Insiders say Johnny Depp may never work in Hollywood again after losing ‘wife beater’ libel suit12/29/2020
- In November Johnny Depp lost his libel case against a British tabloid that had labeled him a "wife beater" in an article about his ex-wife Amber Heard.
- Christian Dior has kept Depp as the face of its men's fragrance but is not airing ads in conservative markets, a perfume insider said.
- In May, Depp is set to go to trial again in a defamation case against Heard over an op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post suggesting Depp abused her.
- After that verdict, a branding expert said Depp's career would be "over."
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
Last month Johnny Depp lost his libel case against the British tabloid The Sun. He forfeited his role in J.K. Rowling's "Fantastic Beasts." And he's turned to Instagram for emotional support from his nearly 9 million followers.
But the movie star, in all his ruin, has managed to keep hold of his reported $5 million deal with Christian Dior men's fragrance, Sauvage.
"The French aren't easily shaken by controversy, like Americans or Brits. They love Johnny and hope this, too, will pass," a beauty marketing consultant, who's worked with Parfums Dior, told Insider.
"In more conservative markets, they just won't air it. They're waiting this out. That's why there's no official statement. Remember, Dior fired John Galliano as creative director after he went on an anti-Semitic rant in 2011. Now John's reformed and thriving at Margiela, a competing French luxury brand. One good role in a year or two could put Johnny back on top."
In a 2018 article in The Sun, which detailed Depp's tumultuous 15-month marriage to the actress Amber Heard, Depp was labeled a "wife beater." He sued the paper, and endured a 16-day trial this July, during which a trove of salacious and disturbing details were revealed regarding Depp's relationship with Heard.
Heard, who filed for divorce in 2016, said in court that she "was afraid he was going to kill me." She went on to say that when they fought, Depp would resort to "slapping, kicking, head-butting and choking me, as well as throwing me into things, pulling me by my hair, and shoving me or pushing me to the ground."
Depp countered by accusing Heard of leaving human feces in their Los Angeles penthouse bed and throwing a vodka bottle at him, which wound up severing his fingertip to the bone.
Still, it's not slowing down sales of Sauvage. The Guardian recently reported that defiant Depp fans have been buying the fragrance to support the star, after Dior aired Depp's ad during the highly rated "The Great British Bake Off."
"Dior's sticking a toe in," the beauty marketing consultant said.
The ad aired in the US this month, though late at night during commercial breaks for "The Late Late Show With James Corden" and "The Late Show With Steven Colbert."
"Dior is feeling a lot of pressure right now to do the right thing and ditch Depp," the British branding expert Jeetendr Sehdev said. "But in today's market, and particularly with millennials, silence is complicit."
'J.K. just couldn't stand up for him anymore'
Depp has always been open about his rock 'n' roll lifestyle. At this summer's trial, he said his drug repertoire started at age 11, and, in a 2018 Rolling Stone profile, Depp said his daily constant wine consumption has run as much as $30,000 to $50,000 a month.
Some Hollywood sources close to Depp are wondering if it's finally gone too far.
"The last couple years, his bad-boy brand has started to work against him," one major Hollywood studio publicist said. "It was cute even at 45. At 57 it's not. This guilty verdict taints him. The studios are now so terrified of anything related to #MeToo."
On November 6, on the heels of the verdict in favor of The Sun, Depp revealed on Instagram that he was forfeiting his role in the third installment of J.K. Rowling's "Fantastic Beasts."
"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. "My life and career will not be defined by this moment."
"J.K. just couldn't stand up for him anymore," a Warner Bros. casting director told Insider. "She stood by him when Twitter protested his casting in the first movie, after 'wife beater' first came out. His career really rested on her saving him. But as a self-described victim of domestic abuse herself, she couldn't do it."
Depp will still get a considerable paycheck from Warner Bros.
"It's not a total bust," a Warner Bros. studio executive said. "Johnny's still getting $10 to $16 million for one day's work he already shot, because of his pay-or-play contract guarantees he gets paid under any circumstances. Though when it's said and done, he only keeps about $2 million. With Johnny, that's not going to last long."
'He's a guy who thinks the badder he is, the more manly'
Depp started his early career as a musician. He dropped out of high school at 16 and moved to LA with his band, The Kids. One record producer who knew Depp when he first arrived on the Hollywood music scene said he worked "hard to appear cool."
"He's a guy who thinks the badder he is, the more manly," the producer said.
In 1984 he was introduced to Nicolas Cage, who arranged for Depp to audition for "A Nightmare on Elm Street." In the horror classic, Depp's very first acting role, he played a teenager eaten by his own bed, the first of his many oddball roles. "It set sort of a precedent," the producer said, laughing.
Depp's career caught fire quickly. After the late-'80s show "21 Jump Street" turned him into a heartthrob, "Cry-Baby" and Tim Burton's "Edward Scissorhands" in the '90s helped turn him into a bona fide star.
He's had his flops, too, including when he portrayed his idol, the gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, in the movie version of Thompson's book "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," in 1998.
"His heroes are all addicts," an indie producer, who knows Depp well, said. "Hunter Thompson, Keith Richards, Warren Zevon."
Laila Nabulsi, Thompson's ex-girlfriend and the film's producer, said Thompson was the one who came up with the idea to cast Depp after meeting the star.
After much stalling, the movie's option was about to run out. Nabulsi called Depp. "Johnny's lawyer didn't want him to do it. His agent didn't want him to do it. Finally I said, 'Johnny, I can't promise you it's going to be easy. I can't promise you'll get paid much. But if you don't do it … you'll regret it for the rest of your life."
