How true is your new movie, J. Edgar, to Hoover's life?
Historically, it's incredibly accurate. Whatever happened with him as far as his personal life is up for interpretation, and I think the film also represents that. No one except for Mr. [Clyde] Tolson [Hoover's FBI protg and rumored lover] and Mr. Hoover truly know what went down between them, but they absolutely were inseparable partners throughout their lives.
So you think he was gay?
I think no one really knows the truth. Some experts will say without question he was a heterosexual man and Clyde Tolson was his business partner and they were of service to our country.
You and Hoover both had success at a young age. Did that help you get inside his skin?
I identified with his ambition. I've been incredibly ambitious ever since I was young and in some respects have had no reservations about going for things I've wanted without questioning what the result will be.
Also like Hoover, you've been famous for a long time. What is the worst impact it has had on your personality?
There are a lot of pitfalls to success, and one is not listening to criticism. One of the most important things you can do is hear criticism of yourself and embrace it, whether it be--in my case--artistic or personal.
This movie opens with terrorist acts in several U.S. cities in 1919 and authorities reacting out of fear. Is it drawing parallels with events of the past decade?
Very much so. The incentive for the screenplay was the stripping of one's own inalienable rights as an individual and the [encroachment] of government on our constitutional freedoms. [Screenwriter] Dustin Lance Black was inspired by the Bush era.
Does your participation in this movie reflect your politics?
[Director] Clint Eastwood and I and Dustin have different ideas on politics, and we didn't bring those to the table. For me, it was more a portrait of a man who protected his own secrets but spent his life infiltrating other people's.
Given that both you and Clint have probably had stories told about you that were embroidered for dramatic effect, did you have qualms about doing that to somebody else's life?
You have to make character choices. That's what artistic license is. But yeah, I imagine if I were to see a movie about my life, there would be many things I'd argue with. There's how history records what you did, but there's also what your real intent was. That's a complex web.
Are you interested in an Eastwood-style directing career?
It takes the type of temperament that Clint Eastwood has, because you're not just focused on yourself. I want that challenge one day.
You're making a 3-D version of The Great Gatsby in Australia with Baz Luhrmann at the moment. What drew you to Gatsby?
The idea of a man who came from absolutely nothing, who created himself solely from his own imagination. Gatsby's one of those iconic characters because he can be interpreted in so many ways: a hopeless romantic, a completely obsessed wacko or a dangerous gangster intent on clinging to wealth through Daisy.
This doesn't make the movie sound very romantic ...
There's incredible romance in there.