Johnny Depp to play Whitey Bulger in a new biopic

Johnny Depp has signed to play Whitey Bulger in the biopic 'Black Mass.' The film in which Johnny Depp will play Bulger will most likely get a 2014 release.

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Johnny Depp has reportedly signed on to play Whitey Bulger in a biopic titled 'Black Mass.'

Those hoping Johnny Depp breaks from working with director Tim Burton after the underwhelming Dark Shadows – and recovers from Jack Sparrow fatigue in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – can rejoice, as the actor takes on the Tonto mantle in Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger (though, controversy surrounding the expensive western blockbuster leaves the final outcome uncertain).

Meanwhile, the actor is boarding two very different projects that begin filming this year: 1) Dark Knight Rises cinematographer Wally Pfister’s directorial debut on the sci-fi flick Transcendence and 2) the Whitey Bulger biopic Black Mass, with Depp playing “the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston."

Black Mass is based on the non-fiction book by former Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerald O’Neill. It’s been in development going back to 2008, originating as a vehicle for Ben Affleck and Matt Damon – who are currently working on their own movie about Bulger (it might end up scrapped after this announcement) - and securing Oscar-winner Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, Dream House) as director in early 2009. Of course, that was well before the U.S. authorities captured Bulger in June 2011.

Mark Mallouk completely refurnished the Black Mass script after Bulger’s capture, with Oscar-winner Barry Levinson (Rain Man) replacing Sheridan in the director’s chair, on the heels of his own true-story crime saga Gotti: In the Shadow of My Father sliding off the track during pre-production. Universal has a distribution deal with Cross Creek on the project, which is gearing up to begin production in May (for a late 2014 theatrical release, most likely).

Depp’s eccentricities have brought him mainstream success through his Burton collaborations and the Pirates movies, but his recent non-franchise offerings (The Tourist, Rum Diary) failed to pull in audiences, be it due to quality or content. With Levinson leading the charge, Black Mass could be a significant departure from the style and thematic approach of Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, featuring Depp in another real-life gangster role.

The actor is certainly a good match for the larger-than-life Bulger, the man who also inspired Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed (among other things). If things don’t work out, well… there’s still Pirates of the Caribbean 5 arriving in 2015.

Check out the full press release from Cross Creek Pictures/Exclusive Media:

Johnny Depp has been attached to Cross Creek’s crime thriller Black Mass as Boston’s most notorious gangster, Whitey Bulger, to be co-produced and co-financed with Exclusive Media, and directed by Academy Award-winning director Barry Levinson (Rain Man), it was announced today by Cross Creek Pictures President Brian Oliver and Senior Vice President Tyler Thompson and Exclusive Media’s Co-Chairmen Nigel Sinclair and Guy East.

Black Mass will be released by Universal Pictures in the US through Cross Creek’s distribution deal with the studio. The film is scheduled for a May 2013 start date.

The film will be produced by Brian Oliver, Tyler Thompson, Nigel Sinclair, Tobin Armbrust, John Lesher, and Christi Dembrowski. Cross Creek Pictures Sr. VP of Production Adam Kassan, will oversee production for the company. Alex Walton, Exclusive Media’s President of International Sales and Distribution, will introduce Black Mass to overseas buyers at the upcoming European Film Market in Berlin.

Cross Creek recently purchased the New York Times bestselling book “Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob,” written by former Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerald O’Neill and published in 2001 by Harper Collins. O’Neill is a Pulitzer, Hancock and Loeb prizes winner and Lehr, a Pulitzer finalist, has also won the Hancock and Loeb awards. Writer Mark Mallouk wrote a completely new screenplay adaptation of the book, following the June 2011 capture of Bulger, who had been on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list for more than a decade.

“I 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. ‘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.– Commented Brian Oliver.

“We are thrilled by the opportunity to bring Mark Mallouk’s terrific screenplay to the screen with perhaps this generation’s biggest and best actor and a director who’s work makes him one of America’s iconic filmmakers. Occasionally a film project comes along that is truly exceptional – from the terrific subject matter to the chance to collaborate again with our long time friends and partners at Cross Creek, and to have the opportunity work with the unique and inimitable Johnny Depp. We are truly delighted to be involved in ‘Black Mass,’” commented Nigel Sinclair and Guy East.

Black Mass tells the true story of Whitey Bulger, the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf. However, after the Feds closed in on their targets, they double crossed Bulger and ultimately prosecuted him, along with his partner in crime and the original FBI agent working with him.

Cross Creek Pictures and Exclusive Media enjoy a fruitful partnership having jointly co-produced George Clooney’s The Ides of March with Smokehouse Pictures, the box office hit The Woman in Black starring Daniel Radcliffe and the upcoming Rush directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl. The companies are co-producing and co-financing A Walk Among the Tombstonesstarring Liam Neeson and Exclusive Media’s Hammer label titles Boneshaker and The Woman in Black follow up, The Woman in Black: Angel of Death from a story by Susan Hill.

Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.

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