After winning a resounding $10 million verdict against ex-wife Amber Heard, can Johnny Depp’s career bounce back? Can Heard’s? TheWrap talked to multiple Hollywood insiders who said that while Depp may work again, he won’t be starring in studio blockbusters.
“No A-list movie is going to hire him the way they used to,” said one top veteran studio executive, speaking of Depp, 58. “He was a pain in the ass before the trial, always. And what he’s proven is he’s still a pain in the ass.”
Similarly, a top talent agent said that Depp would find work in the independently financed world, but not among the $20 million roles that gave him a rich back end, as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise once did.
“Depp, yes,” he can work, the agent said. “More in the foreign sales model and maybe eventually as a sort of character actor later down the road on a studio film with an auteur director, who can cast whoever they want.”
Even prior to Heard’s op-ed, Depp’s top franchises were on a downward slope at the box office. In 2016, he returned to play the Mad Hatter in Disney’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” a sequel to his 2010 $1 billion hit “Alice in Wonderland.” Amidst poor reviews for both Depp and the film, “Looking Glass” crashed to just a $276.9 million gross worldwide.
A year later, Depp made what would appear to be his final turn as Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” which was much more profitable with $794.8 million grossed but was still below the $1.04 billion that its 2011 predecessor, “On Stranger Tides,” had grossed.
Indeed, Depp’s longtime agent Tracy Jacobs testified at the trial about the difficulty of working with the star, saying that his own behavior — no-shows, lateness, daily intoxication — caused his career to suffer, making it “far more complicated” to represent him in the years before his troubles with Heard became public.
And what about the 36-year-old Heard? After a string of supporting roles and short-lived TV series, Heard’s career took off with the role of Mera in DC’s “Aquaman” and the larger “Justice League” movie franchise. Will she ever act again?
“Heard, no,” the agent said, noting that the actress had won a reputation on set for being difficult. But that was not the main issue, the agent continued, it’s really about how she emerged from this sordid trial. “All these continued legal proceedings have sort of sealed her fate. She has not come off well on either of these trials and their accompanying depositions and direct and cross examinations. And yes, all the TikTok stuff has not helped her at all,” he said.
He concluded, “But with this verdict, Heard is absolutely done.”
A producer who made a film with Depp offered a similar sentiment.
“They both have future careers, although maybe in Johnny’s case not as a gross participant,” the producer said of Depp’s future ability to retain a producer credit and earn backend compensation based on box office performance. “He is a tremendous actor who is beloved worldwide, he will in fact be back. Amber was never more than a minor player with limited appeal. I feel she will continue to get work but not as a lead.”
Heard has taken almost no leading roles in any major studio films. Her biggest moneymaker is, of course, “Aquaman,” the DC film which grossed $1.14 billion during the holiday season in 2018.
Though she nearly lost the role of Aquaman’s love interest Mera due to on-screen chemistry issues, according to testimony from the trial by DC chief Walter Hamada, Heard will reprise the role in “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” a film that may not hit $1 billion because of its release in March 2023 instead of the holiday season but will have plenty of runway to draw in audiences if word-of-mouth is strong.
Howard Bragman, the veteran publicist best known for crisis management and guiding LGBTQ celebrities as they come out publicly, however, was less pessimistic about Heard’s future. He cited another example of someone who reinvented herself after losing a legal battle.
“Clearly Johnny comes out in better shape in both the court of law and in the court of public opinion,” the LaBrea Media CEO said. “But don’t write Amber out. We have to look no further than Martha Stewart to see that someone who loses in court can find redemption. It really matters how she plays it.”
After six weeks of grueling, contradictory testimony in a case focused on whether or not Heard defamed Depp in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed, the jury on Wednesday found that Depp was substantially defamed by Heard, and awarded him $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million dollars in punitive damages (though that was reduced to $350,000 by the judge, per Virginia statute). The jury awarded Heard $2 million in compensatory damages and nothing in punitive damages. Depp had sought $50 million in damages with Heard countersuing for $100 million.
Additional reporting by Sharon Waxman.