TORONTO, Sept. 20 (UPI) — Johnny Depp says he tried to meet James “Whitey” Bulger before he played him in the film Black Mass, but the imprisoned Boston gangster wasn’t interested in having his brain picked by an actor.
“The first thing I did was contact Bulger’s lawyer [J.W.] Carney to request… I wanted the opportunity to meet Jimmy Bulger. To hear his take, certainly,” Depp said at a recent Toronto International Film Festival press conference.
“Because when I played Donnie Brasco, I was very fortunate to have spent a lot of time with Joe Pistone and, in that, I was able to make a lot of changes in the screenplay that weren’t remotely true, so I was able to get that stuff in,” the 52-year-old actor explained.
“With Jimmy Bulger, I don’t know what it might have been like, what I would have taken from that other than being able to study him and sponge from him. But about a week after I made the request, I got a message from Mr. Carney that said that Jimmy respectfully declines as he is not a great fan – as you can imagine – of the book. Nor any of the books. So, from there on, I had Mr. Carney who was right up front saying, ‘I will tell you these bits, but I will not…’ He would never put his client into any sort of weird situation. But he was very helpful with, I suppose, the heart of Bulger and I hate to say the character, but the heart of the man. Then there is a little bit of surveillance footage. There is very little audio. … But the people of South Boston were incredibly helpful with regard to that accent because even South Boston is different from other little slivers of Massachusetts. Southie’s really got its own language, almost.”
Bulger ran his crime syndicate for decades before going on the lam in 1994 and hiding out until his arrest in California in 2011. He was tried in 2013 and convicted of money laundering, extortion, weapons offenses and racketeering — a charge that encompassed his involvement in 11 murders. Exonerated in eight additional homicides, Bulger was sentenced to two life sentences and five years behind bars. His defense team is now working on his appeal. Bulger is 86.
Helmed by Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper, the big-screen adaptation of Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill’s book focuses on Bulger’s evolution in the 1970s and ’80s from capricious, cold-blooded criminal to kingpin, thanks to his collaboration with the FBI, particularly Agent John Connolly, who is played in the movie by Joel Edgerton. While the government has always claimed Bulger worked for years as its criminal informant, Bulger maintains to this day he was promised immunity by corrupt local, state and federal authorities whom he says he paid well to ignore his crimes.
Co-starring Julianne Nicholson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Rory Cochrane, Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll, David Harbour, Peter Sarsgaard, Juno Temple, Jesse Plemons and Adam Scott, Black Mass is in theaters now.