The Whitey Bulger biopic “Black Mass” ascended Ashmont Hill last week for a three-day encampment that turned two Roslin Street homes – and much of the surrounding neighborhood – into a South Boston side street circa 1970.
Among the stars spotted on the set last Thursday and Friday were Johnny Depp, who portrays the notorious gangster and FBI informant, and Benedict Cumberbatch, the British heartthrob who plays Whitey’s politician brother Bill.
The filming last week marked the third time in five years that Hollywood has come a-knocking on the doors of Ashmont Hill, one of several Dorchester sections noted for its mix of majestic and modest homes and leafy side streets.
“I think the appeal of the neighborhood is that there is such variety,” says Vicki Rugo, who leads the Ashmont Hill Association, a civic group that meets monthly. “You have a huge 1870s Victorian with big interiors right across the street from a smaller Colonial with a 1960s kitchen that’s still intact.”
Ed Flynn, who owns one of the two Roslin Street houses used to shoot interior scenes last week, says he happened to be home last spring when a location scout knocked on the door of his Colonial. When the scout got one look at Flynn’s kitchen— which has the original Magic Chef stove that Ed and his family have used for the last 55 years— they locked him down right away.
“They were thrilled, because we still have the old wallpaper,” said Flynn, an 83-year-old retired state worker. “They said, ‘We won’t have to do anything at all.’ ”
Flynn says the kitchen was used to film a scene in which Cumberbatch, playing Bill Bulger, takes a phone call from his fugitive brother at the home of a trusted aide, Eddie Phillips. “The scene is a short one in my kitchen. Supposedly Billy comes to Eddie’s house to take a call from Whitey on the lam,” said Flynn. “They took out anything that looked modern – like the Keurig machine— and put in an old clock radio.”
Across the street at a neighbor’s house, the period re-creation was far more elaborate. The Victorian home was meant to be the home of Bill Bulger for a scene in which the Bulger brothers and associates cross paths at a Christmas party. To set the scene outside, the production team killed the summer lawn with vinegar, laid down layers of cotton to look like snow, and ripped out trees and hedges that were in bloom. Neighbors who got a look inside spotted stockings over the fireplace and a Christmas tree, along with period magazines and vintage cars parked outside.
The scope of the film’s presence on the street went far beyond the two principal properties. Producers went so far as to replace the modern street lamps along Roslin Street with old sodium bulbs that would have been used in the 1970s. “Last Wednesday night I looked out window and saw the sodium vapor lights on with not a car on the street, not a thing moving,” recalled Rugo. “It was the creepiest looking thing.”
Several homes on Roslin Street were used to house “green rooms” for actors, although Johnny Depp had his own trailer parked on the street for extra privacy.
A crowd of about 50 people strained for a view of Depp, Cumberbatch and other actors dressed in 70s garb. One image shared with the Reporter shows Depp exiting one of the the homes smoking a cigarette and surrounded by members of the film crew.
Ed Flynn never got close to Depp, who was hustled to and from the shoots and his trailer. “I wouldn’t know Johnny Depp if he walked in the door right now,” said Flynn. “But all the ladies like him.”
Rugo said that the neighborhood was well informed about the parking restrictions and other inconveniences associated with the three-day encampment. The mayor’s office assisted by connecting the production team with Rugo, who helped get the word out about the event through the association’s email list. “I have to say that the production people did a really good job of communicating early on about what was going on,” said Rugo. “They went out of their way to keep us informed and that makes a big difference.”
Rugo noted that two other movies have been filmed in and around Ashmont Hill homes in recent years: Mel Gibson’s 2010 film “Edge of Darkness” used a home on Ocean Street for a key scene. And the less-successful 2012 Kevin James movie “Here Comes the Boom” was also filmed nearby.