Johnny Depp’s return to Hollywood? It will take longer than your fans

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

In this edition of Career Watch, IndieWire’s occasional vocational checkup of actors and directors and those hoping to get there, we take on Johnny Depp.

As a maligned victim of slander, the 58-year-old’s most recent performance was good for the jury in the trial 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 2018 Washington Post article a year after their divorce that she was a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” ”. The jury ruled that she was unable to prove that he physically abused her.

Depp has since discovered TikTok and gratefully calls his fans “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 from the spectacular failure of its “Morbius” re-release, they should be.

Bottom line: A solid standout in five Disney “Pirates of the Caribbean” films that grossed over $4.5 billion worldwide, Depp lost his role as Jack Sparrow in that franchise amid allegations of domestic violence, as well as the recurring role. of Grindelwald at Warner Bros.’ Series “Fantastic Beasts” after losing his UK libel case against The Sun, who called him a wife beater. Neither producer Jerry Bruckheimer nor Warner Bros. plan to restore Depp to their respective franchises. While Depp gets a lift in winning his libel suit, he’s more bankable for foreign-funded independent projects than big-budget studio films.

Most recent misfire: Depp played a sad alcoholic photographer making a career redemption move in Berlin 2021’s “Minamata” entry (Metascore: 55), which grossed $1.8 million worldwide. Thanks to Depp’s large fan base, the film took third place in the Oscar Fan Favorite contest at the 94th Academy Awards in 2022.

Career peaks: Since his beginnings in the mid-1980s, 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 Cannes entry “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”. Vegas” (1998) before starring roles in Tim Burton’s “Edward Scissorhands” (1990) and Lasse Hallström’s “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” (1994). The actor collaborated 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 profitable “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise began in 2003 with “The Curse of the Black Pearl” and transformed Depp from rising actor to movie star.

Attention Awards: Depp earned his first Oscar nomination for his outrageous channeling of Keith Richards as the evil Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.” Depp earned respect for taking a risk with an audacious, over-the-top performance that amused audiences across the world. He earned his second Academy Award nomination for his heartbreaking role as “Peter Pan” writer JM Barrie in “Finding Neverland” (2004), and his last for his performance as Fleet Street assassin Demon Barber in “Sweeney”. Todd” by Stephen Sondheim. ”, which won him a Golden Globe.

Biggest problem: Depp is well beyond his movie star heyday. Unlike Brad Pitt, or Robert Downey Jr. (who has cleaned up and embraced sobriety and fitness), Depp looks decadent and dissipated from years of drug and alcohol abuse. After fighting in court with managers and financial advisers, he also seems addicted to spending like a drunken sailor. The pursuit of big payouts has led to a level of overexposure for Nic Cage and many bad reviews, from “The Ninth Gate” (Metascore: 44) to “The Tourist” (Metascore: 37). Depp’s last positive review on Metacritic was for “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” in 2016.

Long before his issues with Amber Heard, Depp had a reputation for Marlon Brando-scale behavior, from late to not showing up until he worked high. His former agent, Tracy Jacobs, who has led his career for decades, testified in the libel trial over Depp’s misbehavior 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 fed through headphones. She flew to Australia twice in an attempt to intervene. “I was very honest with him,” she told the court. “[I] said, ‘You have to stop doing this, it’s hurting you.’”

That wasn’t the worst. Global Road Entertainment has canceled the 2018 release of Brad Furman’s crime thriller “City of Lies” (Metascore: 44) after a location 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 executive who asked not to be named. “He’s a smart guy, with good taste and good instincts. If he wants to act, he has to change his work habits and not be a diva.”

Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean”


Active: The guy can act. No matter how awkward and grouchy he may be in person (he should stay away from TV interviews), Depp is a veteran who – when he’s 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 is also a talented musician who can sing from “Sweeney Todd” to “Into the Woods”. He’s never been interested in 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 Imagination of Dr. Parnassus”).

Current gossip: Depp recently toured the UK with guitarist Jeff Beck, releasing his first TikTok video (10 million followers so far) that featured brief photos of the actor rocking the guitar. Beck announced the July release of a new album with Depp. The actor thanked his “most precious, loyal and unwavering supporters” after his trial victory. “From the beginning, the purpose of bringing this case was to reveal the truth, regardless of the outcome,” he said after the trial. “Speaking the truth was something I owed my children and all those who stood steadfast in their support of me. I feel at peace knowing that I finally got it.”

That said, the jury in the case also ruled that Depp defamed Heard and awarded her $2 million in compensatory damages. A spokeswoman for her said: “As Johnny Depp says he is ‘forging ahead’, women’s rights are going backwards. The message of the verdict for victims of domestic violence is… be afraid to stand up and speak up.”

Next step: Depp hasn’t shot a feature since “Minamata,” a sincere effort to portray a troubled artist with a conscience. He continues to participate in numerous documentaries, music videos and short films. He’s signed on to star as King Louis XV alongside actress and director Maiwenn in “Jeanne du Barry,” about the King’s last official mistress. This is a way forward for Depp, as it has been for Woody Allen and Roman Polanski: foreign-funded indies. “This case did not damage [Depp] in Europe,” said an independent producer.

An independent distributor added: “It will be getting European B-movies for a while. It’s been a while since he’s had a big performance. He was great on ‘The Rum Diary’, which was too weird to do more than an art business. If he was really sober, he would have to have a good, strong role. Producers are thinking they can get it for a lower price. I can’t see streamers or Disney hiring him. It will take a long time.”

Hollywood is confused about Depp’s recovery potential. Awareness of Depp’s passionate fanbase should fuel some offerings. And many cite his kind warmth and generous charitable donation to Make-a-Wish and other foundations. But he never won an Oscar as Cage, nor did he show much interest in the occasional naturalistic performance. And he hasn’t shown any serious efforts to stay sober either.

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

“Edward Scissor Hands”

Everett Collection

“Johnny is great for Dior ads and the occasional rock concert,” wrote one manager in an email, “but Mel Gibson’s status is almost 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 were in charge of Johnny’s career, I would tell him to make some purely artistic films that show how good an actor he is. So as time goes on and some reminder of what he’s capable of, I would try to put him as a villain in a bigger movie… and then see what happens.”

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

Career advice: While fans had been hoping that Burton would cast Depp as Gomez in the upcoming TV series “The Addams Family,” Depp’s best hope for the future is that Burton or another top-notch director takes a chance. Depp loves character roles, and juicy supporting roles should come his way. A studio is unlikely to count on him to direct a big-budget movie unless he proves — as Downey did — by going to rehab and getting clean.

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

The best way for Depp to regain his status as a top-notch movie star is to forget about salary and make fewer top quality movies. The more movies he makes, the less likely they are to turn out well.

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