VENICE (Reuters) - Johnny Depp says he did not have to dig deep to tap into his evil side for his portrayal of the Irish-American gangster James "Whitey" Bulger in the film "Black Mass", screened out of competition on Friday at the Venice Film Festival.
"I found the evil in myself a long time ago and I've accepted it and we're old friends," Depp said when asked how he had transformed himself from the whimsical Captain Jack Sparrow of "Pirates of the Caribbean" into the Boston gangster.
Bulger, 86, who was captured in California in 2011 after 16 years on the run, is serving two life terms in prison for ordering or committing 11 murders during the 1970s and 80s.
Depp, who lost Sparrow's shaggy mane and used blue contacts to disguise his dark eyes for the part, said that although Bulger had declined his request to him for his portrayal, he had worked on the assumption that the convict did not see himself as fundamentally bad.
"I think you just have to approach him just as a human being in a sense that nobody wakes up in the morning and shaves or brushes their teeth and looks in the mirror and thinks 'I am evil' or 'I'm going to do something evil today'," Depp told a news conference.
"I think within the context of his business ... not only was the violence just a part of the job, let's say, but it was also kind of a language that the people that he associated with and the people that he opposed ... understood."
"Black Mass" explores Bulger's reign as the boss of the Irish-American underworld and the close connections he forged with the FBI which used him as a paid informer in order to crack down on the rival Italian-American mafia, but at the same time turned a blind eye to his own criminal activities.
"Black Mass" is the second film to be shown in Venice that looks at shocking criminality taking place within the close-knit Roman Catholic communities of Boston.
The other is the docudrama "Spotlight" about a Boston Globe reporting team which exposed widespread sexual abuse of young people by pedophile priests and a cover-up by the Boston archdiocese.
Scott Cooper, the director of "Black Mass", said Boston was not special in this regard.
"Whether it's Naples, Italy or it's Detroit or it's Los Angeles or it's New York or it's Boston, crime and politics tend to interweave and lead to disastrous consequences," he told Reuters.
Depp's presence in Venice was greeted with perhaps the biggest fan excitement of the festival so far, with hundreds of people flocking to the Lido to see him from about 6 a.m.
Depp said he did not see his admirers as fans but rather as the people who finance his movies. "I thank my bosses outside," he said.
Editing by Robin Pomeroy