Black Mass isn't your regular period piece. Instead of romantic, living portraits of kings and queens, the film follows Boston gangsters, most notably Whitey Bulger, the notorious leader of the Winter Hill Gang. Black Mass focuses on the '70s, when Bulger became an F.B.I. informant, working closely with John Connolly, his F.B.I. handler. As with any period piece/biopic, the film features detailed costume and makeup work to set the scene, in order to make the Black Mass stars compared to the real people as accurate as possible.
Case in point: Johnny Depp's intense transformation as Whitey Bulger. To get Bulger's distinct look, Depp spent three hours in the makeup chair with his longtime makeup artist, Joel Harlow. Depp and Harlow have worked together on over a dozen films, and when they decided to work together again, Harlow told Boston Magazine that "[Depp] changes his appearance drastically when he dives into a role. I knew he was going to want some kind of transformation." The actor's physical changes required prosthetics to alter his facial features, a thinning hairline and icy blue contact lenses.
Depp wasn't the only one to disappear into his role for Black Mass, though, as co-stars Dakota Johnson, Joel Edgerton and Jesse Plemons all had to change their looks for the film. Here's how the actors in Black Mass measure up to their real-life counterparts.
Johnny Depp As Whitey Bulger
Johnny Depp's physical transformation to play Bulger has been the talk of the town, with many describing his resemblance to the gangster in the film as scary. "A lot of our crew were from South Boston and many of them knew Whitey. They said it was like a ghost coming back," director Scott Cooper told EW.
Joel Edgerton As John Connolly
Edgerton has been receiving rave reviews for his performance as F.B.I. agent John Connolly, who allied with Bulger in an effort to rid Boston of the Italian Mafia. Connolly is believed to have helped Bugler escape F.B.I. prosecution and arrest in the '90s, and, in Bulger's absence, Connolly was convicted of leaking information to the gangster that led to a a man's murder in 1982. He is currently serving a 40-year prison sentence in Florida. In 1998, following Bulger's disappearance, Connolly appeared in an interview with WGBH News to defend himself against charges that he allowed Bulger to commit crimes under his watch.
Benedict Cumberbatch As Billy Bulger
Benedict Cumberbatch continues to take over the world with his role in Black Mass , playing Bulger's successful politician brother, William 'Billy' Bulger. William Bulger served as Senate President and worked as the President of the University of Massachusetts. Though William Bulger has denied any knowledge of his brother's extensive crimes, he has also stood by his brother throughout Bulger's eventual capture (in 2011), trial, and conviction in 2013. When asked about Black Mass, William Bulger said he'd be curious to see the film, and, though he was unaware of Cumberbatch's resume, gave the casting his approval. "It's great," he told the Boston Herald.
Jesse Plemons As Kevin Weeks
Plemons takes on the role of Kevin Weeks, known as one of Bulger's closest associates in Boston. After Bulger went on the run to escape prosecution, Weeks took over his illegal operation in Boston before his eventual arrest in 1999. After learning that Bulger had been an F.B.I. informant, Weeks turned on his old boss and acted as a government witness against Bulger. In the end, Weeks spent just over five years in prison after pleading guilty to helping Bulger commit five murders. He later wrote a memoir titled Brutal: The Untold Story of My Life Inside Whitey Bulger's Irish Mob, and spoke about it in an interview with WGBH News.
Corey Stoll As Fred Wyshak
Corey Stoll plays Fred Wyshak, a Boston prosecutor who began investigating Bulger in the early '90s. Wyshak eventually got Bulger indicted on 19 counts of murder in 1995, when Bulger escaped, and is now an assistant U.S. Attorney in Boston.
Whatever behind-the-scenes magic was worked on the actors to make them look this close to the real players in Bulger's Boston saga, I think we can all agree on one thing: we regular folks will never look as good as the actors who play us in the movies.
Images: Warner Bros. (6); WGBH (2)