With Johnny Depp leaving “Black Mass,” odds are that the Whitey Bulger drama won’t make it to the big screen any time soon.
A rep for Cross Creek said that the production-financing company was seeking a replacement for Depp, who had come on board with Barry Levinson directing amid fanfare in February just before the start of the Berlin market.
The rep refused to answer questions as to when the production would start and how Depp’s departure would impact foreign sales. Exclusive Media, which is co-financing, had no comment, but several sources indicated that buyers could easily back out of territorial sales agreements made at the markets at Berlin and Cannes given the absence of the “essential element” of Depp.
Joel Edgerton remains attached to “Black Mass” as an FBI agent as does Levinson.
It’s uncertain why Depp fell out though speculation has risen it was triggered by a request for a reduction in his standard $20 million fee. His attachment to the project made it one of the most prominent titles for sale at Berlin and Cannes and his departure underlines the uncertainties in the world of independent financing — even for prominent players such as Cross Creek and Exclusive Media, which have teamed on high-profile projects including “The Ides of March,” “The Woman in Black” and a pair of upcoming titles — Ron Howard’s racing drama “Rush” and “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” starring Liam Neeson.
Efforts to make the film about the ruthless Boston gangster date back almost a decade with Jim Sheridan and Ben Affleck attached as directors at various points.
The project’s producers include Cross Creek’s Brian Oliver and Tyler Thompson along with John Lesher. Oliver announced at Berlin that he had been trying to make the Bulger movie since 2004.
The project is based on “Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob,” written by Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill.
Bulger, the head of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang, was captured in Santa Monica in 2011 after being on the lam for 16 years. Bulger fled authorities in Boston just before he was indicted in 1995 for federal racketeering. He’s currently in prison in Massachusetts, where he is awaiting trial on allegations that he participated in 19 murders.
Depp is currently filming Wally Pfister’s sci-fier “Transcendence” and is lined up for Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean 5,” which could begin shooting late this year with “Kon-Tiki” helmers Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg.
The absence of Depp doesn’t necessarily doom “Black Mass.” Natalie Portman’s indie Western “Jane Got a Gun” managed to get made despite the departures of director Lynne Ramsay just before shooting started along with stars Michael Fassbender, Jude Law and Bradley Cooper.
“Jane” was directed by Gavin O’Connor and stars Portman, Edgerton, Ewan McGregor, Noah Emmerich and Rodrigo Santoro. Exclusive Media has been selling foreign rights for “Jane”; a deal by CAA for U.S. rights with Relativity and The Weinstein Co. came together last week after footage was shown at Cannes.