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What the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard Verdict Means for Depp’s Future Career

There's no doubt that Depp will be back on screen soon. But in what capacity?

johnny depp unprofessional behavior
Johnny Depp, photo by Michael Reynolds / Pool via Getty Images
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    It seems like an inevitability, at this point: Johnny Depp will be back on the big screen again soon. Not that he’s felt exactly absent from our screens over the last several months, as his defamation case against ex-wife Amber Heard raged not just in a Virginia courtroom but across the entire Internet.

    The resulting decision was not a clear-cut victory for either side, but with Depp being awarded $10 million in compensatory damages in comparison to Heard being awarded $2 million, the jury made it clear who they thought was more in the wrong here.

    However, while Depp fans are treating yesterday’s verdict as a clear-cut victory for the star, the question becomes: What happens next, at least in terms of Depp’s career — the very thing he accused Heard of damaging?

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    One Hollywood producer told Consequence that they didn’t see Wednesday’s verdict making too much of a difference: “Even before all this, he was mostly just doing supporting roles in studio movies and only starring in indie and foreign-financed projects, and I imagine that will remain the same. Regardless of the verdict, studios and producers don’t desire unnecessary controversy around their $100-200 million investments.”

    While that may mean there are no tentpoles on the horizon, it does seem likely that the star will announce a notable role soon, especially given the current passion of his fanbase. However, one franchise that very likely won’t feature Depp again is the one that catapulted him into a new level of fame. Bruckheimer told The Sunday Times in May 2022 that the future of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise did not include Depp, saying that “We’re talking to Margot Robbie. We are developing two Pirates scripts — one with her, one without… [Will Depp be back?] Not at this point. The future is yet to be decided.”

    Pirates of the Caribbean- Curse of the Black Pearl

    Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (Buena Vista)

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    Not that Depp wants to return as Captain Jack Sparrow, as he testified earlier in the trial — when asked by Heard’s attorney, “If Disney came to you with $300 million and a million alpacas, nothing on this earth would get you to go back and work with Disney on a Pirates of the Caribbean film?”, Depp confirmed that that statement was true.

    That’s just one role off the table, though, and in the earlier decades of his career, Depp had demonstrated a remarkable range when it came to his work, with one commonality, as he told Rolling Stone in 2018: “The monofilament that goes through all my characters, if you really look, they’re all fuckups. They’re broken.”

    He’s had plenty of chances to show off that range of broken men in the years since 2016, when Heard first came forward with abuse allegations: Playing an evil dark wizard in the first and second Fantastic Beasts films, investigating the Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur murders in City of Lies, getting murdered himself in Kenneth Branagh’s star-studded adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, and, let us not forget, voicing the acclaimed role of Sherlock Gnomes in the animated film Sherlock Gnomes.

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    Depp was “asked to resign” from the Fantastic Beasts franchise following the 2020 trial where he unsuccessfully sued a British paper that had labeled him a “wife beater”; his output as an actor has definitely declined in the last two years — though there was also a pandemic happening, and he continued to do voice work and starred in the indie drama Minamata.

    johnny depp minamata What the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard Verdict Means for Depps Future Career

    Minamata (Vertigo Releasing)

    Right now on the horizon is the French period drama Jeanne Du Barry, which was presented at Cannes for pre-sales and is set to star Depp as King Louis V, with actor/director Maïwenn playing the woman who eventually became the King’s mistress. The film has yet to go into production and there’s been no reporting on whether or not it managed to make any progress on the sales front, but one can only imagine that financiers were first waiting to see how Depp’s legal situation would resolve itself. (Consequence has reached out to the companies involved with Jeanne Du Barry to ask about the project’s current status, and will update this post accordingly.)

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    Again, Depp will be back on screen soon enough (we live in a world where even Kevin Spacey’s still getting acting work, after all), but perhaps not as the center of a studio tentpole. And that probably has less to do with the outcome of this trial and more to do with the in-depth reporting about his behavior during the production of Pirates of the Caribbean 5.

    While making Pirates 5, Depp reportedly became known for being habitually late to set and wearing an earpiece instead of learning his lines, and while the latter might not cost a production too much in terms of money and resources, a star’s lateness on that scale can have a direct effect on a film’s budget. That’s the part of Depp’s reputation that might have the more lasting impact on his career — and Amber Heard writing an opinion piece for the Washington Post can’t be blamed for that.

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