After years of controversy and carefully written statements, Johnny Depp has been fired from the Fantastic Beasts franchise. The embattled actor recently lost his libel suit against National Group Newspapers over an article in British tabloid The Sun that called him a “wife beater”—and that, apparently, was all it took for Warner Bros. to finally cut ties.
Depp announced his departure Friday—in a statement dripping with false martyrdom.
“In light of recent events, I would like to make the following short statement,” the actor wrote. “Firstly, I’d like to thank everybody who has gifted me with their support and loyalty. I have been humbled and moved by your many messages of love and concern, particularly over the last few days. Secondly, I wish to let you know that I have been asked to resign by Warner Bros. from my role as Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts and I have respected and agreed to that request.”
“Finally, I wish to say this,” Depp concluded. “The surreal judgment of the court in the U.K. will not change my fight to tell the truth and I confirm that I plan to appeal. My resolve remains strong and I intend to prove that the allegations against me are false. My life and career will not be defined by this moment in time. Thank you for reading.”
Heard’s allegations against Depp, however harrowing, never guaranteed he would face any career consequences; celebrity men accused of abuse have traditionally had no problem continuing to thrive. And indeed, the creators behind Fantastic Beasts have spent years defending Depp’s involvement—making Warner’s sudden decision all the more surprising.
But now the real question becomes: Has Depp lost a job, or his career?
On Monday Britain’s High Court ruled against Depp in his libel case, deciding based on weeks of testimony about severed fingertips, scatological warfare, and allegedly abusive alter-egos that The Sun was in its rights to call Depp a “wife beater” in its 2018 article. As Depp noted in his statement, he has vowed to appeal the decision, and he has another defamation lawsuit pending against Heard over a 2018 Washington Post op-ed.
Depp’s casting has been a lightning rod of controversy for years; back in 2017 author J.K. Rowling and director David Yates defended casting the actor against a wave of backlash as Heard’s abuse allegations continued to unfold.
“Honestly, there’s an issue at the moment where there’s a lot of people being accused of things, they’re being accused by multiple victims, and it’s compelling and frightening,” Yates said at the time. “With Johnny, it seems to me there was one person who took a pop at him and claimed something. I can only tell you about the man I see every day: He’s full of decency and kindness, and that’s all I see. Whatever accusation was out there doesn’t tally with the kind of human being I’ve been working with.”
Added Rowling: “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.”
Depp, meanwhile, maintained that he’d been falsely accused.
But evidently this week’s verdict was enough to sway the powers that be at Warner in a different direction—perhaps because at this point, Rowling has become a controversial figure in her own right.
Until now, Fantastic Beasts’ upcoming third installment had two major PR issues on its hands: the abuse allegations against Depp and Rowling’s unabashed embrace of transphobia. Ironically, Rowling has framed her obsession with the issue as a result of her own experiences with domestic violence and sexual assault—making her previous defenses of Depp seem all the more cynical and absurd.
At least with Depp out of the picture, Fantastic Beasts 3 has only one reputational liability to worry about. (Although it’s reasonable to wonder how many fans will show up for this movie after the fantastic failure that was Crimes of Grindelwald.)
What’s next for Depp, however, might be a question for divination experts. Plenty of toppled celebrity men have managed to stage grand comebacks; remember when Mel Gibson’s career seemed like a pile of ash? Still, Heard’s allegations against Depp have been some of the most widely covered in recent years—so while it’s generally safe to assume no one in Hollywood is ever truly “canceled,” it is plausible to think this could be the rare exile that sticks. Anyone got Professor Trelawney’s number?