has endured a rough run with adult-themed dramas. The film will prove a better fit at Warner Bros.

This will be DiCaprio’s first film with Eastwood. This role sounds as ambitious as his Oscar-nominated portrayal of Howard Hughes in the Scorsese-directed The Aviator. In Hoover, he takes on one of the other formative figures in 20th Century America. Hoover formed the country’s federal jurisdiction law enforcement system with the establishment of the FBI and, while he might have come in with high ideals as a public servant, he increasingly became a manipulative power broker with a closet full of his own secrets. When Hoover is depicted in films, it is usually in unflattering fashion. But I’ve heard this script described as “peeling back the curtain on the life of Hoover” with no cross-dressing claims.