Johnny Depp has transformed into many odd characters over the years, but none quite so unnerving as James “Whitey’ Bulger, in new movie “Black Mass”. Depp, who plays the convicted murderer and crime boss of the Boston Irish mob called the Winter Hill Gang, wanted to give an unbiased representation of the still feared Seventies killer. The actor, speaking at a press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival, explains how he got into the skin and mindset of Bulger.
On doing his thing: “Since I was about 19 years old, I’ve only relied on the work that interests me. That’s all that concerns me. And look what you get with 20 years of failure.”
Leaving behind roles: “Once I finish a movie, I say goodbye to the character and look forward.”
On transforming into characters: “Obviously, when you get a fictional character you can take him to very strange places and that is something that burned me quite a bit. But when I have to play a person who really existed or still exists, I feel much more responsibility on my shoulders. No matter if he’s good or bad, the responsibility exists, because it’s a life. And that responsibility tells the truth on some level. That’s very important, as it is also important to physically show similarity.”
Becoming “Whitey” Bulger: “It was very important to find the real James Bulger. I also have to say that I have been working with the same makeup artist for years, Joel Harlow, and he is brilliant because he managed to place a sculpture of Bulger on my face. Of course, we went through five or six different tests, until we finally got it. It may have been bad for production and for who ever is putting down the money because it meant we had to be in the makeup room for a couple of hours every day.”
Meeting the real people (but not Bulger): “I actually contacted Bulger’s lawyer, Jay Carney, asking for the opportunity to meet Bulger to hear his version of the facts, because when I did the “Donnie Brasco” story I was fortunate to spend some time with Joe Pistone and was able to make many changes in the script that were not even remotely true. And with Jimmy Bulger, I don’t know what could have happened, because a week after my request, I got a message from Carney saying that Jimmy respectfully refused my request because he was not a big fan, as you can imagine, of any of the books that tell his story.”
Not judging: “My intention wasn’t sought to create someone devilish, because I don’t think any of us are. Occasionally, you might get up in the morning and think this is a horrible person while you’re brushing your teeth, but I faced it as a multifaceted human being with a human side, that also had his business. As we all know, there are certain businesses whose language is pure violence. And that’s the only way I saw it.”
Don’t blink: “The idea of blinking to a minimum, I thought, was the way a predator tries to get into the minds of others, and somehow controls them with his eyes . He also had an obsession with cleanliness, although he was a person who lived in a world of extremely graphic violence. I loved that obsession of always having clean hands. We found that to be a great detail.”
The scene where Bulger tells his son he should punch another kid, but only when no one’s looking — would he do that to his kids?: “Do you really think I would never say something like that to my child? You are wrong. [Laughs] It doesn’t seem strange at all to me. On the contrary, I loved the idea. I myself remember my childhood, because when I was six years old, there was a bully at school that was also poking me. And I think my mother told me, “The next time someone puts a hand on you, pick up a brick and throw it on them.” And from that moment on, I took that advice literally. That helped me, and if anyone tries to bother my child and nobody destroys them… I assure you, I will.