Depp lost $31.2m Pirates role after ex-wife Heard's column, says manager

Johnny Depp's talent manager said that Amber Heard's column in December 2018 "devastated" Depp's reputation and career. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (NY TIMES) - Johnny Depp's talent manager testified on Monday (May 2) in the actor's defamation trial that the actor lost a US$22.5 million (S$31.2 million) deal to star in the sixth Pirates Of The Caribbean movie after his ex-wife, Amber Heard, published an opinion piece in which she called herself a "public figure representing domestic abuse".

The exact timing of when Depp, 58, was cut from the Pirates franchise (2003 to 2017) has become a pertinent question in the trial because his lawsuit against Heard claims that her column, published by The Washington Post in December 2018, "devastated" his reputation and career.

Although the op-ed does not mention Depp by name, he has argued that it clearly referred to their relationship. Heard, 36, has accused Depp of assaulting her repeatedly during their relationship, which Depp denies.

At Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia, talent manager Jack Whigham testified that the actor had a verbal agreement with The Walt Disney Co. to reprise his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in a proposed sixth film, but that in early 2019, it became clear that Disney was "going in a different direction".

"After the op-ed, it was impossible to get him a studio film," testified Mr Whigham, who has represented Depp since 2016.

Lawyers for Heard have argued that it was not the actress's op-ed that undermined Depp's career but rather his own actions that led to bad publicity, seeking to prove during cross-examination of Mr Whigham that Depp had, in fact, lost the Pirates job before the article was published.

Ms Elaine Charlson Bredehoft, a lawyer for Heard, pointed to a previous deposition by Mr Whigham in which he said it had been the fall of 2018 - before the op-ed was published - when he came to understand that it was becoming unlikely that Depp would appear in the next Pirates movie.

Mr Whigham testified that around that time, Disney had not yet made a decision about whether Depp would appear in the movie and it was "trending badly", but he and film producer Jerry Bruckheimer were still seeking to persuade the company to keep Depp in the franchise.

"We had hope," Mr Whigham said, "and it became clear to me in early 2019 that it was over."

In the opinion piece, Heard asserted that her own career had been affected by becoming a "public figure representing domestic abuse", saying she was dropped as the face of a fashion brand and a movie had recast her role.

On Monday, Heard's lawyers sought to undermine Mr Whigham's claim that Depp had a formal deal for the sixth Pirates movie at all, saying there was no written contract. Mr Whigham said it was not unusual for an actor to have a verbal agreement for a movie that is later put into writing.

Jack Whigham testifies remotely at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia, on May 2, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

In the wake of the massive publicity surrounding the trial, Heard, who has yet to take the stand, has made a switch in her crisis management team. There has been a backlash against the Aquaman (2018) star, with an online petition to remove her from the sequel hitting more than 3 million signatures on Monday (May 2).

A number of celebrities have spoken out on the trial, including actress-host Drew Barrymore, 47, who cracked a joke about it on her show, calling it a "seven-layer dip of insanity".

She later apologised in a video on Instagram, saying: "It has come to my attention that I have offended people with making light of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, and for that I just want to deeply apologise and appreciate everyone who spoke out because this can be a teachable moment for me and how I move forward and how I conduct myself."

  • Additional reporting by Suzanne Sng

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