See Johnny Depp as Boston Crime Boss James 'Whitey' Bulger in 'Black Mass' (PHOTO)

"He has the ability to turn it on without being a method actor," director Scott Cooper says of Depp's portrayal of the real-life crime boss

Photo: Warner Bros.

Next on the list of Johnny Depp‘s eccentric movie characters? One of the most infamous crime bosses in the history of South Boston.

PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly got an exclusive first look at the actor, 51, as the notorious violent criminal James “Whitey” Bulger in the upcoming gangster drama Black Mass, which hit theaters Sept. 18.

The Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales star appears almost unrecognizable with slicked-back hair and piercing eyes as he embodies the famed fugitive. And Depp’s performance has already ignited early Oscar buzz.

“Johnny was deep in character,” director Scott Cooper tells PEOPLE of Depp’s portrayal of the gangster. “He has the ability to turn it on without being a method actor. You can’t train for that.”

The crime drama centers on corruption, power and brotherly bond as it follows the story of the wanted organized-crime figure, who becomes an FBI informant to help take down a Mafia family.

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The Great Gatsby‘s Joel Edgerton plays FBI agent John Connolly Jr., while Oscar-nominated actor Benedict Cumberbatch takes on the role as Whitey’s brother Bill Bulger, a law abider and Massachusetts state senator, in the upcoming biopic.

The real-life Bulger, now 85, was found and arrested in the summer of 2011 in Santa Monica, California, after 16 years on the run from authorities. In November 2013, he was sentenced to life in prison for murder, extortion and other crimes.

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