"Donnie Brasco" [is] based on a true story, that of FBI undercover agent Joseph D. Pistone, who spent years infiltrating New York's Bonnano crime family... Its hero, who never fires a gun except on the FBI firing range, was played by Johnny Depp (then best known for quirky, vulnerable man-child roles) and his mentor was played by Al Pacino (as a tired, rumpled mafioso, about a million miles from his Michael Corleone or Tony Montana).
As the film marks its 15th anniversary (it was released on February 28, 1997), here are true tales of what went on behind the scenes, including one star's impulsive wedding, and how the real Pistone braved a contract on his head to ensure that the movie portrayed accurately the mob world he uncovered.
1. In 1976, Pistone was chosen to go undercover as purported jewel thief Donnie Brasco because he spoke fluent Italian, was familiar with the mob (having grown up in Paterson, N.J.), and because he claimed the ability not to perspire under pressure. The undercover operation was supposed to last six months; it lasted almost six years.