Deadline reported that Oscar nominated actor Johnny Depp will play Boston Irish gangster Whitey Bulger in the upcoming film “Black Mass: The True Story of the Unholy Alliance between the FBI and the Irish Mob.” Production will begin in May and a location has not yet been announced.
The film is based on a book by Boston Globe investigators Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. Lehr and O’Neill are excited that Depp is joining the project. Boston.com reported Lehr said, “He’s certainly one of the best actors of our time and he can certainly fill any role.” O’Neill said about Depp, “He’s got Donnie Brasco under his belt. Now he’ll have Whitey Bulger there, too.” O’Neill joked that he wouldn’t mind a cameo in the film, “I would hand somebody a gun, sure. But I don’t see myself as a butler.”
Producer Brian Oliver of Cross Creek Productions sums up the film well, “‘Black Mass’ expertly details the twists and turns of this highly complex story, painting a vivid portrait of Boston’s underbelly and its corrupt political machine, as well as exposing the worst scandal in FBI history. It’s also an examination of loyalty to family, Irish heritage, and South Boston.” Oliver previously worked on “Black Swan” and “Ides of March.”
Other actors have considered bringing Bulger to the big screen. Ben Affleck told Boston.com at the “Argo” screening in September that there was an original screenplay by Terry Winter, known for his work on “Boardwalk Empire,” in the works and Matt Damon was going to portray Bulger. Affleck’s brother Casey was set up to play Bulger’s brother Billy. Affleck seemed excited about the project, saying, “It’s one of those things. If you do Whitey, you better make damn sure you execute and make a good movie.”
Harvey Weinstein had advocated Miramax films for the project with Affleck working on the book and Damon acting. The proposal lapsed after a year and then director Jim Sheridan of the Irish film “In the Name of the Father” was brought to the project.
Barry Levinson is directing and Mark Mallouk wrote the screenplay. Oliver said about the team, he could “not be more thrilled to have the biggest star in the world and Academy Award-winning director Barry Levinson to finally bring this incredible story to the big screen. We have been working on this project since we originally optioned the book in 2005.”
Lehr and O’Neill’s new book, “Whitey: The Life of America’s Most Notorious Mob Boss” comes out February 19. A related book, “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice” by Globe writers Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphey will be released in a couple of weeks by Norton.