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Bulger film has big-time backing

BULGER BULGER
By Mark Shanahan & Paysha Rhone
January 15, 2009
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A-list Irish filmmaker Jim Sheridan says the appeal of the Whitey Bulger saga is obvious.

"This is a story of a corrupt system and about how an angry guy became the second most wanted man after Bin Laden," the celebrated director said in an email last night.

Sheridan, the director of such Oscar nominated films as "In the Name of the Father" and "My Left Foot," is headed to the Hub soon to make a movie based on "Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob," the best-selling book by former Globe reporter Dick Lehr and editor Gerard O'Neill.

Sheridan has finished the script with writing partner Nye Heron and, with any luck, will begin shooting in South Boston this spring.

"We're on cloud nine," said Lehr, now a journalism professor at BU. "To hear that Jim Sheridan's going to direct - we couldn't be in better hands."

Sheridan could not be reached yesterday, but did email a statement late last night: "This is a story of a corrupt system and about how an angry guy became the second most wanted man after Bin Laden."

The first - and still best - book about Whitey Bulger, "Black Mass" has been optioned several times since it was published in 2000, but the project only gained momentum after Sheridan got involved. The celebrated director was familiar with the story, and excited by the prospect of shooting it in Boston.

"Jim's films are always genuine, with characters who are multifaceted and believable," said Brian Oliver of Arthaus Pictures, one of the producers. "His movies are steeped in Irish culture, history, and politics, and 'Black Mass' and Boston fit nicely into that mold."

It's no secret that Sheridan is BFF with actor Daniel Day-Lewis, and it's possible, if not likely, that the two-time Academy Award winner will be considered for the role of Whitey. And who might play former FBI agent and convicted murderer John Connolly? It's too soon to say, but it's worth mentioning that Matt Damon, who knows a thing or two about the Bulger back story, has been approached about the plum role. (We know he's at least interested because Damon and Ben Affleck were among the first to option "Black Mass.") Billy Bulger also figures prominently in the book, and we're told Mark Wahlberg will be in the mix to play the former Senate President.

Interest in the Bulger saga remains high. Not only was it the inspiration for Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning film, "The Departed," but a biopic of Bulger's notorious triggerman John Martorano is in development, and Spike TV just shot a pilot loosely based on the story. Bulger, of course, has been on the lam for 14 years, bolting on Jan. 5, 1995. Once in bed with the Winter Hill crime boss, the feds are now offering $2 million for his capture.

Coproducer Michael Cerenzie told us yesterday that the relationship between the wiseguy and the government is what appeals to Sheridan.

"He looks at this as an anti-'Godfather' theme. It's not about betrayal, but an Irish code," said Cerenzie. "To this day, none the three - Whitey, Billy, or Connolly - have betrayed each other. That's really attractive to him."

Cerenzie added that Sheridan feels strongly about shooting the film in South Boston. "Jim thinks South Boston is a definitive character in the fabric of the film," he said.

"Jim Sheridan knows these characters and he knows the milieu," said "Black Mass" co-author O'Neill, reached yesterday on vacation in Aruba. " 'In the Name of the Father' explored some of the characters - down and out Irish characters - and a Belfast setting isn't so far removed from a South Boston project upbringing."

We're told Sheridan will be in Boston soon to do an extensive scout, with shooting expected to begin in April and continue for three months.

Into the Fray

The gents from the Denver band the Fray played the Colonnade Hotel for a small group of Mix 98.5 fans yesterday, before taking the stage at the Wilbur. Singer and pianist Isaac Slade (above center) said the band, which has a new album coming out Feb. 3, really likes our fair city. "We have good friends who live here. I asked my wife if she wanted to come [on the tour] and she asked 'Are you going to Boston?' "

On the job

Think there aren't any jobs in Boston? Think again. "Good Morning America" correspondent Tory Johnson broadcast live from a job fair she organized at the Sheraton hotel downtown yesterday, with the express purpose of proving economic doomsayers wrong. "To those who want to believe the headlines, jobs do exist," said the reporter and career coach. "You just have to work really hard to find them." Johnson, who was joined by GMA economic reporter Bianna Golodryga, recruited 73 employers to set up shop in the hotel. "To fill that ballroom, I got hundreds and hundreds of no's," she admitted. But the employers who showed, from the fields of government, healthcare, retail, technology, insurance, and even financial services, had real jobs to fill, she said. "I grilled them myself." The several thousand job seekers who attended the fair also received resume critiques and career coaching.

