What comes next for Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s movie careers after the verdict
With their bitter defamation trial now over, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard are left to pick up the pieces of their careers. But how exactly they will choose to move forward — and how much of an appetite Hollywood will have to hire them — remains to be seen.
Six weeks of testimony over sensational allegations of domestic violence and emotional abuse did undeniable damage to the public images of both Depp, 58, and Heard, 36, with millions around the world following every step of the trial and taking sides on social media. On Wednesday, the Virginia jury largely decided in Depp’s favor, awarding him $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages for what it deemed were Heard’s defamatory claims against him. (The latter was reduced by the judge to Virginia’s statutory cap of $350,000.) The jury also awarded $2 million in compensatory damages to Heard in her counterclaim.
The dueling defamation cases between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard came to a simple end: She defamed him, but she won $2 million in her countersuit.
Heading into the trial, Depp boasted by far the larger career between the two exes, having racked up more than $8 billion in worldwide box office grosses thanks to blockbusters including the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, “Alice and Wonderland” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
In his suit against Heard, in which he sought $50 million in damages, Depp claimed he had lost tens of millions of dollars worth of career earnings because of her allegations against him. In 2020, Depp was dropped by Warner Bros. from the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise after losing his 2020 libel trial in the U.K. Since 2018’s “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” he has appeared in just three low-budget films, none of which received significant domestic releases, with the most recent, “Minamata,” earning just $1.2 million worldwide.
The fact is, however, Depp’s career had been trending downward even before Heard penned the 2018 op-ed that sparked the litigation. During the trial, Depp’s former agent and business manager each testified that his unprofessional behavior — showing up late to set, relying on an earpiece for dialogue — as well as his reputation for substance issues had made major studios reluctant to work with the actor.
“I was very honest with him and said, ‘You’ve got to stop doing this. It’s hurting you,’” Depp’s former agent, Tracey Jacobs, testified about his offscreen troubles, adding, “His star had dimmed.”
Indeed, even before Heard’s allegations surfaced, Depp had suffered a number of high-profile flops in the past decade, including such films as “Dark Shadows,” “Mortdecai,” “Transcendence” and “Black Mass.”
Even as Hollywood has held him at a distance, however, Depp still commands an intensely loyal fan base. At this year’s Academy Awards, “Minamata” — in which he played a photographer who documented the effects of mercury poisoning on the citizens of a Japanese city — placed third in the Oscars fan-favorite contest after diehard Depp fans voted en masse via Twitter to show their support for the star.
Data compiled in recent weeks by the insurance and finance group Spotted Media through surveys with a representative sample of hundreds of U.S. adults found that, irrespective of the outcome of the trial, many still want to see Depp continue to star in films. Among those respondents who were aware of the lawsuit, more than 86% felt that Depp should not be dropped from future productions.
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For Heard, the survey’s findings were far more stark. Among those who were tracking the trial, more than half of respondents said that they were less interested in seeing the actress in future films, with nearly two-thirds saying they believed Heard should be dropped from future productions.
Spotted Media chief executive Janet Comenos said film producers have been interested in seeing what the data shows about public sentiment toward Depp and Heard as they gauge the risks of hiring the actors.
“It has come up in several conversations of ours with producers; they are curious to understand if there’s a discrepancy between the actions taken by the studios and the public’s opinion,” Comenos says. “I think the results show pretty clearly that Johnny Depp is extremely hireable and that it would be a risk to a production company to hire Amber Heard because of the precipitous drop in appeal that she has had since the beginning of the trial.”
At the moment, neither Depp nor Heard have many projects on the immediate horizon. While Depp has nearly two dozen projects listed as being in development on the industry site IMDb Pro, including an untitled Dr. Seuss project and an untitled Paul Revere project, it is not clear how many are active.
Depp currently voices a cartoon puffin on an international animated series called “Puffins Impossible” and is set to play King Louis XV in the French period drama “Jeanne du Barry,” which is being shopped around to potential distributors at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
In his suit against Heard, Depp claimed he lost out on a potential $22.5-million payday that he would have earned by starring in the planned sixth “Pirates of the Caribbean” film. Though it’s uncertain what part Depp’s public controversies played in the decision, Walt Disney Studios production head Sean Bailey has said that Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow will not be a part of the film, telling the Hollywood Reporter in 2018 that the studio wanted to “bring in a new energy and vitality” to the series.
For her part, Heard — who has most recently appeared in the Paramount+ limited series “The Stand” — is set to return in the role of the love interest Mera in the superhero sequel “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” currently set release in March 2023. During the trial, Heard testified that her role had been “pared down” due to the controversy over her domestic abuse allegations against Depp. But, in separate testimony, DC Films President Walter Hamada said that Heard’s part had never been considered central to the film, chalking up the diminishing of her role to a perceived lack of chemistry with co-star Jason Momoa, who plays Aquaman.
As an indication of the animosity many Depp fans feel toward Heard — and their eagerness to band together online in support of the actor — a petition on Change.org to remove the actress from the “Aquaman” sequel has racked up nearly 4.5 million signatures.
During the trial, Heard’s agent, Jessica Kovacevic, pointed to a role the actress lost in an Amazon Studios film with Gael García Bernal as evidence of the harm the controversy had done to her career, even as she conceded she could not definitely say Heard had lost work due to a backlash.
“No one can say out loud, ‘We’re taking this away from her because of this bad press,’” said Kovacevic. “But there’s no other reason.”
Shortly before the trial began in April, Heard finished shooting an independent period thriller called “In the Fire,” about a psychiatrist in the late 19th century who has to take care of a boy who appears to have special abilities.
The film does not yet have a release date. But after the bruising trial between Depp and Heard, its title now has a whole new meaning.
It's a date
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