Johnny Depp took questions at a rare public Q&A on Monday night at a screening of his Warner Bros. film “Black Mass” at the Toronto International Film Festival. The actor, who plays Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger in the movie, turned reflective for a moment when a fan asked him about the late director Wes Craven casting him in his breakthrough role in 1984’s “Nightmare on Elm Street.”
“Wes Craven was the guy who gave me my start, from my perspective, for almost no reason in particular,” Depp said of the horror-movie legend who died at 76 from brain cancer last month. “I read scenes with his daughter when I auditioned for the part. At the time, I was a musician. I wasn’t really acting. It was not anything very near to my brain or my heart, which is pretty much how it remains to this day.” The line got a big laugh.
“But Wes Craven was brave enough to give me the gig based on his daughter’s opinion,” Depp continued. “I guess she had read with a bunch of actors, and after the casting sessions, she said, ‘No, that’s the guy.’ I always think of her for putting me in this mess, and certainly Wes Craven for being very brave to give me this gig. But he was a good man — so rest in peace, old Wes.”
Speaking about what drew him to “Black Mass,” Depp explained that he didn’t think of Bulger as a villain. The ’80s-set film is directed by Scott Cooper and co-stars Joel Edgerton, Dakota Johnson, Benedict Cumberbatch and Peter Sarsgaard.
“For me, when we first sort of started taking this thing apart, the idea of approaching it as a genre film or a gangster film or something of that degree was really out of the question,” Depp said, projecting his words with a slight Irish/British accent. “The idea was to approach it as a human story. And no matter who is being good or bad, no one wakes up in the morning and shaves and brushes their teeth and says, ‘I am evil.’ This is a guy that grew up as a Catholic school kid, very much in touch with his Irish heritage and loyalties.”
Depp added, “Essentially, it was the story of a guy who came up the ranks in the only way he knew and what he became was not necessarily by choice. It was just the language of his people. I approached it very much like — this is a human being. And how does he arrive here?”
As the conversation wrapped, Depp leaned over the stage and signed a handful of autographs for fans, until a bodyguard carried him away.
“Black Mass” hits theaters on Sept. 18.