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Johnny Depp to play Whitey Bulger?

Johnny Depp

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Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger? It’s in the works, according to the authors of “Black Mass.” The Oscar-nominated actor who’s recently been a pirate, a vampire, and the Mad Hatter will play Bulger in a Barry Levinson-helmed, Mark Mallouk-penned adaptation of “Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob,” the Bulger book written by former Boston Globe investigative reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. Deadline.com reported the news about the project Saturday night, saying that production would begin in May. No word on location. Lehr told us Sunday that he believes Depp (inset) will make a fine Whitey. “He’s certainly one of the best actors of our time and he can certainly fill any role.” O’Neill added: “He’s got Donnie Brasco under his belt. Now he’ll have Whitey Bulger there, too.” The news makes us wonder about the fate of Ben Affleck’s plans for a film about the former Boston mob boss. Affleck told us at a Boston screening of “Argo” in September that he already had an original script in the works by Terry Winter, of “Boardwalk Empire,” and that Matt Damon was all set to play Whitey. Ben’s brother, Casey, would play Bulger’s brother Billy in the film, which Affleck would direct. Affleck said, “It’s one of those things: If you do Whitey, you better make damn sure you execute and make a good movie.”

O’Neill explained that before “Black Mass” made its way into the hands of the project’s current producer, Brian Oliver, of Cross Creek Pictures, Harvey Weinstein had optioned the book for Affleck and Damon through Miramax. That option lapsed after a year. The first director attached to the project once Oliver was in charge was Jim Sheridan, of “In the Name of the Father.”

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Deadline.com quotes Cross Creek’s Oliver as saying that he “could not be more thrilled to have the biggest star in the world and Academy Award-winning director Barry Levinson to finally bring this incredible story to the big screen. We have been working on this project since we originally optioned the book in 2005. ‘Black Mass’ expertly details the twists and turns of this highly complex story, painting a vivid portrait of Boston’s underbelly and its corrupt political machine, as well as exposing the worst scandal in FBI history. It’s also an examination of loyalty to family, Irish heritage, and South Boston.” Oliver’s producing credits include “Black Swan” and “Ides of March.”

News of the movie comes at a great time for Lehr and O’Neill. Their new book, “Whitey: The Life of America’s Most Notorious Mob Boss,” will be released Feb. 19. It’s one of two Bulger books scheduled to hit bookstores in the next few weeks. “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice,” by Globe writers Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy, will also be released soon, by Norton. Asked whether he’d have a cameo in the “Black Mass” film, O’Neill joked that he wouldn’t mind. “I would hand somebody a gun, sure. But I don’t see myself as a butler.”

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