EXCLUSIVE: Scott Cooper is negotiating to rewrite and direct Black Mass, the drama about the Boston crime kingpin-turned-fugitive Whitey Bulger, for Cross Creek Pictures and Nigel Sinclair and Guy East’s Exclusive Media, with Universal releasing through Cross Creek’s distribution deal with the studio. And guess what? Talks have rekindled for Johnny Depp to possibly play Bulger in the film. You’ll recall he was nearly set last year, but talks fell apart over money.
The subject matter is irresistible. Bulger had risen 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 William, the former president of the Massachusetts Senate. Joel Edgerton had been in talks to play the FBI pal. 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. Connolly was lauded for his work before things went south for him. He eventually was convicted of racketeering and obstruction of justice for aiding Bulger, who is currently in a Massachusetts state prison for second-degree murder.
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.
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 Terence 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 Bulger 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.
Right now, Black Mass being produced by Cross Creek’s Brian Oliver and Tyler Thompson, John Lesher and his LeGrisbi banner. If Depp steps back into it, they will be joined by Christi Dembrowski, Depp’s partner in Infinitum Nihil. Exclusive Media’s Tobin Armbrust, President of Worldwide Production and Acquisitions, and Cross Creek Pictures SVP Production Adam Kassan will oversee production. CAA reps Cooper, who made Out of the Furnace the follow-up to his 2009 directorial debut Crazy Heart. UTA reps Depp.