By Natalie Woods
“Black Mass,” the real life story of one of America’s most wanted and dangerous gangsters, Whitey Bulger, hit theaters Sept. 18. What most people do not know is that the co-author of the book the movie is based on is a Stonehill alum.
Gerard O’Neill graduated from Stonehill in 1964 with degrees in English and History, both of which would be utilized for his work on the Bulger case. O’Neill, with Dick Lehr, co-wrote a trilogy of books based on the life and crimes of Bulger.
O’Neill received the very first Outstanding Alumnus Award from Stonehill in 1973 for his work in investigative journalism as head of the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Spotlight Team.
In an interview with The Summit in May 2014, O’Neill explained how he briefly met Depp and how eerily similar he looked to the real-life Bulger. He had “a shiny high forehead, hair swept back, prominent blue contact lenses and Whitey’s air of menace,” O’Neill reported.
James “Whitey” Bulger tormented South Boston for decades and is responsible for 19 known murders and dozens of other felonies. His brother, Billy, was a Massachusetts state senator.
At the time, the FBI received serious backlash for allegedly ignoring Bulger’s crimes in exchange for having him work as an informant to take down Bulger’s rival gang. O’Neill’s book and the movie focus not only on Whitey, but also on his brother Billy and the FBI.
Hayley Carlin, a senior who works at a movie theater and loves film, said she is excited Stonehill has ties to a potential blockbuster hit.
“I think that’s actually really cool and I’m definitely more interested in seeing it since as we go to Stonehill as well. Shows what we can accomplish in the future,” Carlin said.
Gabrielle Jaques, also a senior, is less excited about O’Neill’s ties to Stonehill.
“I mean, it piques my interest, but it doesn’t make me want to move heaven and earth to go see it. It’s a neat fact, but it doesn’t make me go crazy,” Jaques said.
Jaques is looking forward to seeing Depp’s performance.
“I have my complete faith in the man [Depp]. I saw the trailer and I didn’t even recognize him. He goes all out with whatever role he’s doing, that’s what makes him kind of scary as an actor.”
“It will be nice to see him play a not Jack Sparrow-esque character, not that I don’t love Jack Sparrow,” explains Jaques.
“I think this is a more serious role for him. Opposed to those more lighthearted, goofy movies. This isn’t goofy, or at least it shouldn’t be goofy, but he’s played not goofy things before, so I think it will be nice to see him get back into that and remind people that he actually is a serious actor,” Jaques said.
“Black Mass,” starring Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, Dakota Johnson and Kevin Bacon, is now in theaters.