Can Johnny Depp make a comeback after the Amber Heard trial?

Johnny Depp won a clear and unexpected victory in court last week. His attorney, Ben Chew, pleaded with the Virginia jury to restore his name, reputation, and career, and the jury responded — finding that Depp’s ex-wife, Amber Heard, had defamed him by accusing him of domestic violence.

But while jury verdicts are binary — responsible or not responsible, guilty or innocent — Hollywood doesn’t work that way. Depp has suffered tremendous reputational damage, largely self-inflicted, and he still has a lot of work to do if he wants to revive his career.

“It’s not a light switch,” says Howard Bragman, crisis consultant for celebrity clients. “It’s a way back.”

In Depp’s favor, the trial mobilized a passionate and digitally savvy fanbase, and gave him a platform to triumph while owning his flaws. But even if the general public accepted the jury’s verdict, he was still revealed to be self-pitying, drug-addicted, and deeply entitled. His over-the-top misogyny could also detract from his appeal with many women, who were once a major part of Depp’s fandom.

“We don’t have to second-guess whether there’s potential for backlash,” says Howard Breuer, a public relations consultant. “If the producers are thinking, ‘Is someone going to attack us if we’re the first to cast Johnny Depp?’ – the answer is yes. He’s still polarizing.”

Even before the domestic abuse allegations, it was becoming increasingly difficult to justify Depp’s $20 million payments. He suffered a string of failures and became increasingly erratic on set, culminating in the disastrous production of 2017’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” which left studios wary of trusting him with a successful franchise. Sources say Depp was more professional during the filming of “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” soon after, but as his former agent Tracey Jacobs admitted in a taped statement, “His star had dimmed. . ”

While Depp arrived punctually in court each day, nothing else about the trial necessarily puts those concerns to rest.

“I don’t know if it helps him in any way,” says producer Gavin Polone. “People need to see that he is reliable and will get to work on time.”

Disney has no plans to include Depp in any future “Pirates” films, and Warner Bros. Anyway, Warner Bros. already replaced Depp with Mads Mikkelsen in this spring’s “Fantastic Beasts: Dumbledore’s Secret” so it’s a moot point even if the series continues.

On June 2, the day after the verdict was announced, guitarist Jeff Beck announced that Depp would appear with him on an upcoming album. But Depp’s former agent testified at trial that Depp’s music career is not profitable, and the real money is in making studio movies. Depp also announced that he will star as King Louis XV in the upcoming film directed by “Polisse” filmmaker Maiwenn, but that film is a French production, not a Hollywood affair.

Hollywood can be exceptionally forgiving of big stars, especially for substance abuse issues. And the verdict certainly helps offset some of the damage done when a British judge found Heard’s allegations “substantially true” in November 2020.

“He was kind of washed up by it,” says Bragman. “We all have short memories. It gives permission for a big indie to say, ‘We want to be in the Johnny Depp business.’

Studio executives declined to speak publicly about Depp’s future, but in private they charted a potential path to career redemption. He could make a series of independent films, delivering convincing performances. With good reviews and a little luck, this could eventually encourage a studio to give the controversial artist a chance.

There’s also the possibility that Depp could leverage his celebrity to land lucrative roles in low-budget, substandard action films produced outside the studio system, films financed from outside sales. That’s a path other actors like Nicolas Cage and Mel Gibson, who still have passionate fans abroad, have taken in recent years as their commercial appeal has waned in the US.

Given that Depp has been so famous for so long, some are skeptical that he’s interested in undertaking the long journey back to a kind of stardom that may remain elusive. He might just opt ​​for some easier paydays.

“I don’t know if he wants to do the kind of hard work he needs to get back,” says a studio executive who has worked with Depp on several projects. “It’s been a long time since he’s had to do this.”

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