The ‘Fantastic Beasts 2’ Problem: Why Is Hollywood Giving Johnny Depp a Pass?
The renowned actor is accused of being ‘verbally and physically abusive’ to his ex-wife Amber Heard. And Hollywood hasn’t batted an eye.
Would you cast Johnny Depp as a blockbuster villain?
The actor has a reputation for terrorizing his own sets. In 2017, The Hollywood Reporter cited sources close to the production of the fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise with “tales of excessive drinking, physical fights with [Amber] Heard and constant lateness on set, which often left hundreds of extras waiting for hours at a time.” Last May, Page Six reported that Depp had allegedly attacked a location manager on the set of City of Lies, which has since been indefinitely postponed. “According to court filings, Depp is accused of punching location manager Gregg ‘Rocky’ Brooks after Brooks informed the star that an upcoming take would have to be the last outdoor shot for the night as their permit was about to expire,” The Daily Beast reported. “However, crew members who were there insist it never escalated beyond a verbal confrontation and no punches were ever thrown.”
But the most damning allegations against Depp came from his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard. In May 2016, Heard filed for divorce. She requested—and was granted—a temporary restraining order against Depp. In a court filing, Heard stated that, “During the entirety of our relationship, Johnny has been verbally and physically abusive to me.”
“Johnny has a long-held and widely-acknowledged public and private history of drug and alcohol abuse,” the declaration continued. “He has a short fuse. He is often paranoid and his temper is extremely scary for me as it has proven many times to be physically dangerous and/or life-threatening to me.”
Heard also submitted photographs of her bruised face, and of alleged property damage, as evidence. Depp responded through his lawyer, saying, in part, “Amber is attempting to secure a premature financial resolution by alleging abuse.” Heard and Depp eventually reached a $7 million divorce settlement, with Heard donating the full sum to the American Civil Liberties Union and the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Johnny Depp, the allegedly abusive man with a history of unprofessionalism and drunken antics, appeared to emerge professionally unscathed, holding on to the role of wizard-villain Gellert Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. The second installment of the Fantastic Beasts franchise opens on Friday.
This isn’t the first bag that Depp’s secured since Heard accused him of domestic abuse. Back when Heard’s allegations were still fresh, Dior made the unfortunate decision to plaster images of Depp around the world. The timing was bad, and the content was worse: a campaign for the fragrance Sauvage, taglined “wild at heart.” In print and on TV, Dior’s ads showed Depp stalking around in the desert, rolling up his shirtsleeves and flashing a number of heavy silver rings. Quickly replacing Axe as the official scent of toxic masculinity, Dior’s cologne (more specifically, the man they chose to sell it), received multiple complaints, according to the Australian Advertising Standards Bureau, and was denounced by the U.K.-based domestic-violence charity Women’s Aid.
Beloved British writer J.K. Rowling saw all the heat that Dior was getting and thought, I’d like a piece of that. Rowling and the rest of the Fantastic Beasts team apparently believed that Johnny Depp was the only actor capable of playing Grindelwald. The author, who wrote the book that The Crimes of Grindelwald characters are based on as well as the screenplay, published a thorough blog post in December 2017 responding to critics of the casting. “When Johnny Depp was cast as Grindelwald, I thought he’d be wonderful in the role,” she began. “However, around the time of filming his cameo in the first movie, stories had appeared in the press that deeply concerned me and everyone most closely involved in the franchise. Harry Potter fans had legitimate questions and concerns about our choice to continue with Johnny Depp in the role. As David Yates, long-time Potter director, has already said, we naturally considered the possibility of recasting. I understand why some have been confused and angry about why that didn’t happen.”
Rowling continued, “Based on our understanding of the circumstances, the filmmakers and I are not only comfortable sticking with our original casting, but genuinely happy to have Johnny playing a major character in the movies.” The author’s statement followed remarks that Yates had previously made to EW, saying, “With Johnny, it seems to me there was one person who took a pop at him and claimed something.”
“I can only tell you about the man I see every day: He’s full of decency and kindness, and that’s all I see,” Yates insisted. “Whatever accusation was out there doesn’t tally with the kind of human being I’ve been working with.” The director went on to cite statements made by some of Depp’s exes, who defended the actor against Heard’s allegations. He concluded, “It’s very different [than cases] where there are multiple accusers over many years that need to be examined and we need to reflect on our industry that allows that to roll on year in and year out. Johnny isn’t in that category in any shape or form. So to me, it doesn’t bear any more analysis.”
Awesome. Case closed!
Yates’ ill-informed statements betrayed a deep ignorance on the issue of intimate partner violence, and only served to stir up more backlash. He and producer David Heyman doubled down in a joint statement, writing, “None of us involved in Fantastic Beasts would ever let our appreciation of talent obscure other, far more important considerations.”
According to early reviews of the film, no one could reasonably accuse the Fantastic Beasts team of being blinded by Depp’s talent. As The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “Yates and Rowling have defended his casting in the wake of domestic abuse allegations, which Depp has denied; completely apart from that, he is no help to this film… Depp grandstands in one more gimmicky, costume-driven performance, with one more plummy accent. That routine grew tiresome many movies ago.” The highest praise for Depp’s role seems to be that it’s a small one.
Given Depp’s limited contributions to the film, it’s hard to say why the powers that be were so intent on keeping him around. At Comic-Con in July, Warner Bros. brought Depp onstage, in full Grindelwald costume, as a surprise guest. Amber Heard, who stars in the upcoming WB film Aquaman, was scheduled to appear at the same event about an hour later. As one Twitter user wrote, “Who was the big ass idiot who invited Johnny Depp to the same panel as Amber Heard?!”
In October, GQ published a long profile on Depp, promising “his version” of the truth. At one point in the story, Depp insisted, “To harm someone you love? As a kind of bully? No, it didn’t, it couldn’t even sound like me.” Heard’s lawyers were unsurprisingly appalled, writing in a statement, “If GQ had done even a basic investigation into Mr. Depp’s claims, it would have quickly realized that his statements are entirely untrue. Mr. Depp has blatantly disregarded the parties’ confidentiality agreement and yet has refused to allow Ms. Heard to respond to his baseless allegations, despite repeated requests that she be allowed to do so.” Depp’s legal team went on to respond to Heard’s counsel, stating, “Mr. Depp is simply defending himself against Ms. Heard’s lingering false abuse accusations. Johnny Depp is the abuse victim. In UK court proceedings next month, we will be submitting clear evidence of the violence committed serially against him by Ms. Heard and the serious injuries that he suffered. We will also submit overwhelming evidence that Ms. Heard faked the abuse allegations against Mr. Depp.”
As The Hollywood Reporter explained, “Depp’s team is previewing the evidence that it will present in the upcoming court hearing in the U.K. this fall tied to a defamation lawsuit against The Sun for an article that labeled the actor a ‘wife beater.’”
Heard alone appears to be staying true to the confidentiality agreement. In a recent interview with The Sunday Times, the actor did not name her ex. But speaking on Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s recent testimony at the Kavanaugh hearings, Heard explained, “The results of [trauma] are sneaky. They’re not as obvious as you think. I don’t hide under a table when I hear a loud bang, though that happens to certain people with PTSD. Trauma sneaks up on you in weird ways, where all of a sudden you find yourself in a puddle on the floor, crying while watching this play out live on Fox or CNN… and you wonder why you care so much. It’s not your trial, right? But it is. It is.”
“I don’t know where that finish line is, but I fight every single day, and every single day it gets better,” Heard continued. “And every single woman that comes up to me and says thank you reminds me of my instinct to believe that right always wins, ultimately, that a lie is not sustainable, injustice is not sustainable.”