Credit: Claire Folger

You aren’t the only one freaked out by this image of Johnny Depp. When the actor stepped onto the set of the biopic of notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, the resemblance spooked, well, sorta everyone. “A lot of our crew were from South Boston and many of them knew Whitey,” says director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart). “They said it was like a ghost coming back.”

More like a monster. Bulger was an unpredictable and cunning criminal who rose up to run the city’s underworld, thanks in part to his dual role as an FBI informant. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences plus five years in 2013 for his involvement in 19 murders.

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Bulger, now 85 and still in prison, declined to meet with Cooper and Depp, so the director and his star built the character by sifting through FBI surveillance tapes and photographs and by interviewing Bulger’s family and colleagues.“They always talked about the way he moved, the way he held his head and arms,” Cooper says. “He was always very still. Johnny and I talked about that a lot — Whitey’s ability to strike when people were least expecting it.”

For his part, Depp, 52, stayed in character throughout filming. “Johnny is already a mysterious character,” says Joel Edgerton, 41, who plays John Connolly, the FBI agent whose life and career become entangled with Bulger’s. “He has a certain rock-star aura about him. I’d see him roll up to work in the morning and walk to makeup, and then I’d spend all my time with what felt like a different person. You sort of forget what he really looks like.” He laughs. “By the end of filming I’d spent more time with Whitey Bulger than I’d spent with Johnny.”

To continue reading EW’s Fall Movie coverage, and to see more exclusive photos, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Friday, or buy it here.

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Black Mass
  • Movie
  • 122 minutes