Speaking with our buddy Nathanial Rodgers for TOWLEROAD, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black says “Milk and J. Edgar were sort of bookends in a way. One is a mirror of the other.”
J Edgar being the more cautionary tale?
Yes. I think so [Laughs]. One of them had extraordinary political power. The other one was just trying to get a small piece of it. One came out of the closet and by doing so spread hope. The other one stayed in the closet and spread fear and insecurity.
There is some poetic justic here. J. Edgar Hoover was known for prying into people’s personal lives and here you are investigating his. Were you nervous about doing so, given that some people get angry when others speculate about the sexuality of the famous and the deceased.
Well people have been speculating about J. Edgar’s sexuality for generations now. People have been saying ‘Oh, he ran around in cocktail dresses!’ That, to me, didn’t ring true and in my research proved not to be true. But also in looking into his record as a heterosexual he failed miserably. And so it becomes quite clear when you look at what he did and didn’t do that whether or not he ever consummated it, this was a guy who was not straight.
Was there ever any discussion to take this further than you did, though. Do you worry that gay audiences will expect to see more of their relationship?
I do. I think that they will. I think some gay audiences will think ‘Why is this not more defined? Why isn’t this discussed more candidly?’ And I’ll say that I think that would be dishonest to the time. The gray zone this lives is accurate to and based on the research I did with these men from Frank Robinson to Frank Kameny and people even older than them about what life was like as a gay man in those times. And the first thing they’ll say to you is ‘We didn’t even have a word. We didn’t have the word gay. That meant something incredibly different. It meant you were having a good time.’ Homosexual wasn’t used yet. That came later when people started discussing it as a disease. It was this nameless thing you didn’t even disucss with the person you had feelings for. And certainly it was never discussed after a sexual encounter. It was just too dangeorus. There was no such thing as being out and surviving at that time…
We always hear screenplays described as blueprints. So what surprised you most about the finished product as opposed to what you wrote?
Well, it became a Clint Eastwood film. It became far more classic than anything i’d imagined. There’s a certain polish to it that, you know, I didn’t think of initially. I walked into these sets and they were gorgeously done and beautifully lit and it felt like I was in a classic Old Hollywood movie. I hadn’t thought about it like that. But you know, [Clint] is not known for not changing a word of the script. In fact, when I wanted to tweak something, I’d have to write it up and audition it for him.
There’s much more at Towleroad.com. But here’s Dustin Lance Black’s memories of Oscar night, 3 years ago:
A lot of winners say they don’t really remember the night. It’s too much of a whirlwind, too exciting.
That’s true. [Long pause] Boy. You know, I think the most vivid memory… if you watch that speech you sort of it can see it happening. At a certain point as you’re up there speaking — I think i had listed thanks for cast and crew and a little thing about marriage — I look up and there’s a giant clock flashing in my face and it’s saying, ‘WRAP IT UP. WRAP IT UP.’ and I thought ‘There’s so much more i want to say still! Are they going to cut me off?’
And it all had to process in half a second and I thought, well, ‘Screw it. I know Bill Condon and Larry Mark are the one’s producing it up there. Two gay guys. Are they really going to cut this off? I’m gonna go for it. I’m going to keep talking. Thankfully they didn’t start playing the music. That’s a very vivid memory, that big giant red ‘WRAP IT UP’. I knew I wasn’t done yet.