Johnny Depp: Black Mass speaks language of violence

17 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Black Mass’ movie review: Johnny Depp both captivating, chilling in gangster drama.

If you are wondering how Johnny Depp and the stars of Black Mass nailed down their Boston accents, there’s a lot more that went into it than just rewatching a copy of Good Will Hunting.Black Mass opens across Canada and the United States on Friday, loaded with built-in controversy over whether it tells the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, about notorious Boston gangster James (Whitey) Bulger.

A lot of the credit for the cast’s spot-on inflections goes to dialect coaches Carla Meyer and Howard Samuelsohn, who aided Depp and company throughout the film’s production. There was Whitey himself, at first a minor criminal who became one of the most feared crime bosses in history, ruling his turf for two decades and evading capture for nearly two more. The key to getting the Boston accent down, according to Samuelsohn, is to take a very Yoda-like approach to the accent: don’t think about it, just do it. “Once you nail down the sounds, you kind of have to forget about it,” Samuelsohn said. “The most important thing is that you forget about it when you act and you let the dialect coach remind you of things.

Depp obsessively tried to look and sound like Bulger, even though he failed in attempts to actually meet the real-life criminal, who is now jailed for life for his heinous crimes from the 1940s into the 1990s. Depp then devoted himself to working with Cooper, the actor said this week while mixing his metaphors in Toronto, where Black Mass played in the Toronto International Film Festival. “He’s a magnificent filmmaker and it’s amazing to step into the ring with someone like him — like Scott — because it’s a whole new ball game.

The performance is more important than the accent.” Meyer spent about three weeks with the cast during prep work prior to filming, and then an additional few weeks during the start of shooting before Samuelsohn took over. “The first thing you do, of course, with Boston is you work on dropping the R’s. Carney Jr., Congressman Joe Kennedy III, former Congressman Bill Delahunt, retired DEA agent Dan Doherty, IRS agent Sandra Lemanski, retired Inspector General’s Office agent James Marra, defense attorneys Bob Sheketoff and Rosemary Scapicchio, Boston developers Joe O’Donnell and Steve Karp, Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton, Patriots owners Robert and Jonathan Kraft, Pats players Patrick Chung, Nate Ebner, and Ryan Allen, Red Sox pitcher Clay Buccholz’s wife Lindsay Clubine, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, Aisha Dee from the ABC Family show “Chasing Life,” author Ben Mezrich and his wife Tonya, Globe reporters and editors past and present, WBUR’s David Boeri, and WGBH’s Margery Eagan and Jim Braude.

As the actor filmed a bar scene, a pal of Bulger’s sidled up to Depp’s friend Mark Mahoney (who has a minor role in the movie) and was “freaked out” by Depp’s appearance. They drop their R’s a little differently than New York,” Samuelsohn said. “It’s really fascinating sometimes when you see actors actually transform into their characters just by doing the dialect right. There was an after-party at Seth Greenberg’s Bastille Kitchen following Tuesday’s screening, and there the crowd included the director, cast members Dakota Johnson, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Adam Scott, and Corey Stoll, who plays Wyshak in the movie. The Motion Picture Association of America this week issued statement “Black Mass” not for its artistic achievemnent, but for the money it says the movie generated for the Massachusetts economy.

And so does Hollywood, namely director Scott Cooper and a top-flight ensemble led by Johnny Depp in a performance that reminds us, after a string of uninspiring movies, why he’s one of our most compelling actors. I didn’t expect this.” In a career filled with transformations into indelible characters, from fun-loving pirates (Pirates of the Caribbean) to eccentric chocolatiers (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Depp takes his darkest turn yet in Black Mass as Bulger, the Irish Mobster who became a crime kingpin in Beantown because of his relationship with FBI agent and childhood friend John Connolly (played by Joel Edgerton). He would watch films of him all the time,” Samuelsohn said. “He would actually try to take some of the jokes he made because he was famous for being a raconteur.

