Grindelwald actor Johnny Depp was asked to resign from the Fantastic Beasts franchise after losing a libel lawsuit against UK tabloid The Sun.
Actor Johnny Depp is exiting the role of Gellert Grindelwald as Warner Bros. seeks to recast the character for Fantastic Beasts 3, which has now been delayed to 2022. The catalyst for the decision was Depp losing a libel lawsuit against British tabloid The Sun, regarding the newspaper’s description of Depp as a “wife-beater” following allegations of domestic violence against him by his now ex-wife Amber Heard.
The controversy began in May 2016 when, a few days after filing for divorce against Depp, Heard also filed a domestic violence restraining order that alleged “excessive emotional, verbal and physical abuse.” The restraining order was granted and their divorce was finalized in January 2017, but both Depp and Heard continued to speak publicly about the allegations, with Depp fervently denying them. Throughout this time Warner Bros. resisted calls to remove Depp from the Fantastic Beasts franchise. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling also defended Depp, saying, “Based on our understanding of the circumstances, the film-makers and I are not only comfortable sticking with our original casting but genuinely happy to have Johnny playing a major character in the movies.”
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In response to this statement, The Sun published an article in April 2018 with the headline “GONE POTTY: How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife-beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?” At the time, Depp and his legal team were pushing back against Heard’s allegations, sharing evidence that Heard herself had been physically and emotionally abusive towards Depp during their marriage. In June 2018 Depp filed a libel claim against The Sun‘s parent company on the grounds that the “wife-beater” article “caused serious harm to [his] personal and professional reputation.” The legal battle that followed largely rested on 14 allegations of serious physical assault, with Heard herself giving testimony during the trial. In November 2020 the presiding judge ruled that 12 of these alleged assaults had been proved substantially true, deciding the case in The Sun‘s favor. A few days later, Depp resigned from the Fantastic Beasts franchise at the request of Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.’ statement on Depp’s departure offers no more details: “Johnny Depp will depart the Fantastic Beasts franchise. We thank Johnny for his work on the films to date.” However, it is likely that this decision was not entirely the result of the court ruling, but has actually been in consideration by the studio for some time. The Fantastic Beasts franchise is facing enough controversy as it is, due to Rowling’s opposition to transgender rights in the UK. Moreover, Depp has never been a particularly popular casting choice for the role of Grindelwald. He appeared in the first Fantastic Beasts film only at the very end, when Colin Farrell’s Percival Graves revealed himself to be the dark wizard in disguise, and the 2018 sequel Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald was a box office disappointment for Warner Bros.
The production of Fantastic Beasts 3 has also been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with the first UK lockdown forcing the planned March 2020 production start date to be postponed. Filming finally began in September, but a second national lockdown came into effect on November 5. Alongside the news of Depp’s departure came news that Fantastic Beasts 3 has been pushed back from its planned November 2021 release date to summer 2022. With the deadline to deliver the film extended, it appears that Warner Bros. may be taking the opportunity to shed some of the problems that have hampered the success of the Fantastic Beasts franchise – Depp’s starring role among them.
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