Johnny Depp’s return to Hollywood? It will take more than his fans

“Johnny is great for Dior commercials and the occasional rock gig,” one manager wrote in an email, “but Mel Gibson’s status is about right.”

In this edition of Career Watch, IndieWire’s occasional professional review of actors and directors and those hoping to make it, we take on Johnny Depp.

As a maligned victim of slander, the 58-year-old’s latest performance played well with the trial jury as well as the court of public opinion. He won $10 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages against his ex-wife Amber Heard, who wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in 2018 a year after their divorce that she was a “public figure representing domestic violence”. The jury ruled that she failed to prove that he physically assaulted her.

Depp has since discovered TikTok and gratefully calls his fans his “employers,” but of course they don’t write the checks. Those who do are less likely to be swayed by viral social memes – or at least, as Sony recently learned through the spectacular failure of its “Morbius” re-release, they should be.

Conclusion : A solid draw in five ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ Disney movies that have grossed over $4.5 billion worldwide, Depp lost the role of Jack Sparrow in that franchise amid domestic violence allegations, as well that Grindelwald’s recurring role on Warner Bros. ‘Fantastic Beasts’ series after losing his UK libel case against The Sun, who branded him a wife beater. Neither producer Jerry Bruckheimer nor Warner Bros. do plan to restore Depp to their respective franchises. While Depp is getting a boost after winning his libel suit, he’s more bankable for foreign-funded indie projects than big-budget studio films.

Last miss: Depp played a sad-bag alcoholic photographer playing career buyout in the Berlin 2021 entry “Minamata” (Metascore: 55), which grossed $1.8 million worldwide. Thanks to Depp’s large fanbase, the film placed third in the Oscars Fan Favorite contest at the 94th Academy Awards in 2022.

Career peaks: Since his debut in the mid-’80s, Depp has tested his mettle in independent films like John Waters’ “Cry-Baby” (1989), Jim Jarmusch’s “Dead Man” (1996) and Terry Gilliam’s surreal entrance to Cannes “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (1998) before breakthrough roles in Tim Burton’s “Edward Scissorhands” (1990) and Lasse Hallström’s “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” (1994). with Burton on eight films: “Ed Wood” (1994), “Sleepy Hollow” (1999), “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005), “Corpse Bride” (2005), “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (2007), “Alice in Wonderland” (2010) and “Dark Shadows” (2012). Disney’s hugely lucrative “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise began in 2003 with “The Curse of the Black Pearl” and has transformed Depp from rising actor to movie star.

Attention : Depp earned his first Oscar nomination for his outrageous channeling of Keith Richards as the villainous Jack Sparrow in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.’ Depp earned respect for taking risks with a bold, over-the-top performance that entertained audiences around the world. He earned his second Oscar nomination for his moving role as “Peter Pan” writer JM Barrie in “Finding Neverland” (2004), and his last for his all-around performance as Fleet Street’s murderous Demon Barber in ” Sweeney Todd” by Stephen Sondheim. which won him a Golden Globe.

Biggest problem: Depp is well past his movie star heyday. Unlike Brad Pitt or Robert Downey, Jr. (who cleaned up and embraced sobriety and rugged physical fitness), Depp appears seedy and dissipated after years of admitted drug and alcohol abuse. After struggling in court with managers and financial advisors, he also appears to be addicted to spending like a drunken sailor. The pursuit of big paydays led to overexposure to Nic Cage and too many bad reviews, from “The Ninth Gate” (Metascore: 44) to “The Tourist” (Metascore: 37). Depp’s last positive Metacritic review was for “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” in 2016.

Long before his issues with Amber Heard, Depp had a reputation for behavior on the scale of Marlon Brando, from being late to not showing up for high work. His former agent, Tracy Jacobs, who ruled his career for decades, testified in the libel lawsuit over Depp’s misconduct on the set of the fifth and final ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie, ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’ (2017, Metascore: 39), where he was constantly late and needed his lines to be fed to him through headphones. She has traveled to Australia twice to try to intervene. “I was very honest with him,” she told the court. “[I] said, ‘You have to stop doing this, it hurts you.'”

It wasn’t the worst. Global Road Entertainment pulled the 2018 release of Brad Furman’s LAPD crime thriller “City of Lies” (Metascore: 44) after a stage manager sued Depp for assault. Saban Films acquired the film and released it in 2021 in 501 theaters. It grossed $275,049 in its opening weekend.

