The case is now in the hands of a jury after six weeks of testimony in a defamation trial that exposed the good, bad and very ugly of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s past relationship.
Regardless of the verdicts in Depp’s $50 million lawsuit and Heard’s $100 million counterclaim, something else is true: The fates of their respective careers will be decided in the court of public opinion, according to Hollywood insiders.
CNN spoke to six entertainment industry experts for this story, some of whom spoke about the background to protecting professional relationships.
Fair or unfair, the outpouring of support Depp has received on social media — particularly on TikTok — during the trial could be of use to him in the future, a veteran publicist who has known Depp for years told CNN.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect before he took the stand and if anything I think it just helped his public image,” the source said.
Another top Hollywood publicist who hasn’t worked with either Depp or Heard said none of their pictures turned out well.
“Both are highly dysfunctional. Money is poisonous and greed destroys. No one wins here,” said this publicist.
A “PROMISING” INDUSTRY
Of course, there are hurdles both actors must overcome when their litigation ends.
Heard testified that Depp was verbally and physically abusive. She also accused Depp of sexual violence during their relationship.
Depp has repeatedly claimed on the stand that he has never hit a woman, denied Heard’s allegations of sexual violence, and called himself a victim of domestic violence at the hands of Heard, which she denies.
Depp and Heard met on the set of their film The Rum Diary in 2009 and were married from 2015 to 2016 before divorcing.
Photographs and audio and video recordings painted a picture of two people in a relationship that Laurel Anderson, a clinical psychologist who worked with Depp and Heard as a marriage counselor, described as “mutual abuse” in 2015 April 14. (To illustrate how controversial this trial was, the witness’s own use of the term has drawn criticism.)
Entertainment agent Darryl Marshak thinks film studios might be reluctant — at least initially — to engage with the actors involved in a controversy that has played out so publicly.
“Robert Downey Jr. won an Oscar and then broadcast his personal business to the world and people kind of balked,” said Marshak, who has previously represented the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Hilary Swank. “I think Hollywood is a weird place. When you air your dirty laundry in front of the machine, the executives, all the people who move the parts, kind of shy away from a hot flame.”
Depp claims a 2018 comment by Heard, in which she described herself as “a public figure who represents domestic violence,” defamed him. He has appeared in two films in which he was not credited since the comment, Waiting for the Barbarians and Minamata, both independent films.
Heard, whose counterclaim alleges she was defamed by a lawyer for Depp who called her abuse allegations a “hoax,” will appear in the Aquaman sequel, due out in 2023.
Marshak said he believes Depp’s “amazing talent” will help him return to the big screen.
“Hollywood is forgiving too and as it moves forward and this thing doesn’t air anymore Johnny can fluently get back into business. I think he’ll show up again,” he said. “Hollywood is a volatile place.”
The courtroom appearance of the legal teams for Depp and Heard – a live-streamed trial watched by millions – could also shape the industry’s perspective on the two stars.
“People around the world seem to have become polarized by the trial, we observed this in the press before its climax in the courtroom,” Amanda K. Ruisi, founder and president of AKR Public Relations & AKR Ventures, told CNN.
Ruisi believes Depp’s representatives were more effective.
“Mr. Depp’s legal and strategic communications team did an incredible job of delivering a consistent message in the courtroom and across the media, which I believe helped secure the support of his fan base.”
Not that Depp’s supporters needed the nudge. The scales of justice on social media have tipped heavily in his favor, so much so that the imbalance has made headlines pondering the reason behind it. A writer for The Cut asked: “Here is a woman who tells in distressing detail how an extremely famous man allegedly abused her. Why do they seem to hate so many people for it in 2022?”
Sociologist Nicole Bedera has come up with a few theories – both up Twitter and in an article for Harper’s Bazaar — about why both female survivors of domestic violence and many women in the period appear to be supportive of Depp.
“It can be frightening — and retraumatizing for victims — for women to empathize with an abuse survivor. If violence really *is* everywhere and if it feels like it could happen to anyone, then many women will worry that they will be next,” she wrote. “So is it surprising that many women come to Depp’s defense? no Not at all.”
