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Is Johnny Depp himself responsible for his star fading in Hollywood, or was his reputation squandered by a scorned starlet ex-wife?
This is one of the central questions at the heart of Depp's $50 million lawsuit against Amber Heard, who he says defamed him in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed she wrote chronicling her experiences as a domestic violence survivor. While Heard never mentions Depp by name in the piece, his lawyers argue that references to Depp, combined with Heard's previous abuse allegations following their 2017 divorce, are clear and have caused immense damage to Depp's career and reputation. Heard filed a $100 million countersuit, claiming Depp and his legal team defamed her by calling her allegations false.
During their ongoing trial in Virginia, Depp's lawyers laid the blame for the actor's sullied career at Heard's feet, telling the court, "For nearly 30 years, Mr. Depp built a reputation as one of the most talented actors in Hollywood, a respected artist whose name was associated with success at the box office. Today, his name is associated with a lie, a false statement uttered by his former wife."
Heard's side countered that Depp has no one to blame but himself for his current predicament. "Johnny Depp's reputation is in tatters," they argued. "His career is in free fall, but it's because of problems that he created, problems that he is responsible for. And he's here in court asking you to blame Amber for them, but it's not Amber's fault. They're from the choices that he made."
While neither side seems to dispute that Depp's career is in crisis, the timeline of his downfall remains a crucial sticking point in the trial, with Heard's side arguing that the actor authored his own demise long before she wrote her op-ed, and Depp's side arguing that, despite his admitted artistic eccentricities and personal financial difficulties, he remained a viable movie star up until Heard destroyed his name with her accusations.
EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images; STEVE HELBER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images Johnny Depp; Amber Heard
On Thursday, the court heard prerecorded testimony from Tracey Jacobs, a talent agent who represented Depp from the beginning of his career up to 2016, when, she testified, "He terminated essentially everyone in his life, and I was along for the ride, I guess." Jacobs told the court that Depp "became the biggest star in the world" after the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but his "star dimmed" as word spread of his unprofessional behavior and drug use.
"It worsened over time," she said of his reputation. "Initially, crews loved him because he was always so great with the crew, but crews don't love sitting around for hours and hours and hours waiting for the star of the movie to show up," she added. "And it also got around town, I mean people talk, it's a small community, and it made people reluctant to use him toward the end."
Eventually, she said, Depp was "showing up late to set consistently on virtually every movie," leading to her getting "yelled at." Jacobs testified that things got so bad that she twice had to fly to Australia during the filming of Pirates 5 to deal with issues relating to the actor's behavior on the set, which had to shut down for a time when Depp's finger was sliced off. (In a microcosm of the trial at large, Depp says Heard cut off the tip of his finger; she says he did it to himself.) "I was very honest with him and said, 'You've got to stop doing this; it's hurting you,'" Jacobs said she told Depp, adding, "And it did."
Depp's team, on the other hand, has dismissed witnesses like Jacobs as disgruntled former employees, turning instead to witnesses like Christian Carino, another former talent agent of Depp's, to give an impression of Depp's reputation in Hollywood circles. Carino, who once represented both Depp and Heard, testified that he believes Depp's reputation remains intact as "one of the finest actors of his generation" but that Heard's accusations directly resulted in him losing professional opportunities.
"My opinion is that Amber's accusations would have had the most dramatic impact on his off-screen reputation," he told the court, noting that he's "not talking about any one specific accusation." He went on to allege that Depp was not invited to return for Pirates 6 due to Heard's accusations, saying he came to this conclusion after numerous conversations with colleagues and studio execs, including Jerry Bruckheimer, the producer behind the Pirates franchise. While Carino testified that Bruckheimer never directly mentioned Depp's personal problems, he said that the "nature of [the conversation] was that the studio was having difficulty employing him." Asked why he didn't press Bruckheimer for more details, Carino said he didn't have to because it was obvious: "It is something within the industry that is understood." (Bruckheimer recently told The Times that Depp is not involved with Pirates 6 "at this point" but that "the future is yet to be decided.")
Film Frame/Disney Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow
When Heard's attorney asked Carino if he had been aware of Depp's alleged bad behavior on set, the agent replied, "I'm aware of him being tardy. But he's been tardy on everything in his entire life." Asked if his tardiness was troublesome for studios, Carino downplayed any insinuation that Hollywood wouldn't want to work with Depp over his behavior on set: "I think it's troublesome to everybody, but everyone has learned how to produce a film dealing with it."
In addition to Pirates 6, which, Depp testified, he wouldn't appear in even if he was asked, the star has lost other opportunities amid the ongoing conflict with Heard. Despite receiving initial support from Fantastic Beasts creator J.K. Rowling, Depp revealed on Instagram in 2020 that Warner Bros. had asked him to "resign" from playing Grindelwald in the third film in the franchise. The announcement came just days after Depp lost his libel case again The Sun. At the time, Variety reported that AT&T's merger with Warner Bros.' parent company Time Warner led to a deemphasis on "courting mercurial — but historically popular — talent like Depp." Mads Mikkelsen replaced him in the recently released Fantastic Beasts: Secrets of Dumbledore, but Depp received his full $16 million salary anyway, despite having shot just one scene.
Meanwhile, Heard's career trajectory has also been an important factor in the trial, especially as it pertains to her countersuit. During her time on the stand, the Justice League actress testified that she had to "fight really hard" to keep working in Hollywood after her volatile split from Depp. She's accused her ex-husband of orchestrating a "smear campaign" to ruin her career and reputation after she obtained a domestic violence restraining order against him in 2016. And she testified that a "sophisticated PR machine" behind Depp conspired to label her a liar in the press, resulting in her removal from acting jobs — including a "pared down" role in Aquaman 2 — and beauty sponsorships.
Ultimately, one of the few things both sides seem to agree on is that Depp and Heard's split caused irrevocable harm to their individual reputations, but whether their career downturns were directly related to the ugly divorce and ensuing accusations or whether their stars were already faltering beforehand will remain a central topic of debate as the trial nears its May 26 conclusion.