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Director Scott Cooper, Dakota Johnson, Johnny Depp and Julianne Nicholson were at the Boston premier of “Black Mass.”
Director Scott Cooper, Dakota Johnson, Johnny Depp and Julianne Nicholson were at the Boston premier of “Black Mass.” John Blanding/Globe Staff

BROOKLINE -- Hollywood stars and legions of their adoring fans converged on Brookline Tuesday for the US premiere of “Black Mass,” the highly anticipated biopic of gangster James “Whitey” Bulger.

More than a thousand giddy spectators began lining Harvard Street at about 5 p.m. outside the Coolidge Corner Theatre, where the screening of the film, based on a book by former Boston Globe staffers Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, was held.

Some gawkers held signs welcoming supporting cast members such as Dakota Johnson, but the A-lister that most people hoped to see was Johnny Depp, who plays the notorious crime boss in the film.


Chants of “Johnny! Johnny!” erupted on the street as breathless fans waited for Depp to arrive.

Frauke Sand, 46, of Brookline, hesitated when asked what her favorite Depp movie was, before citing “Pirates of the Caribbean,” an action franchise that has grossed millions.

Sand said she was all for Hollywood making a film about Bulger, despite his murderous reputation. The 86-year-old South Boston native is currently serving a life term in Florida for 11 killings and a host of other crimes.

“I think it’s great that they’re doing this, of course,” Sand said.

Her daughter, Liora, 20, a college student in California, traveled home for a chance to see Depp as he made his way into the theater.

She twirled a hoola-hoop around her waist as she waited for the mercurial screen idol, who has earned critical raves for his portrayal of Bulger. But the movie has also drawn criticism from victims’ relatives, who say Hollywood is glamorizing a man who terrorized Boston for decades.

“It’s amazing. I feel like [Depp] came here just for me or something,” Liora said. “He’s the only movie star who’s not part of the illuminati.”

The anticipation was palpable as a fleet of stretch limousines and luxury SUVs traveled slowly down Harvard Street en route to the glitzy confab.


“Depp?” several stunned passersby asked when informed of the premiere. “He’s here?”

Brookline police officers guided vehicular and pedestrian traffic, clearing the theater entrance of fans who lacked media credentials and telling spectators in clipped tones to pass through crosswalks.

Meanwhile, helicopters hovered above the theater, which was adorned with a red carpet and large “Black Mass” posters featuring Depp in the aviator sunglasses and tight-fitting leather jacket that Bulger sported in the 1970s.

Cast members began arriving shortly after 6:30 p.m., to rousing cheers from the crowd, many of whom stood on tiptoe and held up cellphones to snap photos from hundreds of yards away.

Some intrepid spectators even climbed onto roofs of nearby businesses to get an optimal view of the stars.

Public figures from outside the movie biz also attended, including Patriots owner Bob Kraft and MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell, a Dorchester native.

But the loudest applause came for Depp, who hit the scene at 7:20 p.m. with a small entourage.

Fans screamed as Depp, who wore sunglasses at dusk, smiled and waved as he made his way inside.

Once he vanished from public view, many in the star-struck crowd began to disburse.

Geoff Hunt, 45, a Brookline resident who grew up in Boston, stood outside the theater with his wife Jennifer and their two young sons.

Hunt said the buzz surrounding the premiere was “fantastic.”

“We need it more often,” Hunt said. “We need more action in Brookline.”


Asked about Hollywood’s decision to market a film about Bulger’s checkered life, Hunt was forthright.

“That’s what sells,” he said. “Sex and violence. ... I’ll definitely see it.”

Jennifer Hunt also said she enjoyed the hoopla surrounding the premiere and did not mind the ensuing traffic gridlock and parking restrictions.

“I think it’s fun,” she said. “It was a good excuse to leave work early, for the traffic.”

Depp reemerged shortly before 8 p.m. and walked along the barricade, signing autographs for delighted fans, who shouted “Johnny!” and “thank you!” as the Hollywood kingpin pressed the flesh, flanked by security guards.

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.