Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp REUTERS

The notorious Boston criminal Whitey Bulger will be the subject of a biopic called “Black Mass.” Johnny Depp has signed on to play Bulger in the film, which will be based on the book by Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerland O’Neil.

The gangster thriller will be directed by Barry Levinson, the filmmaker behind “The Natural,” “Good Morning Vietnam,” “Rain Man,” and dozens of other critical and commercial hits. The movie is scheduled to begin filming in May, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Depp’s role is a departure from his “Pirates of the Carribbean” films and his coming portrayal of Tonto in “The Lone Ranger,” but fans will remember his depiction of Depression gangster John Dillinger in 2009’s “Public Enemies.”

Bulger, 83, is currently awaiting trial for 19 counts of murder along with charges of drug-dealing, extortion, money-laundering and conspiracy, all allegations he denies. After rising to the top of South Boston’s mob scene decades ago Bulger turned FBI informant in 1975, then again in 1994.

Part of the reason Bulger’s story has gripped Boston for so long is his connections in the Massachusetts State’s Attorney Office. He claimed he was given immunity by the prosecutors but, apparently after a tip from his FBI handler, went into hiding until he was arrested again in 2011.

“I could not be more thrilled to have the biggest star in the world and Academy Award-winning director Barry Levinson to finally bring this incredible story to the big screen," Cross Creek president Brian Oliver said in a statement. "'Black Mass' expertly details the twists and turns of this highly complex story, painting a vivid portrait of Boston's underbelly and its corrupt political machine, as well as exposing the worst scandal in FBI history."

“Black Mass” won’t be the first time the notorious gangster was depicted on the silver screen, though, as Jack Nicholson admitted he used Bulger as an inspiration for his role as Frank Costello in the Oscar- winning movie “The Departed.”