It’s an odd, and probably harmful, reflex to describe someone finally facing consequences for alleged crimes or misdeeds as “having a bad year.” After losing a libel lawsuit against The Sun, which labeled him a “wife beater” for extensive domestic abuse allegations leveled by his ex Amber Heard, losing his spot in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, and a temporary pause to his Christian Dior ads in some markets, Johnny Depp has begun to see tangible PR fallout.
Every few weeks seem to bring a new piece detailing how spectacularly Depp’s standing has fallen in Hollywood. Earlier this month, the Hollywood Reporter delved into the actor’s “self-made implosion,” interviewing parties close to Depp about how he’s managed to tank his public goodwill. This week, Insider suggests that, well, some other insiders think Depp may “never work again” following a defamation suit against Heard, set for trial in May. Depp himself is looking ahead to a brighter year, however unlikely it seems. “This year has been so hard for so many. Here’s to a better time ahead,” the actor wrote on Instagram over the weekend.
One British branding expert, Jeetendr Sehdev, expects the May trial — which stands to be a messy, high-profile airing of grievances that likely won’t break in Depp’s favor — to be the final nail in the coffin of his blockbuster run. “After that ruling, I'd say his brand is over,” Sehdev told Insider. He then outlines the avenues for a comeback — perhaps a low-budget Netflix outing here, a film outside of the states there — but pretty much concludes he won’t be the stuff of international stardom again.
This mostly scans as correct, given the severity and credibility of Heard’s allegations, but it’s only safe to think of his career as “over” in the inside-baseball, Dior advertisement variety. Even if the examples contained therein are mostly tweets with anywhere from zero-to-three likes, a story detailing Depp fans angrily replying to the Netflix account for the routine practice of... removing a Depp film at the end of the month, makes me think he’ll survive anything. One crisis PR rep told the Hollywood Reporter in the aforementioned piece that he’s largely immune to blowback from a large swath of his fans:
“He still has a fan base that in many ways is like Donald Trump's with their emotional intensity and commitment to a star icon. It's not based around principles. It's about charisma and their identification of the range of characters that he's played.”
It’s a different sort of transgression, but Mel Gibson provides the playbook for what Depp’s return might look like. The marquee projects are gone, but he’ll vacillate between indie thrillers, straight-to-VOD clunkers, and supporting roles in films like Daddy’s Home 2. By virtue of his name recognition alone, some of these may wind up on the Netflix Top 10 list for weeks at a time.
Fantastic Beasts aside, this isn’t really different from what Depp had been up to before the defamation suit threw his blockbuster standing into a loop. There were supporting turns in mid-budget successes like Murder on the Orient Express, but also marginal flops like City of Lies and The Professor. Given enough time away from the limelight, and Depp will likely slide right back into this zone of relative obscurity if he — and enough of his most zealous believers — still want to chase it.