Many movie-goers were taken aback to see Johnny Depp pop up in the final moments of 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. However, upon hearing the news that the Golden Globe-winner would be reprising his role as Gellert Grindelwald in the 2018 sequel, a number of fans weren’t happy at all. And in an October 2018 interview with Entertainment Weekly, the star finally broke his silence on the controversy surrounding his casting.
Born in Owensboro, Kentucky, in 1963, Depp didn’t always have his sights set on acting. Instead, he wanted to make it in the music world – so much so that at the age of 15 he left school to pursue his dream. And as it turned out, the budding rock star did in fact find some success with his first passion, too.
Depp’s band The Kids earned enough of a reputation in the 1980s to open for the likes of Iggy Pop and Talking Heads. But the group split soon after heading to Los Angeles in pursuit of further fame. The venture didn’t prove entirely fruitless for Depp, though, as he ended up marrying the bass player’s sister, Lori Anne Allison, in 1983 – at just 20 years of age.
But the marriage wasn’t to last, and the pair divorced just two years after tying the knot. And while Depp would later go onto date the likes of Kate Moss and Winona Ryder, he still arguably has his first wife to thank for his career in Hollywood. After all, Allison introduced him to actor Nicolas Cage – an encounter that would prove life-changing for the future star.
That’s because it was Cage who convinced Depp to give the film industry a go. “[Depp and I] were just playing Monopoly one day. I told him he ought to try acting,” the Face/Off actor told Heart FM in 2008. “So I introduced him to my agent, and the next day he got his first audition and got the part.”
And so in 1984 Depp landed his screen debut in low-budget horror A Nightmare on Elm Street. He would find his big break three years later, however, in the successful teen TV show 21 Jump Street. As undercover cop Tommy Hanson, the young actor shot to fame as a teen heartthrob.
Determined to prove his versatility, though, Depp took on varied and unexpected roles in the years that followed. And today, with characters such as Gilbert Grape, Willy Wonka and the Mad Hatter under his belt, the three-time Oscar nominee surely boasts one of the most diverse careers in Hollywood.
Depp has in fact become renowned for the unusual characters that he portrays. For instance, frequent collaborations with eccentric director Tim Burton have seen him step into the shoes of the likes of Sweeney Todd, Edward Scissorhands and other unconventional creations. And in 2003 Depp’s iconic portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow – inspired by musician Keith Richards – bagged him his first Oscar nomination.
It’s Depp’s most recent movie venture that has perhaps proved the most unpredictable yet, though. The 55-year-old was, you see, cast as dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald in the Fantastic Beasts series – a five-film spin-off of the Harry Potter franchise. And yet his involvement in the movies has caused quite a stir.
For starters, Depp’s presence in the first film of the series – 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – took even some of the Wizarding World’s fiercest followers by surprise. He appears only at the very end of the movie, after all – when it’s revealed that Grindelwald has been disguised all along as Director of Magical Security Percival Graves, played by Colin Farrell.
However, it was the news that Depp would be making a return in the second instalment of the franchise, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald – and in the titular role, no less – that left some fans confused and even outraged. But what’s the reason for such controversy over the casting of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars?
Well, it was only a few months before the release of the first Fantastic Beasts movie that Depp’s reputation received a massive blow. In May 2016 Depp’s now-ex-wife Amber Heard shocked fans by accusing the actor of attacking her. Five days after filing for divorce, she requested a restraining order be placed on Depp.
Depp and Heard reportedly began dating after meeting on the set of The Rum Diary in 2011. “You can’t help but adore his talent, his passion, his magnetic force that pulls you into all his brilliance,” Heard said about Depp during the movie’s promotional tour. And four years later, the couple wed at Depp’s Hollywood home.
In 2015, however, Depp and Heard found themselves in hot water. You see, the pair had illegally smuggled their dogs, Boo and Pistol, into Australia, and after doing so they released a bizarre video in which they publicly apologized to the country. Heard subsequently picked up a fine and a four-week good-conduct bond. But Depp and Heard’s relationship would soon take a far messier turn.
In 2016 Heard accused Depp of domestic abuse. Photographs of her facial injuries from an alleged incident as well as footage of Depp smashing a bottle and yelling at her surfaced on the internet. “During the entirety of our relationship, Johnny Depp has been verbally and physically abusive to me,” Heard claimed in an official statement. After just 15 months of marriage, then, Heard filed for divorce in May 2016.
But despite Depp having adamantly denied Heard’s claims, it seems that they’ve left a lasting impression on some movie fans. In fact, it was due to these allegations that many of the magical franchise’s devotees voiced their anger over the actor’s participation in the films.
“It really isn’t too late to replace Johnny Depp, guys,” one Twitter user wrote, for instance. “If Ridley Scott can fire Kevin Spacey after filming an entire movie with him and voluntarily reshooting it a month before release, then y’all can do the same thing [with] Johnny Depp,” another commented, referencing the All the Money in the World director’s decision to swap out Spacey for Christopher Plummer after allegations of sexual misconduct against the former.
Other fans, meanwhile, even claimed that they would refuse to see the movie if Depp’s part weren’t recast. “The reason why I won’t spend a single dime in Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of Grindelwald is because there’s Johnny Depp in it,” one such tweet read. “And I promised myself I would boycott all of his films.”
What’s more, some riled fans even turned to J.K. Rowling for answers. The author – who penned the scripts for both Fantastic Beasts movies – isn’t a stranger to voicing her opinions online. And she did, eventually, have her say on Depp’s casting, via her blog in December 2017.
“Harry Potter fans had legitimate questions and concerns about our choice to continue with Johnny Depp in the role [of Grindelwald],” Rowling wrote. “We naturally considered the possibility of recasting. I understand why some have been confused and angry about why that didn’t happen.”
