Johnny Depp was in jovial spirits at a TIFF press conference for his new movie Black Mass on Monday, but he emphasised the “tremendous responsibility” of playing a real person, not fictional, larger-than-life characters of the kind he has taken on before.
Before the media event began, Depp was captivating photographers with his charisma, provoking roars of laughter matching the flurry of camera clicks on his arrival.
The reaction continued from the first question at the press conference, where he joked about “gagging” for box office approval.
“It’s been the thrust of my interest since day one when I was about 19. It’s all I care about . . . 20 years of failures will do that to you,” Depp said, laughing.
Asked about playing a real character, notorious criminal James “Whitey” Bulger, not fictitious ones, he continued: “You mean that the Mad Hatter never existed? Or Willy Wonka? You going to tell me there’s no Santa Claus? What about the Easter bunny, seriously?
“With a fictional character, you can stretch it out to all sorts of strange places, which I’ve taken a lot of heat for,” he said with a smile.
The director, Scott Cooper, spoke about the transformation he saw in Depp on set from a “very soulful, kind and gentle” man to a “cold, cunning, chilling . . . some say ‘diabolical’ character.”
At the media event, the actor turned from fun-loving to pensive, especially to discuss the “tremendous responsibility” of playing a living man. There was a responsibility, he said, to history, truth and to that person, “no matter who they are . . . good or bad.”
Depp’s character, Bulger, is a renowned Boston Irish mobster turned FBI informant (according to the FBI), who successfully evaded capture for 16 years while on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list.
The role required Depp to master the intricacies of a South Boston accent, and director Cooper to struggle with finding “his” facts about Bulger while avoiding the “fools errand” of trying to make a film in the same crime and gangster genre as his movie-making heroes, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese.
“The truth proved very elusive,” Cooper said. “I’m not making a documentary. People don’t come to narratives for facts; they come for psychological truth, deep emotion and humanity.”
Depp paid tribute to Cooper, a “magnificent filmmaker.
“It’s amazing to step into the ring with someone like Scott; it’s a whole new ball game,” he said.
“I was joking about Scott reviving my career . . . but he’s revived my career,” Depp added, to more laughter from the crowd.
The praise was reciprocal. Cooper told a story about Bulger’s lawyer who apparently commented upon arriving on set: ‘Scott, that man is Bulger. I thought a ghost had returned, the way he moves, the way he talks, his accent, the way he holds himself. He’s channelling exactly who that man was.”
The conference also included actors Julianne Nicholson, Kevin Bacon, David Harbour, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, Joel Edgerton, Dakota Johnson and Peter Sarsgaard.
Edgerton raised a laugh when he spoke about the difficulty of trying to research his character, John Connolly.
“He’s alive and with us, albeit in federal prison and a little hard to reach,” he said, before adding: “I guess there’s one way to get in there.”
Black Mass premieres Monday at 9 p.m. at the Elgin and Winter Garden theatres.
Source: Toronto Star