Venice: Johnny Depp Talks Becoming James "Whitey" Bulger in 'Black Mass'
The superstar also joked about killing his dogs in response to the recent Australian controversy.
Johnny Depp appeared in high spirits during a Friday press conference in Venice to promote his new film Black Mass, directed by Scott Cooper.
The actor is already generating Oscar buzz for his transformation into one of Boston’s most infamous crime lords, James “Whitey” Bulger.
Dressed in a green jacket and sporting his signature blue-lens glasses and holding a beer, Depp told the media before beginning, “I just want to point out that this is nonalcoholic and if I slur, this is your fault.”
He also made a joke about his dogs when asked if he had brought them with him on the press tour. “No I killed my dogs, and ate them, under direct orders of some kind of, I don’t know, sweaty, big-gutted man from Australia,” he said, referring to the incident earlier this year when Australian authorities threatened to put down his dogs for being brought into the country without the necessary permits.
Depp, who has had a fair share of more playful roles in his career, was asked if he had to get in touch with his evil side to play the part. “I found the evil in myself a long time ago, and I’ve accepted it. We’re old friends,” he said.
The actor has been credited for bringing a human side to the crime boss who was indicted for 19 murders after being given carte blanche from Boston’s FBI for his own racket in exchange for helping to take down the rival Patriarca Italian-American crime family.
“For a character like James Bulger, I think you just have to approach him as a human being,” he continued, “in the sense that nobody wakes up in the morning and shaves or brushes their teeth and looks in the mirror and thinks 'I am evil' or 'I am going to do something evil today.'”
“I think in the context of his business, not only was the violence just a part of the job, let’s say, it was also kind of a language that the people that he associated with and the people that he opposed, understood the same language. It was a language,” he continued.
On playing the part of a real-life crime boss, Depp explained that he didn’t have much to work from, other than a few videotapes. He asked to meet with Bulger, who is currently serving two life sentences plus five years in jail, but the former mob boss respectfully declined. “I don’t think he was a great fan of the book Black Mass or any of the books written about him,” he explained. But Bulger’s lawyer, Jay Carney, helped Depp with the part and found Depp's performance to be overwhelming.
“Jay came to the set and watched a couple of times and he gave me a lot of confidence because he said he could feel his old friend in what I was doing,” explained Depp.
For Depp, the thrill in playing Bulger was taking on such a complicated character. “It’s exhilarating when you can switch gears, when you can go from 90 to 20 and you can go from 20 back up to 120,” he said. “It’s challenging. I can’t say satisfying, because I think satisfaction is a bad thing to feel because then you get lame. He was complicated and there was a part that he would take in an old lady’s groceries into a house and 10 minutes later he might be bashing someone’s skull in, but to him that was all he knew.”
The intense physical transformation of Depp into a balding, blue-eyed mobster was created by his frequent collaborator Joel Harlow, who created four or five tests before finalizing the look. “I thought it was very, very important to look as much like Jimmy Bulger as humanly possible. My eyeballs are black as the ace of spades. The blue contacts were hand-painted because they needed to be piercing. They needed to cut right through you.”
As one of the festival’s top tickets, thousands of people lined up alongside the red carpet, starting as early as six in the morning, to get a glimpse of Depp. “I’ve never liked the term fans,” he said of the attention. “But I consider those people essentially our employers. They’re the boss because they’re the ones who go to the cinema and spend their hard-earned money to escape for two hours to watch a film. I thank my bosses outside.”