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Johnny Depp on playing real-life gangster James (Whitey) Bulger in 'Black Mass'

Last Updated Sep 14, 2015 at 6:21 pm EDT

Actor Johnny Depp gestures during a press conference promoting the film "Black Mass" during the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Monday, September 14, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

TORONTO – Johnny Depp was shocked and heartbroken Monday to learn there is no Santa Claus.

At a Toronto International Film Festival press conference, Depp was asked about playing the gangster James (Whitey) Bulger in his new movie “Black Mass” and how it felt to portray a real person.

“You mean the Mad Hatter never existed?” Depp deadpanned with faux concern. “Or Willy Wonka? Are you going to tell me there’s no Santa Claus now?”

Depp eventually answered the question seriously and said he did his homework for the role, from researching the real-life Bulger’s crimes to making sure he had the right accent and the right look and mannerisms for the part.

“When you’re playing a fictional character … you can stretch it out into all kinds of strange places, which I’ve taken a lot of heat for,” Depp said with a laugh.

“But when you’re playing someone who existed or exists, there’s a tremendous kind of amount of responsibility, at least for me, no matter whether they’re deemed good or bad or whatever, you have a responsibility to that person.

“You also have a responsibility to history and truth to some degree, so that was very important going in.”

Depp said the makeup team took a cast of his face and built five or six different models in experimenting with how to transform the actor into a Bulger lookalike.

“Much to the chagrin of probably the producers and money people, it was a couple of hours in makeup every day,” Depp said.

Director Scott Cooper said he was a longtime fan of Depp’s work and was thrilled to witness him transform into Bulger.

“Johnny physically transforms for all of his parts and we knew that we would get this look right. But as a fan of Johnny Depp, as a fan of cinema, and certainly as the director of the film, the big transformation for me was a man who was very soulful and kind and gentle and very thoughtful — ‘Yes, you,'” Cooper said directly to Depp — “to see him transform into a man who was cold and cunning and chilling at times, some would say diabolical … was mesmerizing to watch.”

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