A new report suggests that Warner Bros. is panicked about blowback from the presence of actor Johnny Depp in the Fantastic Beasts franchise. They’re worried now?
No doubt the underwhelming reception of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald has influenced higher-ups at Warner Bros. to take a harder look at the Depp’s presence as the major villain of the piece. Had it been a slam-run hit, we might not be having this conversation. But the fact of the matter remains that Crimes received a chilly critical reception, with 37% on Rotten Tomatoes, and didn’t exactly apparate away with the global box office. (While the film technically was #10 in 2018’s worldwide top-grossing movies, it took in the lowest receipts of the Harry Potter cinematic universe to date—not the results you hope to see from the second installment of five.)
As the proposed three more movies planned for Fantastic Beasts are likely undergoing some retooling, the question of Depp’s fitness to star in a family-friendly franchise appears to have come back into play.
I hope that the real motivation for the studio’s anxiety about Depp at this moment in time emerged from his ex-wife Amber Heard’s most recently filed allegations. Heard alleges that Depp attacked her while in drug-and-alcohol-induced “rages,” as Buzzfeed reports:
Amber Heard has filed new allegations against her ex-husband Johnny Depp, saying in court documents that he choked, hit, and head-butted her during violent drug-fueled rages.
The 32-year-old Aquaman actor said Depp abused alcohol and drugs — both illegal and prescription — during their relationship and became a “totally different person, often delusional and violent,” including threatening to kill her. […] “We called that version of Johnny, ‘the Monster,'” she said.
The suit from Heard, which counters a $50 million defamation suit from Depp, is the latest in this ongoing and ugly saga. Heard’s allegations are damning and detailed, and Warner Bros. is “freaking out” as a result, according to Page Six.
“Executives at Warner Bros. are wondering how to deal with the backlash of the Depp matter on the Harry Potter franchise,” a source said. “High-level female execs at the studio are extremely worried about working with Depp and the message it sends to the public, especially after the recent sordid departure of CEO Kevin Tsujihara,” who last month announced he was leaving amid a casting couch scandal.
“This is yet another blow to the morale of female employees at the studio,” the source said. “If Warner Bros. continues to stick by Depp, it would reveal a lot about the values the company holds.”
Wouldn’t that just be revealing? As revealing as Warner Bros. sticking with Deep’s casting for years despite widespread concerns about Heard’s allegations and Depp’s casting? The studio has no leg to stand on in this respect, although Page Six’s report suggests that a big reason Depp’s casting was maintained in the first place was due to author/screenwriter JK Rowling’s very public support of him (and very public dismissal of fans’ outrage). “Conscience isn’t governable by committee,” Rowling wrote in an extensive statement defending Depp.
“Many at Warner Bros. wish that Rowling hadn’t come out so strongly behind Depp, because having made her opinion so public boxes them into a corner,” a source said.
I do find it interesting that so many “insiders” and “sources” at Warner Bros. are suddenly talkative on this matter; once again, I’d link it back to the weak performance of Crimes of Grindelwald (along with fallout from CEO Tsujihara’s departure). I don’t recall so much as a peep leaking from the studio in the aftermath of Depp’s casting and the run-up to the movie.
As Hollywood has demonstrated time and time again, when people and properties are successful, a great deal of questionable behavior is often swept under the rug. But when the machinery grinds to a halt—and Fantastic Beasts 3’s filming has been pushed back—this can prompt some “freaked out” soul-searching that should have happened long before. Warner Bros. is also unlikely to do much to rein in Rowling’s scriptwriting, so altering Depp’s role could be one way to course-correct on the franchise without blaming Rowling’s other choices.
Does this public buzz mean that the studio will really reconsider Depp as Grindelwald? It’s possible, though the legalities are bound to be messy, and if Rowling’s support remains staunch, it’s unlikely. But the movies also have the unique advantage of existing in a magical realm where anything is possible—it would be child’s play to write in a reason why Grindelwald would suddenly be appearing as a different person. As I will always point out, Colin Farrell played him in disguise just perfectly in the first film. Colin Farrell is only a phone call away. We could have had it all, and maybe there’s still time to save face.
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