Now that he has spent the past few years spinning his wheels in fantastical yet underwhelming wannabe blockbusters (Dark Shadows anyone?), Johnny Depp is looking to take on a more reality-based role for one of his next films. The venerable superstar has signed on to play the notorious Boston mobster James Joseph “Whitey” Bulger in Black Mass, to be directed by Barry Levinson from a screenplay by Mark Mallouk.
The film will be based on Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob, a 2001 New York Times best-selling true crime tome written by Dick Lehr and Gerald O’Neill. The book documented how Bulger was the most feared crime boss in Boston at the same time he was an informant for the FBI. He served as the inspiration for Jack Nicholson’s Boston gangster Frank Costello in Martin Scorsese’s 2006 Oscar-winning crime story The Departed. For 12 years, Bulger was one of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted. He was finally captured in Santa Monica, California, in June 2011 and currently resides in a correctional facility in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Depp has previously busted heads for the mob in the acclaimed 1997 crime drama Donnie Brasco, but he was an undercover FBI agent in that movie. Coincidentally, Levinson served as a producer on Brasco.
Ben Affleck had also been developing a film about Bulger written by Boardwalk Empire creator Terrence Winter with Matt Damon looking to play the gangster, but that project has been put on indefinite hold. Depp’s next film, The Lone Ranger, opens in May and he has Wally Pfister’s heady directorial debut Transcendence and the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie lined up for the foreseeable future. I wouldn’t be surprised if he managed to squeeze in Black Mass between those two effects-heavy productions.