Bostonians: Success Of Whitey Bulger Movie Hangs On The Accent

Aug 31, 2014
Originally published on August 31, 2014 6:45 pm

Boston has become the set for a new film about mobster Whitey Bulger. Locals believe getting the Boston accent right will make or break the movie.

(This piece originally aired on Morning Edition on Wed., Aug. 27)

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The movie "Captain Phillips," which features Tom Hanks in the title role besieged by Somali pirates, was nominated for a ton of awards. There was less critical acclaim for Tom Hanks' Boston accent in the film, which brings us to a new movie about mobster Whitey Bulger. It's been filming in and around Boston for months with a list of high-profile actors, including Johnny Depp, all trying to get that accent just right. And as Anne Mostue of member station WGBH reports in this encore, Bostonians say this could make or break the movie.

ANNE MOSTUE, BYLINE: There are plenty of films about the Boston mob.


LEONARDO DICAPRIO: (As Billy) Put the gun - put the gun down, alright? I came here to talk some sense into you.

JACK NICHOLSON: (As Frank Costello) You didn't come here to talk, alright? You came here to get arrested.

MOSTUE: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson worked with Hollywood dialect coach Tim Monich to nail that south Boston accent in "The Departed."


NICHOLSON: (As Frank Costello) Do you know John Lennon?

DICAPRIO: (As Billy) Yeah, sure. He's the president before Lincoln.

MOSTUE: And from "The Fighter" about Lowell, Massachusetts boxer Micky Ward, who could forget the infamous pack of sisters?


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: Get your hands off my sister.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #2: Charlene - you skank.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #3: Gail, oh my god, what'd you do to your nose?

MOSTUE: It probably helped that one of those sisters, actress Erica McDermott, hails from Cambridge. Then there are the not-so-good accents. Ask Boston residents who fails, and they mentioned Diane Lane in "A Perfect Storm."


DIANE LANE: (As Christina Cotter) Remember, I'll always love you, Christina. I love you now, and I'll love you forever. There's no goodbye.

MOSTUE: Or Julianne Moore on "30 Rock."


JULIANNE MOORE: (As Nancy Donovan) That house is never going to sell. I'm going to take it off the market and see what happens in a year or so.

ALEC BALDWIN: (As Jack Donaghy) Well, what about your plans? The condo - the store for pale teens.

MOORE: (As Nancy Donovan) I can't run a store and make change for people.

JOE STAPLETON: I'll tell you, the Boston accent is tough. I think it's a very tough accent to do.

MOSTUE: Joe Stapleton has been an actor and a dialect coach in Boston for more than 20 years.

STAPLETON: Couple things you have to keep in mind - you're in a rush. (Using Boston accent) Hi, how are you? How's everything going? How you doing? And you don't move your lips a lot.

MOSTUE: Directors drill actors over and over again. Boston native and casting director Angela Peri says they sometimes use her voice as an example.

ANGELA PERI: Like, they'll have me read pages of the script and then send it off to the lead actor and he'll listen to the accent.

MOSTUE: When an actor is a lost cause, Peri goes to the streets. She cast the movies "American Hustle," "Ted" and "The Fighter."

PERI: Boston is great because we have so many characters, like the sisters. I went everywhere. We saw over 500 girls to pull those sisters together.

MOSTUE: But the locals are also tough critics. They're listening closely to the accent.

BRENDAN LYNCH: I definitely think it matters. You know, depending on the movie, a bad one could just kind of take you out of the movie and just ruin it, basically.

MOSTUE: Brendan Lynch grew up not far from Whitey Bulger. He says he's eager to see the mobster portrayed on screen. And he enjoys the variations in accents.

LYNCH: I don't think Alec Baldwin did the best job in the world in "The Departed," but I thought he did a really good job in the role. So I don't think it necessarily hurt. But no, I don't get offended. It's just - you know, they're trying.

MOSTUE: Trying, even if the roles have become a bit of a cinema stereotype. But it's business for coaches like Joe Stapleton. He starts every actor with the same lesson.

STAPLETON: (Using Boston accent) Moving, talking, looking, walking. And those are the couple of things you can kind of keep - you know, when you're first starting out. And the first one you probably want to master is (using Boston accent) hi, how are you?

MOSTUE: (Using Boston accent) Hi, how are you? Try it for yourself. For NPR News, I'm Boston native Anne Mostue. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.