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South Boston casts a critical eye on ‘Black Mass’

Spectators lined G Street in South Boston recently for the filming of “Black Mass,” which stars Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger.

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Spectators lined G Street in South Boston recently for the filming of “Black Mass,” which stars Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger.

“We’re not trying to glorify him,” the crew member said, butting into the conversation. “Just so you know.”

David Ivaska went off like a chainsaw. He told the crew member where he could go and then told him again, screaming him back up G Street, back to the set of “Black Mass,” the Whitey Bulger biopic that is now filming on the streets of his South Boston.

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Filming a Whitey movie in Southie is a charged issue, and the topic of “glorification” is what Ivaska was ranting about when the crew member, who said his job was to be a “community liaison,” tried to intervene. Calming that fear of glorification, the crew member said, was one of his jobs, because Ivaska is not the only person in Southie nervous about what Hollywood has planned for its most infamous story.

The act of filming a Bulger movie feels, to many Southie natives, like a perverse reward for Bulger — his own Hollywood epic, portrayed by the biggest of stars, Johnny Depp. And the fact that crowds were standing around the set, oohing and aahing, was appalling to Ivaska.

“They’re filming this right next to all these people who lost loved ones to Whitey,” said Ivaska, who was born and raised in the neighborhood. “The fact that anyone glorifies anything to do with this guy is disgusting.”

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South Boston has a complicated relationship with the constant parade of films and television shows that have, during the last decade-and-a-half, done much to define its image to the outside world.

“I’m tired of other people talking for Southie,” Jennifer Gordon, 46, said as she watched crews film across from her house on G Street. “If Southie is going to be world-famous — which it is — I want it to be told by someone who understands it,” she said. In fact, she’s so bothered by outsiders continually trying to capture an insiders neighborhood that she’s begun writing a book.

‘I’m tired of other people talking for Southie. If Southie is going to be world-famous — which it is — I want it to be told by someone who understands it.’

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Unlike films such as “Good Will Hunting” and “The Departed,” “Black Mass” will be the first to purport to be a true story.

Jack Nicholson certainly made nods to Bulger in his portrayal of a mob boss in “The Departed,” but he was not playing Whitey Bugler. “Black Mass,” on the other hand, is based on a nonfiction book by two former Boston Globe reporters, Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, and covers the relationship between Bulger and crooked FBI agent John Connolly.

On Monday and Tuesday, the crew filmed in and around a three-decker on G Street — which was lined with vintage 1970s cars — and on Wednesday shot interiors in a first-floor apartment on West Third Street. On Thursday, the crew moved to City Point and set up inside a house on East Broadway that happened to be directly next door to the house from “Southie Rules,” the “reality-sitcom” that was despised by residents and was canceled after a few episodes.

Wherever they went, huge crowds followed their every move.

As Depp emerged from the house on East Broadway in his full Whitey Bulger makeup, he was greeted by an army of camera phones. “He looks just like him,” shouted Cathy Toomey, who said she knew Bulger. “It’s so uncanny. If I saw him walking up Broadway, I’d think it was him.”

Huge crowds have followed film crews’ every move in the neighborhood.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Huge crowds have followed film crews’ every move in the neighborhood.

On G Street, where there wasn’t much action on Tuesday afternoon, onlookers gossiped about the film, wondering aloud if this movie would just make Bulger into a bigger star, despite the horror of the material. Inside the house, the crew was said to be filming a scene in which Bulger strangles Deborah Hussey to death.

An actor covered in blood was milling about the craft services table.

One of the G Street neighbors who had been watching asked if there had ever been a movie in which Johnny Depp wasn’t cool and likable. Another said that the previous day, Depp had three guitars brought into his trailer, and he could be heard jamming.

On West Third Street, Cathy Picard had driven up from Rhode Island to attempt to catch a glimpse of Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Billy Bulger. She said that while she could certainly understand the complicated nature of neighborhood residents’ feelings toward a Bulger film, there was no arguing that it was an incredibly fascinating story. “There are all sorts of stories about people you wouldn’t want in your neighborhood, but that doesn’t make them any less compelling or dramatic.”

And there is no doubt that there is an excitement buzzing around the production. The shooting schedule has been widely shared on Facebook, and everywhere the production went large crowds of natives and newcomers squished up against the barricades, straining for a glimpse of Depp.

Sightings were rare — he seemed to be keeping all that makeup out of the blazing summer sun — and so it left the crowds with lots of time to talk. And as it often does in South Boston, the conversation turned to an old complaint, the one big neighborhood issue that has never been pinned on Bulger. Until now.

This movie, they said again and again, was screwing up all the parking.

Movie trailers blocked parking spaces in South Boston, which has a complicated relationship with the parade of films and TV shows that shoot there.

David L Ryan/Globe Staff

Movie trailers blocked parking spaces in South Boston, which has a complicated relationship with the parade of films and TV shows that shoot there.

More coverage:

‘Black Mass’ to film St. Patrick’s Day parade scene

Meet the cast of the local Whitey Bulger movie

Benedict Cumberbatch arrives in Boston, fans rejoice

‘Black Mass’ takes its sets to Lynn and back to the ’70s and ’80s

‘Black Mass’ shoots in East Boston, ‘Grey Lady’ in South Boston

Johnny Depp takes a break from his Whitey Bulger costume

• ‘Black Mass’ shoots in Chelsea

Johnny Depp, as Whitey, recreates Halloran murder

‘Black Mass’ films in Dorchester

Benedict Cumberbatch takes role in ‘Whitey’ movie

Double-takes abound as Bulger movie films in Cambridge

Johnny Depp starts work as ‘Whitey’

Billy Baker can be reached at billybaker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.
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