Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Milk and a gay rights activist, stares at the screen of a silver MacBook Pro inside a quiet health food bistro on Sunset Boulevard, not far from his home in Los Angeles. It's Saturday, but it's not a day of rest — the weekends rarely are for Black, who describes himself as a workaholic.
“I have a few different careers going on right now,” he says with a smile.
The screenwriter has been spending his days on the set of the movie J. Edgar, a biopic about controversial longtime FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Written by Black, the film is directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role. At night, Black is writing a screenplay about Colton Harris-Moore, a young outlaw from Washington state known as “the Barefoot Bandit.”
In between those labor-intensive projects, he works on a TV pilot for HBO about a foster-care family, handles his duties as a board member of LGBT groups the Trevor Project and the American Foundation for Equal Rights, and regularly speaks with college students around the country about leadership and gay rights issues. Black's average day starts at 8 in the morning and ends at 2 in the morning. He says he has never taken a vacation as an adult.
His friends want him to slow down, but Black has a hard-charging drive that's sparked by a difficult childhood and his desire to make a difference in the world.
“It probably comes from rejection issues early on,” says Black, an intelligent, youthful-looking blond in his mid-30s. “That I was abandoned by my Mormon father and then abandoned by the Mormon Church. … I want to do good for other people. I genuinely feel sorrow when I see other people in pain.”
Black's father left his wife and three sons when the screenwriter was 6 years old, and the Mormon Church doesn't take kindly to openly gay members in its ranks.
“Those are deep wounds,” Black says, “but I'm a happy guy now. I'm not tortured anymore.”
In fact, Black, who just had a meeting with a staffer from the Trevor Project and soon will drive to a coffeehouse to work on a play with a colleague about Proposition 8, comes across as cheerful and fulfilled. But, of course, he still has work to do.
“I don't think the status quo is good enough yet,” Black says of American society. “I don't want to leave things the way they are, because I don't think they're very good.”
On the evening that J. Edgar is scheduled to wrap, Black won't celebrate with a night on the town — he'll be talking about equality and gay marriage at a gay rights fundraiser.