EXCLUSIVE: Johnny Depp has made his deal to star in Black Mass, the drama Scott Cooper will direct about the Boston crime kingpin-turned-fugitive Whitey Bulger, for Cross Creek Pictures and Exclusive Media. Now, they are in early talks with Tom Hardy to play John Connolly, the FBI agent and childhood pal of Bulger, who is in prison for tipping Bulger that he was about to be indicted. That led Bulger to go from ruthless Boston crime kingpin to the top of the FBI’s most wanted list. Domestic distribution hasn’t yet been decided and there are some territories that Exclusive is selling at Berlin, a task made easier by these casting developments. Production will begin in May.
Depp was originally expected to play Bulger when Barry Levinson was attached to direct, but the deal fell through over money even though the deal was near $20 million. Deadline revealed last month that talks had rekindled with Depp, and this has now become a blue-chip project, particularly when Crazy Heart and Out Of The Furnace helmer Cooper boarded it. The script is by Mark Mallouk, who adapted 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.
While Bulger has been a composite for mobsters in several films, a real movie on him was inevitable. Joe Berlinger, of Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster and Paradise Lost fame, unveiled at Sundance Whitey, a superb documentary that asked hard questions on whether Bulger was an FBI informant (I’ll have a story on Berlinger soon), but his crimes were brutal long before he disappeared for a decade before finally getting caught in California in 2011 and sent to prison for the rest of his life. Many felt Bulger could never have gotten that far without the help of Connolly, an FBI agent and childhood pal of Bulger and his brother William, the former president of the Massachusetts Senate. 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.
Bulger and his criminal exploits made him 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.
Black Mass is 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. UTA reps Depp.