Heard had her supporters, but significantly less vocal than Depp — both in the entertainment business and in and around the courthouse.
Heard’s former co-star David Krumholtz has come publicly to defend her, with actress Ellen Barkin testifying for her defense team and comedian Kathy Griffin wrote in response to a pre-trial tweet from Heard: “Thinking of you and sending all the love.”
For two working actors, after the court adjournment, will the producers be as reliable in sending them the scripts as viewers have been sending tweets?
FRANCHISE FUTURES IN DANGER?
At the heart of Heard and Depp’s lawsuits lies allegations that their careers — particularly their futures in their respective film franchises — have been adversely affected.
During the past few weeks of testimony, Depp’s team has been trying to prove that Depp, who portrayed Jack Sparrow in five films, was dropped from a potential sixth film in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise because of Heard’s comment.
Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced the Pirates of the Caribbean films, told The Times that “the future has yet to be decided” regarding Depp’s involvement in a possible next installment.
The producer said the creative team is “developing two ‘pirate’ scripts” – one that would potentially star Margot Robbie and “one without” Robbie.
The last film was Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales in 2017.
In an affidavit played in court, Depp’s former agent Christian Carino, who began representing Depp in October 2016 and even represented Depp and Heard simultaneously, testified that he believed Heard’s allegations of domestic violence against Depp cost the actor a paycheck, which would have been worth tens of millions of dollars.
And when an attorney for Heard Carino pressed for other issues Depp might have had while working on previous “Pirate” films, he dismissed them.
“I’m aware he’s late, but he’s been late for everything his entire life,” Carino said. “I think it’s annoying for everyone, but everyone has learned how to produce a film to deal with it.”
Other witnesses viewed his behavior as more harmful.
Tracey Jacobs, who testified in a recorded statement and represented Depp as his talent agent for 30 years before she was fired, testified as a witness that she was honest with Depp about being consistently late about sets and his behavior, including drug and alcohol consumption, emerged. hurt his career.
“His star was dimmed because it was getting harder to get him jobs given the reputation he’d built up for being late and other things,” Jacobs testified. “People were talking and the question of his behavior was out there.”
A Hollywood director who hasn’t worked with Depp but met him told CNN that he doesn’t think Depp will ever helm another major franchise.
“I believe that Johnny Depp can be cast in various independent films because he still has significant name value and there is an audience for him, but studios will be more cautious for insurance reasons and because of the possibility of protection being stopped They would worry more about public backlash than smaller independent companies,” he said.
As for Heard, the director believes the attention surrounding the trial hasn’t helped her image.
There is currently a petition to drop Heard from the upcoming Aquaman sequel, which has already been filmed and is in post-production. (CNN and Warner Bros. are both part of Warner Bros. Discovery.)
That probably won’t happen. But Walter Hamada, the head of DC Films that produced Aquaman, testified that the creative team had concerns Heard would reprise her role in the franchise due to a lack of chemistry with co-star Jason Momoa.
He also said that the studio never planned to cast Heard as a co-lead in the second film and that Heard’s role in the upcoming film called Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom was not reduced.
Regardless of the jury’s decision, Herald PR founder Juda Engelmayer, who has represented celebrities including disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein, told CNN that Depp’s time in court — which included quirky, memorable moments involving doodles and jelly beans — his image has strengthened.
“His statement, whether true or fictitious, has caused a resurgence of fans who have missed him,” he said. “For his reputation and career, the studios see that he still has a following,” he said.
As for Heard, whose career was less established than Depp’s when their relationship and the troubling allegations began, that’s harder to say, according to sources.
Nearly a decade ago, before the Depp drama broke, Heard told Vanity Fair she was ready for the ups and downs of an acting career.
“Do you think you would have followed it if you knew it was going to be such a circus?” Heard was asked in a 2013 interview.
“Absolutely,” Heard replied. “I really love the battle you’re in constantly… you’re constantly put into a state of fight or flight. It’s a constant struggle. So I don’t know if I could have it any other way.”