He then took the high spirits into the press conference, where he talked about his chilling portrayal of real-life Boston villain James “Whitey” Bulger, in the crime drama “Black Mass.”
Entering in a lime-green jacket and trademark tinted specs, Depp assured the press pack that what looked like a beer bottle was non-alcoholic and that if he slurred his words, “it’s your fault.” He was certainly sharp as a tack in graciously getting the conference adjudicator off the hook when she referred to Depp’s co-star Dakota Johnson as Dakota Fanning. “My name is Dakota Fanning,” said Depp. “I changed my name last week.”
And when the first question was whether he had to find “some evil in himself” to play a mass murderer who ruled South Boston for more than 20 years, he quipped: “I found evil in myself a long time ago and I’ve accepted it. We are old friends.”
Sitting with Depp were director Scott Cooper, Johnson and Joel Edgerton, who plays the childhood friend and FBI agent who gave Bulger an informant deal that allowed him to continue his criminal activities with impunity for years.
But most questions were directed at Depp, who also talked seriously about the role and film, both of which represent his best in some time.
“I just tried to approach him as a human being, in the sense that nobody wakes up in the morning and brushes their teeth and looks in the mirror and thinks ‘I’m evil. I’m going to do something evil today.’ He was in a business where violence was part of the job, it was the language that the people he associated with and people he opposed understood.”
After starring in Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” as John Dillinger, Bulger is the second real-life criminal he’s played. “To me John Dillinger was a Robin Hood. I spoke to his sister, who said he was the sweetest, funniest guy in the world. And with James Bulger it was a case of being true to the different sides to the guy – the ‘businessman,’ the family man, someone who was dedicated to his mother and brother, who was loyal to his neighborhood. He would take an old lady’s groceries into her house, then 10 minutes later he might be bashing someone’s skull in. He was a complex guy.”
He and Cooper decided it was important that he look as much like the very striking Bulger as “humanly possible,” Depp said. “My eyes are as black as the ace of spades. So I had blue contacts, which were hand-painted, because his eyes are piercing, they cut right into you.”
Having been captured after 16 years on the run, Bulger is currently serving two life sentences. Depp asked to meet with him, through Bulger’s attorney, but wasn’t surprised when he was refused. “He ‘regretfully declined.’ I don’t think he was a fan of the book ‘Black Mass,’ or any of the books written about him.”
But it turned out that Bulger’s attorney Jay Carney was very helpful in finding the character of his client. “He said, ‘I’m not going to tell you nuthin’ that Jimmy would not want me to say.’ But Jay came on set a couple of times and watched and gave me a lot of confidence, because he said he could feel his old friend. That was a very high compliment.”
That said, there seems no danger of Depp resting on his laurels any time soon. “I think satisfaction is a bad thing to feel,” he observed, “because then you get lame.”