Johnny Depp and Amber Heard spent the majority of their defamation trial hurling insults at one another. And while Depp was granted a sweeping legal triumph on June 1, that victory cannot reverse years of a worsening public image in the wake of his bitter divorce from Heard. The question is whether the verdict removed sufficient smears for studios to take a chance on casting him.
After six weeks of trial showing filthy text messages and audio recordings of violent altercations, a Virginia jury agreed with Depp on charges that he was defamed by Heard’s opinion piece in The Washington Post in which she referred to herself as a survivor of domestic abuse. Although Heard prevailed on one of her counterclaims regarding Depp’s former attorney Adam Waldman‘s allegations that her abuse claims were a hoax, she was awarded only $2 million compared to Depp’s $15 million (subsequently reduced to $10.35 million due to the state’s statutory cap on punitive damages).
Traditional news outlets and social media drew an enormous amount of international interest to the events. In the slander trial, some Hollywood insiders testified, shedding some light on industry decision-making. The attorneys on both sides of the defamation duel analysed how the conflict and the events leading up to it affected their careers.
Depp claimed that he was passed over for another Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, which his agent testified would have earned him $22.5 million, and that he was banned from Hollywood after the op-ed broke at the height of #MeToo. Heard, supported by her agent Jessica Kovacevic, claimed that Warner Bros. cut her role in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom and sidelined her in marketing The Stand due to negative headlines surrounding her ex-accusation husband’s that she lied about her abuse allegations.
Several Hollywood sources have noticed that neither Depp nor Heard are immediately castable now that the trial has concluded. Their appearances carry a greater public relations responsibility, which restricts the marketing of possible ventures. The trial and its media coverage will have a greater impact on Heard’s career than on Depp’s, according to all sources who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter.
According to one agency, “it’s easier for a guy to rehabilitate himself than a woman.” Despite facing sexual assault allegations in the United Kingdom, Kevin Spacey still has the support of the producers of his next picture, which was shopped at the 2022 Cannes Film Market. People will assert that this is due to Hollywood’s sexism. Our culture is sexist. Our company exemplifies this culture.”
A survey of 600 Americans conducted by risk insurance company Spotted Media from April 28 to June 2 revealed that Depp emerged from the trial in a significantly more favourable light than Heard. 86% of respondents who were aware of the lawsuit believed that Depp should not be removed from future productions, while 64% believed that Heard should be removed.
Janet Comenos, the CEO of Spotted Media, states that there has been considerable interest in reevaluating the desire to cast Depp and Heard. “We’ve never seen an example of a celebrity like Johnny Depp boosting his reputation to this extent,” Comenos observes, adding, “and we’ve never seen a celebrity like Amber Heard experience such a precipitous decrease after a scandal.”
Also impacting Heard is the fact that she was not the same type of celebrity as Depp, who has headed billion-dollar film franchises, prior to the trial. “I believe people will falsely allege that the trial prevented her from landing parts,” a producer observes. During the trial, DC Films CEO Walter Hamada stated that Amber Heard’s involvement in the Aquaman sequel, scheduled in theatres in March 2023, was reduced not because of the trial, but due to a lack of chemistry between Heard and Jason Momoa.
Several insiders indicate that while a studio is unlikely to engage Depp, he will find chances in the independently financed film industry – the type of movies that see bygone or discredited big-name stars (such as Mel Gibson) appear on set for a few days and receive a basic rate in the low millions. According to one agency partner, “he has numerous opportunities in the independent market. He may earn up to $15 million per year from these select films.”
The agency also comments, “Say what you want about Johnny, but he has demonstrated an enormous fan base.” Throughout the duration of the trial, purported Depp supporters uploaded pro-Depp movies to TikTok and YouTube. Prior to that, the Depp-led Minamata, which was released on a limited number of screens in the United States and made only $1.7 million, received more Twitter votes than the blockbuster Spider-Man: No Way Home and became the No. 3 fan-favorite for the Academy Award.
This audience group remains appealing to financier-producers who invest in particular types of independent films. The box office, however, reveals a different narrative regarding Depp’s appeal to the broader public. Prior to Heard’s op-ed being published, the four films starring Johnny Depp from 2012 to 2015, Dark Shadows, The Lone Ranger, Transcendence, and Mortdecai, grossed a total of $199 million domestically on a budget of $525 million. Three films with budgets exceeding $9 million failed to break even at the box office. After its predecessor grossed $1 billion at the movie office, he followed up in 2016 with Alice Through the Looking Glass, which earned only $300 million worldwide and cost Disney hundreds of millions.
Concerns remain over Depp’s professionalism and behaviour on site. Tracey Jacobs, his former agent at UTA, said throughout the trial that “people were talking” about his substance addiction as he continued to arrive late to set and had to begin wearing an earpiece to have his lines fed to him. “His reputation for tardiness and other issues made it increasingly difficult to find him employment,” Jacobs said, adding that this made “others unwilling to employ him.”
Depp is presently defending himself against a lawsuit filed by a City of Lies crewmember who claims the actor hit him twice during a drunken rage. According to the lawsuit, Depp ingested drugs on site and reeked of booze throughout the event. A month prior to its release, the film was withdrawn from theatres, shortly after Depp resolved a lawsuit against his former business managers, thereby avoiding another high-profile trial.
Depp’s defamation suit against Heard revealed the actor’s extensive history of substance abuse and violent threats. Juda Engelmayer, a crisis management consultant whose clients include Harvey Weinstein, states, “Due to the outcome of Johnny Depp’s trial, you saw a lot of Johnny’s dark sides.” “You observed the drinking problems. You noticed the rage problems. He might not receive another leading guy part in a family film.”
Depp and Heard will likely have to wait until their case’s appeals are resolved to determine their Hollywood standing. Heard hopes to appeal the judgement, citing media uproar as evidence that the jury was unlawfully swayed to vote against her.
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