James Whitey Bulger’s time as a mob boss, criminal mastermind and fugitive from the law contained all sorts of misdirections and bizarre 180s; so, it only makes sense his biopic, Black Mass, would bring some weirdness with it too. With production already under way, Benedict Cumberbatch has reportedly been tapped to play the role of Billy Bulger, the notorious mobster’s politician brother.
That means original actor Guy Pearce must be out, though exactly why is unclear. The Boston Globe made no mention of a reason when it dropped the casting news this afternoon. Hopefully Peace is physically fine and just decided to work on another project. From Cumberbatch’s perspective, however, the choice to fill in at the last minute seems like a no-brainer considering how fascinating the character is and the natural appeal of playing alongside Johnny Depp, who long ago accepted the role of Whitey.
Whitey Bulger might be the name most people outside of Massachusetts know, but within Boston, Billy is every bit as famous as his outlaw brother. He was the President of the Massachussets Senate for almost two decades and President of the University of Massachusetts for a further 7 years. A democrat with high approval ratings, especially in South Boston, he was eventually forced to resign in 2003 after he admitted he didn’t inform law enforcement officials that he’d been in contact with his brother. To this day, he maintains he didn’t know the extent of his brother’s crimes, but even many of his biggest supporters aren’t necessarily willing to back his account there. Not that they blame him, of course. People in Boston have been looking out for their family members for three centuries.
Benedict Cumberbatch is a great actor. You would have to look far and wide to find a single person that would disagree with that statement, but as to whether or not he’s better as a conventional lead or in gritty supporting roles, the jury is still very much out. In just the past few years, we’ve seen leads in The Fifth Estate, Sherlock and Parade’s End and key supporting roles in 12 Years A Slave, Star Trek Into Darkness and The Hobbit. At this point, it seems like Black Mass will fall into the supporting character category, though it should still be a very meaty role.
In addition to Benedict Cumberbatch, Adam Scott has also joined Black Mass. That news came this afternoon from The Hollywood Reporter. He will be playing a key FBI agent, which should serve as a nice departure from the typical comedic roles he’s made his career playing.
Black Mass is currently shooting on location in Boston. It’s being directed by Scott Cooper, who is probably best known for his Jeff Bridges led film Crazy Heart.