He opened his notorious Sunset Strip club, the Viper Room, in 1993. On Halloween of that year, River Phoenix — the older brother of the actor Joaquin Phoenix and the young star of "Stand By Me" and "My Own Private Idaho" — overdosed at the club, dying on the street in front of the Viper Room door.
In the Rolling Stone profile, Depp addressed the wild speculation that he gave River the fatal dose himself. "Imagine living with that," Depp told the magazine.
"Johnny's aware people think he slipped River those drugs that killed him. Which only made Johnny take more drugs, which didn't help his reputation," an old friend of River Phoenix said. "Of course he's always denied it."
(Depp's publicist didn't respond to requests for comment.)
Insiders say Depp hated the scrutiny that came with fame almost as much as he hated the Hollywood machine itself.
When he played Captain Jack Sparrow in Disney's first "Pirates of the Caribbean" in 2003, Depp wasn't afraid to push the boundaries — or piss off some of Hollywood's biggest executives.
"When some execs came down to watch the test," Depp described at a talk at the 2020 Zurich Film Festival, "it was: 'What's he doing? What is this pirate? Mentally gone? Incredibly drunk? Or gay?' My answer was: 'All my characters are gay.' I didn't hear anything after that."
"Johnny has always been nervy, demanding, more than most stars," the indie producer said, recalling that an accountant on one of Depp's movies nearly lost her job in 2012 when the star demanded the studio hire personal security at a New York hotel, devouring a budget that didn't exist.
"Later on he started being late for things," a Disney exec, who worked on a number of Depp's projects starting about 1990, said.
"Shoots, interviews. He never hid his partying. But he finally hit the wall on 'Murder on the Orient Express.' Right when rehearsals began, in 2017, he walked in late the first day and Ken Branagh, who directed, very calmly said: 'That's not the way I work. I don't allow lateness. If you choose that behavior, you can leave the film. Right now. It's fine,'" the Disney exec said.
"Johnny just said, 'I hear you, sir, I won't do it again.' It humiliated him in front of stars, as big as he was."
'He bit the hand that fed him'
It seemed Depp might have found some stability when he met Heard, his costar in 2011's "Rum Diary." By 2014 the couple were engaged. Heard became his second wife the following year.
But the relationship was tumultuous from the start. When filing for divorce, in 2016, Heard got a temporary restraining order, claiming she'd suffered physical abuse when Depp was drunk or on drugs.
The year after his divorce, Depp fired his United Talent Agency agent of three decades, Tracey Jacobs, the only person who could ever rein him in, the Disney employee said.
"When careers start to go down the tubes," one UTA agent said, "what do they do? They fire their agents. He bit the hand that fed him."
"It was a very big blow," the UTA agent said. "Tracey 'got' him. She understood the bad-boy thing. She liked the rock world, dated rock stars. She got him cult films, then steered his career toward big money. Disney was less afraid to cast him in 'Pirates' because they trusted her."
The agent said it was a "huge mistake to fire her" because CAA, Depp's new agency, "just does not know how to handle him."
When reached for comment, Jacobs told Insider: "I represented Johnny for 30 years and we had tremendous success together. I am truly grateful for that."
But those 30 years of box-office success threatened to go up in smoke during this summer's London trial, which exposed accusations of at least 14 physical altercations between Depp and Heard.
They included Heard's accusations that Depp dangled her teacup terrier out of a moving car, and that he got so high he fell asleep with melting ice cream on his lap. Depp accused Heard of chopping up lines of cocaine, drinking two or three bottles of wine a night, and having affairs with James Franco and Elon Musk. Depp said he painted messages in blood on a mirror after accusing Heard of severing his finger.
Why did Depp take the plunge of suing the contentious British tabloid over defamation in 2018 when it was always an uphill battle?
"He never should have gone to court," an LA entertainment lawyer who represents A-list actors and directors said. "There's no way he could win. Not with Depp's history of drugs and alcohol. It's bad enough being accused as wife beater — it's worse for the verdict to essentially confirm it."
'He could make movies outside of America, but how's that working out for Woody Allen?'
It doesn't mean everyone in Hollywood has turned their back on him.
"I watched him dress up as Captain Jack and visit kids in hospitals," the Disney exec said. "He has a good heart. That's what gets him in trouble sometimes, his vulnerability."
Depp is trying to rally support, posting on Instagram directly to fans asking for support. In one post, Depp performs a song he wrote with his friend Jeff Beck called "Isolation."
As part of his "Fantastic Beasts" resignation, Depp said he was determined to clear his name.
"The surreal judgment of the court in the U.K. will not change my fight to tell the truth," he wrote, "and I confirm that I plan to appeal. My resolve remains strong and I intend to prove the allegations against me are false."
But before that can even happen, Depp faces another court case, a defamation case aimed directly at Heard over a 2018 op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post. Depp suggested that Heard alleged in that piece that he'd abused her. The trial commences in Virginia in May.
"After that ruling, I'd say his brand is over," Sehdev said.
"Generations have moved on, everything's changed," the UTA agent told Insider. "Let's say Johnny does a Netflix film, makes $5 million. He winds up with $2 million. I don't know his budget these days, but what would it get him? Would Donna Langley, chairwoman of Universal Pictures, cast him — and in what? He could make movies outside of America, but how's that working out for Woody Allen? My bet is he'll keep tampering with music. Wild rock dudes are allowed any behavior. Audiences expect it."
But it might be his old friend and mentor Tim Burton who revives Depp's stalled, or suddenly stillborn, career. Rumor has it Burton will finally make "Beetlejuice 2," with a juicy role for Depp, perhaps even the title role.
"If he manages to get one more good part, he could ostensibly come back," the indie producer Orian Williams said. "I would consider hiring him for the right role. You can question a lot, but you can't ever question his talent."
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