Warner Bros.
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September 24, 2015 09:00 AM

One of James “Whitey” Bulger’s former associates tells PEOPLE he had difficulty getting through Black Mass, the new biopic about the notorious Boston mobster currently serving two life sentences for conspiracy, racketeering, extortion and the murders of 11 people.

It wasn’t until his third visit to the theater that Eric Schneider, a onetime drug and guns dealer who has spent the last 20-plus years in the witness protection program, was able to make it to the Johnny Depp film’s closing credits.

“The first time I went, I didn’t last 10 minutes,” Schneider tells PEOPLE. “I wasn’t prepared for it, and I broke down. The second time, I got through the first hour – to where I started getting involved with him. It was too much. The third time I went, I watched the entire movie.”

Schneider, who had been skeptical about Depp’s casting, admits now he was ultimately impressed by the actor’s work.

“No one could really play Whitey, but Johnny Depp did a spectacular job, and captured a lot of his mannerisms,” Schneider says. “In particular, Whitey was this guy who could be jovial and laughing with you one second, and then, like flipping a switch, he’d lose it. You might say one word, not knowing it was wrong, and it would just set him off.”

Schneider continues: “There were times I’d make a harmless comment and start to wonder if I’d be walking out of that room.”

Whitey Bulger's mugshot from 2011
U.S. Marshals Service/AP

Schneider: “God Forbid You Called Him ‘Whitey'”

At 24, five years after first meeting Bulger in Boston, Schneider – who claims the sexual abuse he suffered as a child led him down the wrong road – was collared for participating in a string of armed robberies. He agreed to work with the prosecution to convict his co-defendants in the holdups, but refused to turn on Bulger, even under intense interrogation.

“Soon after I met him, I remember someone called him ‘Whitey,'” Schneider recalls. “God forbid you called him ‘Whitey’ – he hated that. You either called him ‘Jim’ or ‘Jimmy,’ but never ‘Whitey.'”

Schneider says he suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his years in New England as one of Bulger’s henchmen. Nine months ago, he says the stress led to a “mental fracture,” and he has no recollection of eight weeks of his life.

During his alleged two-month blackout, Schneider allegedly returned to his old ways, holding up a bank in Denver, Colorado, last Christmas Eve.

He says he has also attempted suicide a handful of times because of the trauma he suffered as a child, and he admits to going to rehab “dozens” of times for drug and alcohol abuse.

Before it was a movie, Black Mass was a book. While Schneider believes the book was more accurate – “Hollywood does what Hollywood does,” he quips to PEOPLE – Schneider applauded Depp for his physical portrayal of Bulger.

“Johnny did a pretty damn good job capturing this man and what he was capable of,” Schneider says, recalling how the mobster’s eye color “would change” whenever he was infuriated.

“Physically, Whitey’s appearance would sort of change, too,” says Schneider. “He’d become this monster, and Johnny was able to convey that.”

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