EXCLUSIVE: Big day on the Croisette for Joel Edgerton. The Australian actor just took the bows for the Cannes opening night film The Great Gatsby, and I’ve learned that he’s just closed a deal to star alongside Johnny Depp in the Cross Creek crime thriller Black Mass, which Barry Levinson is directing. The picture is a co-production between Cross Creek and Nigel Sinclair and Guy East’s Exclusive Media, with the two entities co-financing and Universal Pictures releasing in the U.S. through Cross Creek’s distribution deal with the studio.
Whitey Bulger rose to the top of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List when he disappeared for a decade before he could be put behind bars. Many felt he could never have gotten that far without the help of John Connolly, an FBI agent and childhood pal of Bulger and his brother. Connolly was tasked with bringing down the Italian mob, and he was aided by Bulger, who burnished his own position as Boston crime kingpin by getting rid of the competition for his Winter Hill gang. Edgerton will play Connolly, who was lauded for his work before things went south for him. He was eventually convicted of racketeering and obstruction of justice for aiding Bulger, who is currently in a Massachusetts state prison for second-degree murder. Edgerton gets a meaty role in a story about a law enforcement officer with conflicted loyalties.
The film’s title comes from the 2001 Dick Lehr/Gerald O’Neill New York Times bestseller Black Mass: The True Story Of An Unholy Alliance Between The FBI And The Irish Mob. The script was written by Mark Mallouk, and the long-gestating movie got the third act it needed when Bulger was captured in California in summer 2011, after he spent a decade on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.
Bulger was a notoriously ruthless Boston mob kingpin who was the basis for characters like the one that Jack Nicholson played in the Martin Scorsese-directed The Departed and Pete Postlethwaite played in the Ben Affleck-directed The Town (Affleck has his own Whitey Bulger project scripted by Boardwalk Empire creator Terrence Winter with Matt Damon expected to play the mobster, but he’ll next direct Dennis Lehane’s Live By Night so there’s no way that film will beat this one into production). Even as he was masterminding a violent gang–the federal case against him alleges 19 murders–Bulger was an FBI informant, a role he took on discreetly to take down a rival gang, but the tables were turned on him. 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.
The film will be produced by Cross Creek’s Brian Oliver and Tyler Thompson, John Lesher, and Christi Dembrowski, Depp’s partner in Infinitum Nihil. Exclusive Media’s Tobin Armbrust, President Worldwide Production and Acquisitions and Cross Creek Pictures Sr. VP of Production Adam Kassan, will oversee production. 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.
After Deadline broke the story that Depp would team with Levinson, Cross Creek’s Oliver said the project paints “turns of this highly complex story, paints 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.” Edgerton is repped by CAA, Shanahan Management and Markham, Froggat and Irwin.