Shortly after Johnny Depp won his defamation case against ex-wife Amber Heard on Wednesday, he said in a statement that he felt like the “jury gave me my life back.”
But will the jury’s decision help him get his Hollywood career back? In the minds of some public relations experts, that remains to been seen.
In interviews Wednesday, three PR and crisis communications professionals said they felt confident that Depp could get his big-screen acting career back on track.
Two other experts expressed more skepticism, pointing out that Depp’s stature in the entertainment industry was diminished even before the trial started and observing that a wide swath of the moviegoing public will continue to believe Depp subjected Heard to physical abuse over years, regardless of the jury’s ruling.
Howard Breuer, the CEO of Newsroom Public Relations, a firm based in Los Angeles, said he thinks people in the industry will approach working with Depp again with caution.
“I’m sure there will be some factions in Hollywood who will be cautious as long as they know there are people out there who think Amber Heard was telling the truth,” Breuer said. “They’re going to be careful.”
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In the film industry, Depp was once considered a reliable hit-maker best known for playing pirate Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. In recent years, though, his commercial appeal started to dip following misfires like “The Lone Ranger” and “Transcendence.”
During the trial, Depp testified that he lost “nothing less than everything” after Heard, whom he married in 2015 and divorced in 2017, published an op-ed essay in 2018 calling herself a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”
Although the essay never mentioned Depp by name, Depp’s attorneys said it indirectly referred to allegations Heard made against him during their 2016 divorce.
“What did it do to me? What effect did it have on me?” Depp said during his testimony. “I’ll put it to you this way: No matter the outcome of this trial, the second the allegations were made against me … once that happened, I lost then.”
The jury unanimously found that Heard could not substantiate her allegations against Depp and that she knew her claims of abuse were false when she published her 2018 essay.
The seven-person jury in Virginia’s Fairfax County Circuit Court awarded Depp $15 million in damages in his lawsuit against Heard. Heard, who had countersued, was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages but $0 in punitive damages.
She had testified in graphic terms about an alleged sexual assault as well as various incidents of alleged physical abuse. Depp denied all allegations of abuse.
The jury’s decision represented a legal vindication for Depp, who lost a libel case in the United Kingdom two years ago over claims that he physically abused Heard.
Depp sued the parent company that owns The Sun and the newspaper’s executive editor for calling him a “wife beater” in 2018. Justice Andrew Nicol ruled against Depp in 2020, saying the British tabloid had presented substantial evidence to show that Depp was violent against Heard on at least 12 of 14 occasions.
In the wake of that case, Depp was asked to resign from the “Harry Potter” film franchise “Fantastic Beasts.”
He has appeared in at least four low-profile film productions since he exited “Fantastic Beasts,” collecting steady paychecks without reaching the commercial riches of his “Pirates of the Caribbean” heyday in the 2000s or the critical esteem that accompanied projects like “Ed Wood” or “Donnie Brasco.”
Depp’s return to ‘stardom’ is possible, some say
Depp could easily return to the limelight, some public relations experts said Wednesday following the jury’s ruling
“I think he will return to Hollywood stardom,” said David E. Johnson, the CEO of the Atlanta-based Strategic Vision PR Group.
“He won in the court of public opinion,” Johnson said, referring to the groundswell of support for Depp on social media platforms during the trial.
“I think now we’re going to see that Hollywood does not see him as lethal, as it did a few years ago,” Johnson said. “I think Hollywood will see him as someone bankable.”
He won in the court of public opinion.
-David E. Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision PR Group
Ryan McCormick, a co-founder of Goldman McCormick PR, a firm based in New York, echoed that perspective, saying that while “the allegations were very damaging, the verdict was very strong in his favor.”
That will go a long way to help restore his reputation, he said.
Mark Goldman, the other head of Goldman McCormick PR, said the trial — televised across the U.S. for more than a month and breathlessly chronicled online — conditioned regular viewers to expect Depp on their screens, even though the circumstances were far from entertaining.
“I think a lot of people didn’t get any work done,” Goldman said. “They were watching this trial all day, every day.”
What could happen ‘when the dust settles’
Yet other experts felt less confident that Depp could bounce back after weeks of relentless scrutiny on his private conduct and personal behavior, including testimony about his misuse of alcohol and drugs, as well as evidence that showed him using violent language about Heard in text messages.
Breuer, the CEO of Newsroom Public Relations, said he expected that Depp will earn professional “dividends” after the verdict. But he said Depp’s brand might be too toxic for a Disney franchise such as “Pirates of the Caribbean” or a comparable corporate-owned movie series.
It’s possible for Depp to attempt a comeback in a more off-the-beaten-path film, Breuer said, like the 2011 film “The Rum Diary,” a Hunter S. Thompson adaptation starring Depp and Heard.
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No matter the judgment of the Virginia jury or the support of Depp’s fans, Breuer said, there will always be a wide array of people — including many women — who believe he is a domestic abuser and have no interest in watching him act in movies.
“It’s not just a matter of what this jury decided. If there are a lot of people, and a lot of women, who watched this trial and believe the jury got it wrong, then what can you do to change that?” Breuer said. “We need to see what happens when the dust settles.”
Eden Gillott, the president of Gillott Communications, a crisis communications firm that represents businesses, athletes and celebrities, said that Depp seemed exhausted by the end of the trial.
She questioned whether the actor even has interest in returning to the sets of big-budget blockbusters.
“Is he going to want to immediately bounce back?” Gillott asked rhetorically.
Depp’s career plans are unclear. However, he gave a surprise musical performance at a concert in the United Kingdom on Sunday night as the Virginia jury prepared to continue deliberations this week.