The stars of “Black Mass” returned to the Boston area Tuesday night for the American premiere of the Whitey Bulger biopic at Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Theatre.
The red carpet rollout closed a block on Harvard Street, where a dense crowd of fans five deep lined barricades along the sidewalk to get a look at the celebs.
Many of the film’s leads were there to mark the occasion, a few miles west of South Boston, where the real James Bulger once led a ruthless gang of thugs in a campaign of terror that still haunts natives today.
Some of the actors who spoke to Metro from the carpet said they kept the real Southie in mind when preparing for their roles.
“There’s a responsibility, I think to Boston and South Boston because they’re familiar with the story, and it’s almost like they own the rights to any version of the story,” said Rory Cochrane, who played Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi. “You can’t please everybody. But hopefully the entertainment value and the caliber of actors that they have here, they’ll be pleased and not want their money back.”
Medford-native Julianne Nicholson, who played Marianne Connolly, wife of the FBI’s John Connolly said she believes some in Boston will be hard to please when it comes to seeing Bulger on the big screen again.
“I’m sure it will be a mixed bag,” she said from the carpet. “I think some people will love it and I think other people - some people don’t want the story told and I understand that take on it and they will not be happy.”
Jesse Plemons, who played Winter Hill gangster Kevin Weeks, said he studied up for the role by talking with real-life weeks in a brief phone call and meeting Bostonians.
The “Breaking Bad” star (he played the sociopathic Todd in the series) said he “spent time in South Boston talking to different people and I could not have done it without them.”
Dick Lehr, who wrote for The Boston Globe and authored the “Black Mass” book, acknowledged the anguish Bulger’s presence in the city decades ago still causes for Bostonians, but said he felt the film’s release was still appropriate – one more take on the horrific past after decades of distance from the crimes, countless news stories and a months-long trial.
“It’s certainly not too soon,” Lehr said.
At the center of all the Hollywood glitz, of course, was Johnny Depp, who plays Bulger – infamous mobster, convicted felon and “Black Mass” villain. And Boston-area fans were giddy with the possibility of being near him.
“Johnny! Johnny!” chanted the crowd, which stood about five deep across the street from the red carpet.
“Johnny Depp is my favorite actor. I’ve loved him since middle school,” said Sarah Kostecki, who lives in Southie and secured a viewing spot near the theatre’s entrance.
“When I first saw him it sent shivers down my spine,” said Robert Brown, a Georgetown resident who was also standing at a barricade near the theatre, and told Metro he had met Depp before while working as an extra. “He just embodied [Bulger] and who he was.”
Depp did more crowd work than any of the stars on the night’s roster, stopping twice for several minutes at a time to meet with elated fans. He signed autographs, but a small army of police officers walking with him along the barricades enforced a strict “no selfie” policy.
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“Oh my God my heart is racing,” said Molly Simon of Fenway, as she waited for Depp to walk her way.
Amid the flurry of activity near the star, an overwhelmed Maggie Xendis of Boston was clutching a freshly signed Depp autograph. The actor signed her international driving permit – she didn’t know she would get so close to him, so that’s all she had on her, she said.
“I’m shaking,” Xendis said. “I’m trying to calm down.”
“Black Mass” hits theatres on Thursday.