Chefs have heart
Notable chefs Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger and husband and wife team Christopher Myers and Joanne Chang, of Myers + Chang, helped unveil 10 new 2009 Sweethearts Conversation Hearts at the New England Confectionary Company in Revere yesterday. New sayings include: "Recipe 4 Love" and "Spice It Up."

Dyett to meet with 'BZ
Supporters of laid-off WBZ-AM host Lovell Dyett are still pushing for his reinstatement, and they may have a glimmer of hope. Dyett is meeting with station management today to discuss returning to the airwaves, a source close to the negotiations said. Dyett could not be reached for comment, and the station's general manager, Ted Jordan, said he can't comment on the matter. Since Dyett was let go in early January - along with talk hosts Steve LeVeille and Pat Desmarais, and sports reporter Tom Cuddy - upset listeners have petitioned WBZ, attempted to jam phone lines with complaints, and threatened to boycott advertisers and picket the station. Fans of LeVeille have launched similar efforts, through websites such as www.bringbacksteve.com. Jordan refused to address the backlash, but admitted, "We've laid off a lot more than that in the past year." Between his two stations, WBZ and WODS-FM, there have been 20 people let go, he said. "Our biggest advertisers have been autos, banks, airlines. . . . It's been a very difficult year." As to whether more cuts are coming, Jordan said, "Gosh, I hope not. I can't imagine there would be more."
Margo has new site
Margo Howard is on the move again. Howard's advice column "Dear Margo" is moving from Yahoo!, where it receives 1 million unique hits each week, to wowOwow.com. Howard, who lives in Cambridge, is the daughter of "Eppie" Lederer, a.k.a. Ann Landers.

Affleck approves
The Sox signing of John Smoltz has a stamp of approval from Ben Affleck. The actor was asked about the deal by a Yankee-loving paparazzo from TMZ.com. "I like it," Affleck said. Told the Yanks had signed pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, and big bat Mark Teixeira, Ben just grinned. "Yeah, maybe you'll be closer this year."

Joe Perry battling infection
Aerosmith has canceled its Feb. 1 concert in Venezuela because Joe Perry (right) is battling a serious infection in his knee. According to a source close to Perry, the guitarist had surgery on the knee at a Boston hospital last Friday, and has not yet been released. Doctors believe the infection stems from knee-replacement surgery Perry underwent 10 months ago. It's expected that Steven Tyler's Toxic Twin could need an IV and antibiotics for up to eight weeks. Media outlets in Caracas, where Aerosmith was supposed to play the Solid Fest, are erroneously reporting that Perry broke his knee in an accident Monday.

Pats pass on Brady gossip
We had to laugh after reading Patriots.com - which linked to the recent People story that reported QB Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen are indeed engaged. So, is this an official confirmation? Pats spokesman Stacey James says no. "They're independent of the PR department, that's for sure," he said of the website. "They'll argue that fans are interested in it, and they'll want an update." James says the site's "News Blitz" folks don't do original reporting. "If anything, Tom's website would have it first, and they would link to that." By the way, James also said he'd be happy to announce the engagement if Brady asked him to, but so far, that request hasn't happened. Meanwhile, Brady ignored gossip reporters with TMZ once again this week at New York's JFK airport, as he swapped digits with fellow University of Michigan alum Jalen Rose inside the terminal. A waiting Port Authority van then reportedly shuttled Brady from his incoming commercial flight to a private plane.

Names can be reached at names@globe.com or at 617-929-8253.

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