LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - From a severed finger to defecation pranks and graffiti written in blood, the Johnny Depp libel case in London has exposed the kind of dirty laundry that Hollywood usually loves to hide.
Yet whoever wins or loses, Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard may find it easier than expected to resume their acting careers after the lurid headlines generated by the three-week trial.
“We are used to celebrities doing crazy, off-the-beaten path type of things. I think as a society we are a little immune to it at this point,” said Danielle Rossen, president of crisis PR firm Rossen Media.
Depp, best known for playing the swaggering Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, is suing News Group Newspapers, publishers of Britain’s Sun newspaper, over a 2018 article which labeled him a “wife beater.”
Heard, 34, the star of “Aquaman”, says Depp attacked her on at least 14 occasions, fueled by excessive drinking or drug-taking. Depp denies hitting Heard and says he was the victim of her assaults.
Crisis manager Matthew Hiltzik said Hollywood, and the general public, had bigger things to worry about as the world struggles to get back to business after a prolonged coronavirus shutdown.
“It’s actually really sad for everyone involved. Hopefully people will contextualize this properly in light of the real human suffering surrounding the pandemic right now,” said Hiltzik, chief executive of Hiltzik Strategies.
Others are not so convinced, pointing to a momentum around believing women who bring allegations of abuse in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
“Can Johnny Depp ever star in another family-friendly movie again as a hero? I doubt it,” said celebrity branding expert Jeetendr Sehdev.
“The drug and alcohol abuse allegations are just as damaging for him as those of domestic abuse. It’s a lose-lose situation for him,” Sehdev said.
Yet Depp, 57, who has often played offbeat or maverick characters in movies, has an army of fans using social media hashtags like #JusticeForJohnnyDepp and #WeAreWithYouJohnnyDepp. Many of the accusations against him were previously aired, in the couple’s vitriolic 2016 divorce case.
“Depp has a fanbase that likes his acting and who he portrays in movies, and off the screen it really doesn’t bother them about this marital dispute,” said Rossen.
“There are embarrassing things that came out about Amber Heard as well. For her, the trial doesn’t help and it doesn’t hurt,” Rossen said.
Depp’s next major slated film is the third in the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise, which is in pre-production. “Aquaman 2,” due to star Heard, was in development before the coronavirus that shut down Hollywood in mid-March. Warner Bros, the studio behind both movies, did not respond to a request for comment about Depp’s or Heard’s future with the projects.
Disney began working some two years ago on a reboot of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise and did not respond to queries about whether Depp would play any role in the upcoming movies.
Hiltzik felt the details of the allegations would be largely forgotten in the post-pandemic world.
“Hopefully, when this passes, they can each go back to doing what they do very well and continue their careers and go back to telling other people’s stories instead of their own,” he said.
Reporting by Jill Serjeant, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien
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