Dakota Johnson And The "Black Mass" Cast Talk Life On Set And Being Inspired By Johnny Depp
And we find out their teenage regrets and their biggest inspirations.
Black Mass — the true story about the life of mobster James "Whitey" Bulger, played by Johnny Depp — features one hella badass ensemble cast. We got the chance to sit down with some of the film's stars when Black Mass premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and learned about everything from regretful teen tattoos to an obsession with food magazines. Here's what went down.
Of all of the people you've worked with in your career thus far, who has been the most influential or had the greatest impact on you?
Dakota Johnson: Probably Johnny [Depp]. Yeah, for sure. I would say Johnny and Tilda Swinton.
Julianne Nicholson: I would say Johnny, and Meryl Streep.
Joel Edgerton: Wow. Maybe I would say, I think, Ridley Scott. In terms of someone I've watched over the years — his work from all his movies, I've learned so much and been inspired by. And on a personal level, my brother I think. Because we've worked together closely over the years.
Peter Sarsgaard: Sean Penn. [In] Dead Man Walking I played the boy who was murdered in that and they wanted me to be a ghost, so I had to come around to set every single day and I would learn his lines because occasionally they would put me into his scene and have me say his lines as, like, the murder victim, and they only did it a couple of times in the movie. But I watched him do take after take after take acting in that movie, and I feel like I learned a lot of what I know about acting from watching him.
Jesse Plemons: I was lucky enough to play Philip Seymour Hoffman's son in The Master, and aside from him, you know, obviously just watching Joaquin Phoenix and Paul Thomas Anderson. And [watching] Phil just find it and figure it out together was — it was unbelievable, it felt like a weird dream. So yeah, I would say Hoffman.
Rory Cochrane: I mean, for me, I work with a lot of great people. I don't really notice or watch what they're doing because I'm hopefully too busy trying to do something different. But I will say that, you know, this movie in particular, I felt very fortunate and beneficial to be a part of this thing because of the caliber of all of the actors. So it wasn't like, oh, this person's really great, this guy's not so great. It was, like, everybody. So it was a real pleasure to be on a set like that, and I learned in a different way, what it can be like on a movie set where everybody is bringing their A game.
Peter Sarsgaard: It is like one of the best ensemble performances that I've seen in a long time. That's the strength of this movie, is every single part, you know?
If you could go back and give your younger self advice, what would you say to your 16-year-old self now?
Julianne Nicholson: Everything's gonna be OK! I promise!
Dakota Johnson: Don't get tattoos. Don't get tattoos, you idiot! You stupid idiot breath.
Julianne Nicholson: Or if you do, get white ones.
Joel Edgerton: Oh, god. That's a good question. I don't know! It'd be weird. Because I wouldn't want to go back and be like, Hey! Everything's going to work out OK! Because then my 16-year-old self would find a way to fuck it up. I don't know. I think I'd give myself the advice just to like take each moment as it comes, and try and be as present as possible. Because I feel like I don't do that. I feel like I'm always living in what's coming next or dwelling on what I did last, rather than just actually being here right now.
What's your favorite thing to do during your downtime on set when you're not filming?
Joel Edgerton: Well, if there was surf anywhere nearby I'd go for a surf or a swim and hang out at the beach. But when I'm on set I use my downtime to write a lot; I get out my computer and do some writing. I write screenplays and try to write my next movie to direct if I can.
Dakota Johnson: Napping.
Julianne Nicholson: Reading food magazines. I'm a big fan of Food & Wine and Bon Appétit, but I'll look at any.
Did playing a real-life person create more pressure, and how did that affect you when preparing for this role?
Joel Edgerton: It does become a responsibility to play a real person because you're like, What is my responsibility to get it right, how accurate can I go? But you know, there's sort of a fool's mission in thinking that you are able to know a person perfectly, because I don't even know myself well enough — to presume that I know John, I think, is a bit naive. You know there's lots of stuff that you can cobble together; you're trying to get as close to the real person that you think you can get.
Dakota Johnson: Yeah, I think there is a certain amount of pressure that comes with playing a real person because you don't want to get it wrong, but there's no way to get it perfectly right — and you don't want to piss anyone off also.
Julianne Nicholson: I think telling a true story does change a little bit how you approach a character and the whole piece. My character in particular, John Connolly's first wife is Marianne Connolly, but the character that I play in the movie is a combination of a couple different wives of the FBI agent. So I didn't have one person that I was supposed to be representing so that felt a bit more freeing, and it was more the time and the place that I was trying to get right.
Peter Sarsgaard: I've been doing it since I started, literally, 20-something years ago. I've got three films coming out, you know this one and two others, where I play real-life people and I've learned that all of this stuff that I could read or learn or seeing what they look like is pretty meaningless in the end. That the best course is just find your given circumstances, act with your other actor, do it as you would do, maybe, you know, if you can find motivation to be more truthful and that helps you, then use that as motivation to be more truthful. But the truth is a common thing, the truth is something we all know.
Jesse Plemons: It definitely adds pressure, I think more so in the beginning. I've only done it a few times, but you slowly just realize that you can only do so much, you can only read so much, you can only ask so many questions. And then you just have to let it go and play, and react and act with a bunch of amazing actors.