Rowling continued, “Based on our understanding of the circumstances, the filmmakers and I are not only comfortable sticking with our original casting but genuinely happy to have Johnny playing a major character in the movies. Within the fictional world and outside it, we all have to do what we believe to be the right thing.”
But although Rowling jumped to the defense of Depp, others involved in the franchise arguably haven’t been so positive. For instance, Ezra Miller, who plays the character of Credence Barebone in the series, has also had his say on the controversy surrounding his co-star’s casting.
“None of us were consulted. None of us knew,” Miller revealed in a November 2018 interview with Playboy. “Look, I bring forth my work to this job, and I do the best that I can… It’s amazing how far the banner of all good can extend,” the The Perks of Being a Wallflower actor added, somewhat cryptically.
Meanwhile, director of both Fantastic Beasts movies David Yates also spoke out about the allegations relating to Depp. “He’s full of decency and kindness, and that’s all I see,” Yates said to Entertainment Weekly in November 2017. “Whatever accusation was out there doesn’t tally with the kind of human being I’ve been working with.”
Yet unlike his Fantastic Beasts colleagues, Depp himself has remained surprisingly tight-lipped about the backlash that he’s received since being cast in the franchise. In fact, following the release of the first movie in 2016, the Sweeney Todd star hasn’t uttered a word about it – until an October 2018 interview with Entertainment Weekly, that is.
During the exclusive phone interview, Depp opened up about his role in the series. “From the first second, it’s been an absolute treat and the most positive and fun experience,” he said. “The beauty of J.K. and of Yates is that they put trust in me to a degree. J.K. and I had some really nice talks, and I had some ideas, and she just said, ‘I can’t wait to see what you do with [Grindelwald].’”
Depp shared some thoughts about the role, too, including the deliberate decision to give Grindelwald one strange-looking eye. “It’s a character choice. I saw Grindelwald as more than one, if you know what I mean,” he explained. “I almost felt like he’s maybe two people. He’s twins in one body.”
And Depp also addressed – for the first time – the negative reactions to his participation in the movies. “I’ll be honest with you, I felt bad for J.K. having to field all these various feelings from people out there. I felt bad that she had to take that,” he began.
The actor was, however, also quick to profess his innocence. “But ultimately, there is real controversy,” he said. “The fact remains I was falsely accused, which is why I’m suing The Sun newspaper for defamation for repeating false accusations.” And Depp did indeed file a lawsuit against British publication The Sun in June 2018, two months after the tabloid had reportedly called him a “wife-beater” and criticized Rowling for supporting Depp.
“J.K. has seen the evidence and therefore knows that I was falsely accused, and that’s why she has publicly supported me,” Depp continued in the interview. “She doesn’t take things lightly. She would not stand up if she didn’t know the truth, so that’s really it.”
Moreover, Depp spoke out about another aspect of the movies that has been a topic of fierce online debate: Grindelwald’s sexuality. After the release of the last Harry Potter book, you see, Rowling divulged that the character Albus Dumbledore is gay and had once loved Grindelwald. Many fans were annoyed to learn, though, that the romance would not be explored in Crimes of Grindelwald.
And regarding his character’s relationship with Dumbledore – who’s played by Jude Law in the movie – Depp believes that “it should be left up to the audience to feel it first.” The actor added, “And when the time comes, it makes the situation with Dumbledore all the more intense.”
Depp continued, “I think there’s a jealousy with [the main character, Newt] Scamander. [Grindelwald] sees Scamander as Dumbledore’s protégé – his boy, in a way. That in itself is enough for Grindelwald to want to take Scamander down in a way that is ferocious and eternal.” And the star went on to shed light on other aspects of his character, too.
For instance, Depp described Grindelwald as “childlike,” “dangerous” and “oddly likable.” He also lauded devotees of the Wizarding World for their passion for the universe that Rowling created. “The Potter fans are like scholars of this stuff, which I find incredibly impressive,” he explained. “They know that world inside and out. I hope to give them something they haven’t seen before.”
But regardless of Depp’s enthusiasm for the franchise, the controversy over his role doesn’t seem to be dying down entirely. Even Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe has had his say. He told Entertainment Weekly that he “wants to be supportive of the film’s producers” but that he can “see why people are frustrated.”
What’s more, some of Depp’s former flames have joined in the debate, too. Winona Ryder, for example – whom Depp dated for four years during the early ’90s – told Time magazine that the star was “never abusive at all” and that he was always “a really good, loving, caring guy.” And Depp’s exes Lori Anne Wilson and Vanessa Paradis have also spoken out to defend him.
Crimes of Grindelwald itself, meanwhile, hasn’t garnered much praise. After hitting theaters in November 2018, the movie earned a score of only 53 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Furthermore, Vulture dubbed it a “bust,” while Variety magazine called it a “cluttered expansion of the Harry Potter franchise” in which “real magic is in short supply.”
And the reception hasn’t been particularly positive for Depp, either. Describing the actor’s performance in the movie, Vulture commented, “Depp, once such a charismatic actor, mostly sleepwalks through his part, doing his usual tired goth weirdo bit.”
As for Depp, he remains hopeful that Heard’s accusations will one day be forgotten. “Ultimately, the truth will come out in all of this, and I will be standing on the right side of the roaring rapids. I hope other people will be, too,” he told GQ in November 2018. “I know the truth, and if I had to walk away from all of it today – the job, the career, all of it – and go toodle-oo, then fine.”
For now, though, it seems that Depp’s future in Hollywood is still safe. The actor has several movie projects lined up, in fact, including 2019 police thriller City of Lies. Meanwhile, the Fantastic Beasts franchise is set to release three further films, with one announced for 2020. And Depp has apparently confirmed that he will be returning for the next installment.