The Missionary: Dustin Lance Black

9.14.2011

By William Van Meter

The prominent screenwriter puts J. Edgar Hoover’s cross-dressing myths to rest, but finds something darker in his latest biopic.

Clint Eastwood directed <em>J. Edgar</em>, and Leonardo DiCaprio plays the titular character. Black is quick to assert that it was purely a casting choice, as opposed to a marketing ploy. "Hoover was a pretty good-looking guy in 1919!" he maintains. "He was very fit -- they called him 'Speedy.' It's not a huge stretch!"
We move out to the patio, which has a view of his under-construction pool and hot tub. Earlier today, news broke of Indiana's antigay state representative, Phillip Hinkle, being busted for soliciting a male prostitute. No wonder the period pieces Black specializes in are resonant. "It has to end soon," he says. "Some of the most vehemently antigay people in D.C. have been outed, and the ones who are not, we're suspicious of. Most straight men don't really care that much about what gay guys are doing! The ones who do care are afraid of being exposed, or they understand the power they can wield by using it against closeted gay people. That is what [Joe McCarthy’s right-hand man] Roy Cohn and J. Edgar Hoover did. It came from an incredibly lonely, dark, horrible place."
In his kitchen, Black has a color-coded calendar -- every month he tries to color half the boxes orange, which denotes activism. These days, he is mostly involved in marriage equality. His play <em>8</em>, which he wrote about the battle against Proposition 8, was performed in September as a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights, where Black also serves as a board member.
Black is a famously lapsed Mormon and another of his upcoming projects might get some of its practitioners' blessed underwear in a bunch. Black has signed on to work with Howard and Glazer’s Imagine Entertainment again to adapt author Jon Krakauer’s <em>Under the Banner of Heaven</em>, a riveting book that intertwines the history of Mormonism with the true crime story of a fundamentalist murderer. He is also working on a script about the Barefoot Bandit for Warner Brothers, and his directorial debut, <em>What’s Wrong With Virginia</em>, starring Jennifer Connelly, will be released next year.
With his floppy blond hair, extreme earnestness, and frequent use of "gosh," Black projects wholesomeness. He is an unabashed family guy: He speaks often with his gay brother in Michigan, who is battling cancer, and is anticipating his straight brother in Texas to start churning out nieces and nephews at any moment. Black recently broke up with his boyfriend of 2½ years, and the bachelor life doesn't appeal to him. "I'm best when I’m with somebody," he says. "I grow more. It's how I'm built." Being single isn’t stopping his familial manifest destiny, though. "I want kids," he says. "I have a room upstairs that’s getting twin beds put in. If you build it, they will come! It's not like I'm waiting to get pregnant." Won't this empty children's bedroom scare off potential suitors? Black laughs and responds, "Then they're not for me anyway."

Tags: Movies, Lifestyle
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