Johnny Depp and “Black Mass” director Scott Cooper sat down for a Q&A at AFI Fest, sponsored by Vizio and in partnership with Variety, Sunday night at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. Variety‘s deputy awards and features editor Jenelle Riley moderated the conversation.
The actor and director discussed the process of creating “Black Mass,” their first collaboration. The film explores the life of notorious mobster James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp), detailing how he came to power in Boston with the help of FBI agent John Connolly (played by Joel Edgerton). The cast includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, Dakota Johnson, Julianne Nicholson and Kevin Bacon.
Before the Q&A began, a scene from “Black Mass” was shown where Bulger surprised Marianne Connolly (Julianne Nicholson) in her bedroom. The actor and director detailed the process that went into these shots – both Depp and Cooper expressed satisfaction in the process.
“[Cooper] is so in touch with the emotion of the piece and so in touch with the crew to turn the camera not into some sort of piece of machinery that captures something, but to make the camera a living, breathing member of the audience to some degree,” Depp said.
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Depp was pleased that Cooper didn’t cut the scene while he improvised lines, describing Cooper as a trusting and brave director. Cooper not only trusts the actors to ad lib, but also finds that rehearsals sometimes hinder performance, he said. “It never seems to be as organic as you want,” Cooper said. The director said this particular scene had very little stage direction in the script.
“Scott provided us with a very creative and collaborative outlet,” Depp said. “It was an absolute pleasure finding the character and giving everything I could to the character. Having that man by my side, at the steering wheel, was very freeing.”
While “Black Mass” is just Cooper’s third film, he also has experience in front of the camera. But Cooper said he will likely stick to behind-the-scenes work after working with such a cast on “Black Mass.” “It becomes very apparent that there’s a difference between being the slightest amount talented and [being] gifted like they are.”
While the conversation centered around “Black Mass,” Depp and Cooper also discussed their personal lives, eliciting occasional laughs from the audience. Depp recalled that he used to draw on his characters while playing with his daughter. “I would kind of ruminate upon characters to incorporate them into the Barbie-playing,” Depp said.
The event was free to the public and Depp stayed to sign autographs and take photos with fans.
AFI Fest presented by Audi runs through Nov. 12 in Hollywood.