For quite some time Johnny Depp was attached to star in the biopic Black Mass as Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, who is currently on trial for his role in 19 murders. But it was suddenly announced on May 30 that he was out after a pay dispute. Or is he? That seems to depend on whom you ask.
The Hollywood Reporter has taken an in-depth look at Depp’s exit (or non-exit). When international interest in the film was soft, financiers Cross Creek and Exclusive Media asked Depp to reduce his salary to $10 million — half of his original $20 million price tag. The story was initially reported that Depp balked at these terms and then walked. It was surprising news because it is rare for financiers to ask any talent — particularly those of Depp’s magnitude — to renegotiate their deals after the agreements have been made, especially since Depp was to begin shooting the movie on August 26.
However, a “Cross Creek source” says that the film’s budget amounted to $63 million, way above Depp and director Barry Levinson‘s agreement to keep the film under $50 million. As a result, Cross Creek asked the more expensive talent to reduce their salary in order to get the film made. Another source claims that despite the hubbub there is “a 95 percent chance” Depp will end up doing the film at a salary of around $15 million.
If Depp isn’t brought back that will cause problems with the international markets which already bought in on a movie that was branded as a gangster movie starring Johnny Depp. The Hollywood Reporter suggests that Levinson might end up directing his Rain Man star Tom Cruise in the role instead — and if that’s the case it has to happen quickly, because Levinson himself is on a strict timeline (he is set to shoot The Cursed Piano in China in February 2014). But that would only solve a few of the problems.
Depp himself is entering one of his busy periods — he’s currently filming Transcendence, the directorial debut of Christopher Nolan’s regular cinematographer Wally Pfister, and will star in the film adaptation of the musical Into the Woods. Disney is also currently working on making a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean ready for a July 2015 release date. In other words, if Cross Creek doesn’t get Depp now they’ll never get him — and they’ll likely face a flurry of lawsuits.