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In the wake of last week’s arrest of James “Whitey” Bulger, the Boston gang boss who was hiding out in Santa Monica, The Departed producer Graham King is fast-tracking a film project he’s been developing about John Martorano, the enforcer from Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang who turned government informer.
Bulger was arrested just four blocks from the offices of King’s own GK Films, and the producer says, “I couldn’t believe it when they said Santa Monica. I know there had been reported sightings in Costa Rica, Finland, all these places that sound a lot more glamorous than downtown Santa Monica on the beach. I wonder if I passed the guy three or four times on the Promenade.”
As he absorbed the news, one of his first reactions, he jokes, “was that I’d better call John Martorano and make sure he knows I had nothing to do with hiding Whitey out in Santa Monica.”
King is no stranger to all the stories surrounding Bulger and the rest of the Boston wise guys after producing the Oscar-winning Departed, in which Jack Nicholson played a vicious crime lord, partly based on Bulger. Returning to Boston to produce Ben Affleck’s The Town, King absorbed even more of the local crime lore.
“Whenever you’re shooting in Boston, especially if it’s a genre movie like The Departed or The Town, people want to talk about Whitey,” King says.
In fact, one of the first people the producer did call after the Bulger arrest hit the headlines was Tom Duffy, a former major in the Massachusetts State Police, who served as technical advisor on The Departed and was heavily involved in the investigations of both Bulger and Martorano.
King became interested in Martorano’s story after seeing a 2008 60 Minutes report on the former hitman, who has admitted to committing 20 murders between 1965 and 1982 while working for Bulger and his Italian-American associate Stephen Flemmi. In 1998, Martorano struck a deal with federal prosecutors to become a government witness, and after 12 years in prison, is now a free man.
After watching Martorano’s performance on 60 Minutes, King called Duffy to ask him, “Do you know this guy?” “Do I know him? I arrested him,” replied Duffy, who then introduced King to the ex-con, whose life rights the producer acquired.
The project then went through several writers before King settled on Chuck Hogan, the novelist who wrote Prince of Thieves, on which The Town was based. “We’ve been following the news very carefully, and it adds a lot of fuel to the movie we want to make,” King says.
King hasn’t set the project up anywhere yet, explaining, “We’re still trying to get the script right. Obviously, with the chain of events of the last week, we’re going to put it more on the forefront. First of all, I’m sure there are going to be a lot of Whitey Bulger scripts floating around. But, secondly, we can wrap these current events around the end of it. It’s the end of an era, the end of the Al Capone of Boston in the ‘70s and ‘80s being on the run. But let’s see how much of Whitey ends up in the script, because this is really the story of John Martorano’s life.”
King hasn’t yet begun to think about who should play Whitey this time around, either. But he did ask Martorano who he thinks should play the notorious crime boss, and, says King, Martorano answered, “Ed Harris would be a great Whitey Bulger.”
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