Benedict Cumberbatch Will Play Billy Bulger in Whitey Bulger Movie Black Mass

The British actor replaced Guy Pearce for the role as Whitey's law-abiding brother—and it's probably going to be weird.

The Whitey Bulger biopic Black Mass has reportedly made some changes to its casting. Australian actor Guy Pearce dropped the role of the mob boss’s brother, Billy Bulger, and was replaced by…Benedict Cumberbatch. And then the whole world was like, “Whaaat?”

The British actor, best known for his role as Sherlock Holmes on BBC’s popular TV series Sherlock, has signed onto the Whitey Bulger film along with several other notable actors: Adam Scott (of Parks and Rec fame), Dakota Johnson (the new star of the Fifty Shades of Grey film adaptation), Jesse Plemons (Breaking Bad), and Juno Temple (The Dark Knight Rises).

The cast list for Black Mass is as follows:

• Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger
• Benedict Cumberbatch as Whitey’s brother Billy Bulger
• Jesse Plemons as Whitey’s longtime partner in crime, Kevin Weeks
• Sienna Miller as Whitey’s lover, Catherine Greig
• Dakota Johnson as Lindsey Cyr, Whitey’s former girlfriend and mother of his only child
• Rory Cochrane as Steve Flemmi, a member of the Winter Hill Gang
• Julianne Nicholson as John Connolly’s wife, Marianne
• Adam Scott as FBI Agent Robert Fitzpatrick

Casting Cumberbatch is a weird decision in particular. He’s the last person audiences would envision as the brother of the biggest mobster in American history. That lovely face of his just screams English charm in ways that only Cumberbitches can thoroughly understand, but with that comes this thought: he’s too high-brow. There is no rough-and-tough in him. The feeling is similar to when Seth Rogen was cast in The Green Hornet, and people thought, “What’s going on here? What’s that guy doing in this?”

On the other hand, maybe this unpredictable addition to the cast is something Black Mass needed. We were concerned about Depp’s casting initially, but since seeing photos of Depp on set as Whitey, it’s possible we had it all wrong. Let’s also keep in mind the new actors recently tied to the movie: the funny and dry-witted Adam Scott, the indie hippie Juno Temple, and the soon-to-be sex symbol Dakota Johnson. When put together, again we respond, “Huh?” Or the combination could be brilliant.

Maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Maybe—just maybe—casting directors know what they’re doing.


POLL: Is Benedict Cumberbatch a good fit to play Billy Bulger?

Update, 5/22/2014, 2:55 p.m.: Added full cast list for Black Mass.