According to the MPAA, the production contributed nearly $20 million to the state’s economy, with $8.5 million of that going to the 660 local cast and crew members hired for the film. Cooper was floored by Depp’s “emotional and psychological transformation from a man that I know to be kind and sweet and gentle to the man you see on screen who is cunning and chilling and cold.” Depp’s Bulger is “tender with his son, loving with his mother and brother, but a man who’s in the end so far afield from the man I know,” the director says. “I don’t know if I’ve seen a personality transformation like that ever. But what you do come to a narrative feature for is psychological truth, emotion and deep humanity.” Joel Edgerton: He is the film’s co-lead, playing real-life FBI agent John Connolly. the agent who recruited Bulger as an informant while protecting Bulger and his Winter Hill Gang from prosecution. “You can never presume to know ‘the truth’ when everybody has an opinion,” Edgerton says. “It’s the Rashomon effect (a reference to Akira Kurosawa’s legendary 1950 film).

He loved to make his jokes, and Benedict was trying to find places to put those in.” But if there’s one quick trick to nailing down the accent, Howard points to a scene from Family Guy that focused on a certain, popular breakfast treat. “Pop tart,” Samuelsohn said. “You do the ‘ô’ sound, which is very unique to Boston and then you have the ‘tärt’ which is very much a Boston sound. That’s a long leap.” The film is based on the 2001 book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, who covered Bulger’s saga for The Boston Globe. At some point, you just have to say: ‘This is our telling of our version of these events.’ ” Edgerton found himself conflicted about whether he should visit Connolly in jail to talk to him before the film.

In real life, the criminal’s presence loomed large in Boston until he went on the lam in 1994, making himself a home on the FBI’s most-wanted list for crimes including racketeering, extortion, money laundering, narcotics distribution and 19 counts of murder. “What people don’t realize or acknowledge is that in Bulger’s gang and business, it’s not ‘Let’s deliver 150 cartons of T-shirts.’ The language was violence and survival within that business was violence,” Depp says. “If you didn’t have that edge, you’d lose your position. Then he realized Connolly might be difficult to reach anyway. “I guess there was one way to get in!” Edgerton joked about getting convicted of a crime himself. “But I would have had to opt out of the film!” Dakota Johnson: Playing the mother of Whitey Bulger’s only son, she faced off with Depp as Bulger in an astonishingly powerful hospital scene after their child died from illness.” That day was very quiet,” Johnson recalls. “There was a very heavy atmosphere on set. But I think that, because Johnny was really not himself at all — he was completely another person — and because I am not a mother — and I have never experienced anything as personally devastating as losing a child — I think we both had to completely slip away from ourselves. And that kind of allowed us to create the scene the way it is, with Scott’s help to guide us.” Julianne Nicholson: She was already familiar with crime stories, having played Detective Morgan Wheeler on Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

Depp arrives at her bedroom door for a conversation charged with menace and sexuality. “I knew that he was coming and I knew that he was going to be touching me,” Nicholson says. “I didn’t know to what degree. It’s an alliance.” When Jimmy agrees, he rationalizes it thusly: “They protect us, and we do whatever the (expletive) we want.” Which is, basically, what happens, as Connolly’s plan spirals into a catastrophe for the FBI. The actor recalls reading scripts for The Road and The Lovely Bones — dramas both having to do with kids in danger or dead — and as a father, “there was no way. I would not and could not travel there.” Depp just wants to continue playing the characters who feel right for him at the time, because that worked out all right for him, he figures. “But we can’t forget that I’ve succeeded on 20 years of failures, essentially,” he says.

With bad teeth and a head of dramatically receding hair, the actor somewhat resembles Jack Nicholson in “The Departed” but deftly avoids caricature as he grows more sinister with every murder. Without revealing too much, let’s just say that his sinister, is-he-kidding-or-isn’t-he demeanor immediately recalls Joe Pesci in “Goodfellas” in that “I’m funny, how?” scene. The supporting cast also includes Kevin Bacon as a skeptical FBI boss, Peter Sarsgaard as a jittery gang associate, and an excellent Julianne Nicholson as Connolly’s wife.

If you haven’t read the detailed news accounts of Bulger’s years on the run and eventual capture, now’s not the time — in other words, see the movie first. What doesn’t: As fascinating as the Bulger story is, there is a certain familiarity to it, as Hollywood has been telling it in some form or fashion for decades.

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