“He has to take responsibility,” said a studio production manager who asked not to be named. “He’s a smart guy with taste and good instincts. If he wants to act, he has to change his working habits and not be a diva.

Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’


Assets: The guy can act. No matter how weird and mumbling he can be in person (he should stay away from TV interviews), Depp is a veteran who, when paying attention, knows what he’s doing. Films from “The Score” and “Public Enemies” to “Black Mass” and “Don Juan de Marco” show what he can do when he gives his all. He’s also an accomplished musician who can sing, from “Sweeney Todd” to “Into the Woods.” He’s never been into romance, but he can handle drama (“Donnie Brasco”), the athletic demands of an action western (“The Lone Ranger”), broad comedy (“Dark Shadows” , “The Rum Diary”), and distant fantasy (“Alice in Wonderland”, “Hugo”, “The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus”).

Current gossip: Depp recently toured the UK with guitarist Jeff Beck, posting his first TikTok video (10 million followers so far) which featured brief shots of the actor rocking out on guitar. Beck announced the July release of a new album with Depp. The actor thanked his “most valued, loyal and unwavering supporters” following his trial victory. “From the beginning, the goal of bringing this case was to reveal the truth, whatever the outcome,” he said after the trial. “Telling the truth was something I owed to my children and everyone who remained steadfast in their support of me. I feel at peace knowing that I have finally accomplished this.

That said, the jury in the case also ruled that Depp defamed Heard and awarded him $2 million in compensatory damages. Her spokeswoman said: “While Johnny Depp says he’s ‘moving forward’, women’s rights are moving backwards. The verdict’s message to victims of domestic abuse is…be afraid to stand up and speak up.

The next step: Depp hasn’t shot a feature film since “Minamata,” a sincere effort to portray a troubled artist with a conscience. He continues to participate in various documentaries, music videos and short films. He signed on to play the role of King Louis XV opposite actor-director Maiwenn in “Jeanne du Barry”, about the king’s last official mistress. It’s a way forward for Depp, as it has been for Woody Allen and Roman Polanski: foreign-funded independents. “This case did not damage [Depp] in Europe,” said an independent producer.

An independent distributor added: “It will have European B-movies for a while. It had been a while since he had performed well. He was great in “The Rum Diary,” which was too weird to do more than arthouse business. If he was really sobered up, he should have a good strong role. Producers think they can get it at a lower price. I don’t see streamers or Disney hiring him. It will take a long time. »

Hollywood is mixed on Depp’s recovery potential. Awareness from Depp’s passionate fanbase should fuel some offers. And many cite her gentle warmth and generous donations to Make-a-Wish and other foundations. But he never won an Oscar as Cage, nor did he show much interest in the occasional naturalist performance. Nor did he show evidence of a serious effort to get sober.

EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, Johnny Depp, Kathy Baker, 1990. TM and copyright (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp.  All rights reserved. Courtesy: Everett Collection

“Edward Scissorhands”


“Johnny is great for Dior commercials and the occasional rock gig,” one manager wrote in an email, “but Mel Gibson’s status is about right.”

“I think he has a chance to be more than Mel,” wrote one studio producer. “Downey is the best example. Although all he really hurt was himself. If I was in charge of Johnny’s career, I would tell him to make some pure art house movies that show how good he is as an actor. Then, with time passed and a reminder of what he’s capable of, I’d try to put him as a villain in a bigger movie… then see what happens.

A specialist distributor said that Depp was not yet on the casting lists. “It’s viable,” she said. “You can tell by the amount of support he got. He was always a special player, and he still is.

Career advice: While fans hoped that Burton would cast Depp as Gomez in the upcoming “Addams Family” TV series, Depp’s best hope for the future is that Burton or another top director give it a shot. Depp loves character roles, and meaty supporting roles should come his way. A studio is unlikely to rely on him to make a big-budget movie unless he proves himself – as Downey did – by entering rehab and staying clean.

His punch victory over Heard didn’t play well in many quarters. He must remain humble and not rejoice.

The best way for Depp to regain his A-list movie star status is to forget the paycheck and make fewer, better movies. The more films he makes, the less likely they are to turn out well.

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