When Johnny Depp signed on to star in 2018’s Harry Potter spin-off, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, The Sun published a reaction piece with the headline Gone Potty: How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film? Outraged by the accusations of spousal abuse, Johnny Depp sued the newspaper for libel. And, on Monday, he lost.
The verdict was received exactly as you’d expect. Domestic-violence charities welcomed the decision. Depp’s loyal army of fans called for the judge to be fired and kept #JusticeForJohnnyDepp trending on Twitter. And you suspect that the Fantastic Beasts producers—the third installment of the franchise is currently halfway through production—may well have entirely lost the will to live.
Because you’ll remember that the trial, held this summer in London’s High Court, was an astonishingly ugly affair. A knockdown, drag-out fight between two participants who, for a time, were trapped in a terminally toxic marriage. Over the course of 16 grueling days, Depp’s ex-wife Amber Heard listed account after account of the physical abuse she allegedly suffered, while Depp accused her of the same—plus claims that Heard had defecated in his bed for good measure—in return. Photos showing bruises were analyzed; graffiti written in blood was deciphered. The phrase “disco bloodbath” was repeated over and over until it lost all meaning. It has been said before, but it bears repeating, that after hearing the details of the case, no rational person could expect either Johnny Depp or Amber Heard ever to work again.
Depp’s loyal army of fans called for the
judge to be fired and kept #JusticeFor
trending on Twitter.
And now that the judge has spoken and ruled that 12 of Heard’s 14 assault accusations could be proved, that seems even more likely. The short term will include a series of firefights for Depp: it has been rumored that he may have to cover up to $3.8 million in legal costs that both he and The Sun incurred from the case. His lawyer has already strongly suggested that an appeal will happen, and Depp needs to make a decision about where next to take his roving legal caravan.
This spring, Depp will begin a new defamation case against Heard for $50 million, this time in Virginia, following an op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post. Heard has filed a counterclaim against Depp for double that amount. The trial will be heard before a jury. It is thought that Depp had hoped to return to America with the wind of a positive High Court verdict behind him. Now that that is no longer the case, you have to wonder whether or not he regrets carrying on.
But in the longer term, there is the small issue of his career to worry about. Depp’s box-office appeal has plummeted since Heard’s initial abuse allegations. Discounting franchise work, his last three films have clawed together a combined worldwide gross that adds up to about one-eighth of his speculated Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides salary. Plus, even his big-ticket work has suffered; not only has he been ejected from all future Pirates films, but the Fantastic Beasts movie he appeared in made around $150 million less than the one he didn’t.
He may have to cover up to $3.8 million in legal costs that both he and The Sun incurred from the case.
And now he’s off the series altogether. On Friday, in a letter to his fans, Depp announced that his time as Grindelwald is over. “I wish to let you know that I have been asked to resign by Warner Bros. from my role as Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts and I have respected and agreed to that request,” he wrote. In its own statement, Warner Bros. wrote, “Johnny Depp will depart the Fantastic Beasts franchise. We thank Johnny for his work on the films to date. Fantastic Beasts 3 is currently in production, and the role of Gellert Grindelwald will be recast. The film will debut in theaters worldwide in the summer of 2022.”
This news feels inevitable. There had been speculation that Warner Bros.—which had backed Depp before the verdict—would plow ahead with its original plans, despite the potential for lowered grosses. Another rumor circulated that his appearance would be cut down to a cameo in the new film, but that wouldn’t work, either. After all, the entire five-film Fantastic Beasts series is reportedly meant to culminate with an almighty duel between Grindelwald and Dumbledore, which would be quite difficult if one of them appeared only as a bit part.
Depp ended his statement by calling the verdict “surreal” and vowing to fight on. “My life and career will not be defined by this moment in time,” he wrote. But, with all the perspective that this moment in time offers, it’s almost impossible to see this statement as anything but a combination of wishful thinking and empty bluster.
Stuart Heritage is a Kent, U.K.–based Writer at Large for AIR MAIL