Last year, Johnny Depp was attached to star in Black Mass, a biopic about the notorious gangster Whitey Bulger. However, Depp dropped out because he reportedly wouldn’t reduce his salary, and the project went into stasis although Barry Levinson remained in the director’s chair and Joel Edgerton was still on board to co-star as John Connolly, an FBI agent and childhood pal of Bulger. That combination ultimately fell apart, but last month Out of the Furnace director Scott Cooper signed on, and Depp started circling the project again. Today, Deadline confirms that Depp has returned to play Bulger, and now talks are underway with Tom Hardy to play Connolly.
Hit the jump for more. 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. Production begins in May.
The dramatic pull of the true story comes from Bulger not only becoming a crime kingpin in Boston (to the point where he was the inspiration for Jack Nicholson‘s character in The Departed and Pete Postlethwaite‘s character in The Town), but by amassing his power with the help of Connolly. Connolly was tasked with bringing down the Italian mob in Boston, and he did so with the help of Bulger, although this was in their mutual interest since it helped Connolly’s career and also eliminated Bulger’s competition. Bulger was also assisted by Connolly’s brother William, the former president of the Massachusetts Senate. Ultimately, John Connolly was convicted of racketeering and obstruction of justice, and Bulger went to jail for one count of second-degree murder, although the FBI alleges that he committed nineteen.
As we previously reported, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were also considering a Bulger biopic, but as Affleck said a little over a year ago, “It’s not ready; it’s not good enough yet.” According to Deadline, Boardwalk Empire creator Terrence Winter was handling the script with Damon set to play Bulger, but since Affleck’s next picture will be Live by Night, Black Mass will be the first one into production and likely the first one to hit theaters.