Eric Matheny: Leonardo DiCaprio-Clint Eastwood ‘J. Edgar’ is an American King Lear

Eric Matheny

Leonardo DiCaprio

It’s only been about a month [originally published June 2011] since Clint Eastwood wrapped production on “J. Edgar” starring Leonardo DiCaprio as controversial F.B.I. Chief J. Edgar Hoover — and the Oscar buzz is already intensifying.

Eric Matheny, who plays Hoover’s “Dr. Feelgood” medico in the feature, likens it to an American King Lear “in a lot of ways.   Hoover really did have a sense of keeping the kingdom together at all costs — while at the same time being driven mad by his own secrets and lies.”

Says Matheny, “There was one scene with Naomi (Watts) in Hoover’s office that was very much like [Lear].  If this gets any kind of Academy nod, well, I’m sure it is a scene that people will be looking at.  When I saw it, I thought, ‘I’m so glad I’m here for this.’  We’re talking about one of the greatest actors of our generation,'” he says of DiCaprio, whose performance spans decades.  He spent six hours in makeup daily for the scenes of Hoover as an elderly man.  “He has a grip on Hoover — the voice, the stance — he was compeltely immersed in the character.”

Already there has been much talk of “J. Edgar” not holding back when it comes to the notorious secret-keeper’s rumored  homosexual proclivities and cross-dressing.  But Matheny puts it this way:  Oscar-winning writer Dustin Lance Black, he says, “wove in the story of a conflicted man.  He was conflicted because of his upbringing and the societal mores of the time, coupled with his own personal demons and his idea of secrecy, and his fear of being found out — and all these things that were mirrored in his personal life.  It’s a fascinating tale and sort of historical biopic that shows how Hoover formed his ideas, his thoughts on patriotism, his country, right and wrong — conflicted by his own desires.  By the end of the film, the conflicts had festered into a man who was sort of broken and stabbing out in all directions.”

Of his own role, he notes, “Dustin’s research shows there was a doctor and/or a nurse coming to his office.  Well, he doesn’t need someone to come to his office to give him a glass off water and a pill — they’re coming to do something.   It was a pretty common practice among the wealthy and powerful of the time to get influenced by these doctors: ‘You’ve got a problem?  Let’s drug it up.’  They could call it vitamins, but there were probably some kind of amphetamines in there.”

Eastwood lived up to his standards as a great filmmaker in Matheny’s eyes as well.  “He’s light-handed, incredibly succinct, never forced.  He’ll let that first shot go however it goes, then he’l adjust, not from a mechanical perspective but a creative one.  He gets the maximum effect with the minumum effort.  It’s amazing.”

Next, Matheny is set to head to Oregon to make the big-screen “Freedom For Joe,” about a pro quarterback who has to deal with becoming paralyzed.  “There is a spiritual idea in it, of what traps people in their lives, and getting over that.  It’s going to be a special film, I think,” he says.  “Things are going in a good direction.”

AND:  DiCaprio’s G-man lover in “J Edgar” is played by Armie Hammer of “The Social Network” — who is now getting ready to play the title role in the new “The Lone Ranger,” in which Johnny Depp is playing Tonto.  The part-Cherokee Depp intends to reinvent the classic sidekick character in the Disney film that brings together his fellow “Pirates of the Caribbean” fellows, director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer.  This “Lone Ranger” is in preproduction as subsidiary roles are being cast, and is already set to ride into theaters Dec. 21, 2012.

It Actor Hammer is also playing the Prince in “The Brothers Grimm: Snow White” opposite Lilly Collins.  Talk about a nice variety of movies.

OH, THE REALITY:  Casting is underway for a new reality show, “L.A. Dog Walkers” for which the producers want real-life dog walkers of the rich and famous.  Candidates should be 18-40 ears of age, either gender, and be trusted members of the celebrity households for whom they do pooch duty.  The show is going to pay a thousand bucks per episode to the lucky dog walkers who get signed.  Here, Spot!

Also en route to our living room screens is “The Sexperts,” in which title professional psych types will be assisting couples who are finding things blah between the sheets.  Casting forces for the show have been on the lookout for committed couples in their twenties and thirties whose relationships are in a rut, and who don’t mind embarrassing thems– er, talking candidly about their sex lives on national TV.  They’re only getting 500 bucks an episode.