In “Black Mass,” Dakota Johnson has a high profile role as the steely-but-sweet girlfriend to notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, but for much of her life she was simply known as a child of Hollywood, the daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson. Despite an acting career that stretches back to 1999, the 25 year old became a sensation just last year when she landed the lead role in “50 Shades of Grey.”
She’ll soon be seen in the “50” Shades sequel and a remake of the legendary Italian horror film “Suspiria.” This week she stars opposite Johnny Depp as Lindsey Cyr, mother of Bulger’s son and the only person in South Boston who would stand up to the infamous killer.
Cyr is still alive but Johnson didn’t think it was a good idea to meet with her.
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“I feel like it would have been if my goal had been to be extremely accurate, but my goal was to bring out a different side of Jimmy,” Johnson says. “We talked about meeting her but we decided that it would have added a bunch of components. You wouldn’t see them. You wouldn’t see the stories she was telling because it wasn’t part of our story.”
Instead she studied footage of the former diner waitress and lawyer’s assistant.
“I did as much research as was available to me,” she says, “but the majority of the footage I found on her was pretty recent and it was her looking back on her time with Jimmy Bulger. Obviously the time that we see them together [in the film] is when she is quite young. A lot of that came from working it out with [director] Scott Cooper and Johnny.”
In her most intense scene she stares down and out-maneuvers the controlling gangster after personal tragedy strikes the couple. “There was a very heavy atmosphere on set but because Johnny was really not himself, he was a completely different person and because I’m not a mother and have never experienced anything as profoundly devastating as losing a child. I think we both completely slipped away from ourselves. That allowed us to create the scene the way it was.”
Like Johnson, Joel Edgerton didn’t meet the inspiration for his character in “Black Mass,” former FBI agent John Connolly. “He’s alive and with us, albeit in federal prison and a little hard to reach,” said the Australian actor.
The real life Connolly was convicted of racketeering and obstruction of justice charges stemming from his relationship Depp’s Bulger.
“This is a particularly delicate situation. His version of events doesn’t line up with our version of what the story is. I felt like it was a little unfair to go and visit him in federal prison and say, ‘You stay in here while I’m over here making you look like a bad dude.’ It felt like it wasn’t a very genuine thing to do… albeit I would love to spend time with him. I’m sort of terrified of him watching the movie and going, ‘Oh, you got that guy to be me?’”