Entertainment Once upon a time in Hollywood, Johnny Depp was royalty. Can he make a comeback with new movie?

Once upon a time in Hollywood, Johnny Depp was royalty. Can he make a comeback with new movie?

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Wearing his trademark swag of costume jewellery and layers of well-worn ruffled clothes, Johnny Depp was somewhat relaxed and smiling as he fronted a media call for his latest film in Spain.

He was there as part of an ongoing publicity tour for Minamata, a film where Depp plays real-life US photojournalist W Eugene Smith.

Still much loved in the court of public opinion, Depp, 58, fronts up later this week to present the widely acclaimed film, which he also produced, at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic – the most prestigious festival in central and eastern Europe.

Despite MGM picking up the film last year, it has not yet been released in the US, his home country, and has instead premiered at film festivals everywhere else.

Director Andrew Levitas accused MGM of “burying” the film and wrote a letter of complaint to the studio giant.

“Despite an already successful global rollout, MGM had decided to “bury the film” (acquisitions head Sam Wollman’s words) because MGM was concerned about the possibility that the personal issues of an actor in the film could reflect negatively upon them,” reads the letter obtained by Deadline.

Depp told The Sunday Times on August 14: “For Hollywood’s boycott of, erm, me? One man, one actor in an unpleasant and messy situation, over the last number of years?”

“But, you know, I’m moving towards where I need to go to make all that … To bring things to light,” he said.

Amber Heard with then husband Johnny Depp at The Danish Girl premiere at Venice in September 2015. Photo: AAP

‘Grottiest showbiz trial of the century’

Depp, once considered Hollywood royalty as Edward Scissorhands and later as loveable Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, has been out of the spotlight since court proceedings involving his ex-wife, Aquaman actor Amber Heard, 34, took centre stage.

In November 2020, London High Court judge Andrew Nicol ruled against Depp after he brought a libel case against The Sun newspaper over a 2018 article in which he was accused of being a “wife beater”.

In Heard’s evidence to the London High Court, Heard said Depp would turn into a jealous alter ego, “the monster”, after bingeing on drugs and alcohol and had threatened to kill her.

She detailed 14 occasions of extreme violence when she said the actor choked, punched, slapped, headbutted, throttled and kicked her, with Judge Nicol accepting 12 of these accounts as true.

The Times described the court case as “the grottiest showbiz trial of the century”, during which Depp had been “stripped of his status and his dignity”.

“There were photos of the actor passed out in a foetal slump, socks on show,” the article said.

“One lengthy exchange involved faeces. Another urination, inside or outside a house, after a violent night with his ex-wife.”

After three weeks of hearings, Judge Nicol concluded Depp had violently assaulted Heard, putting her in fear of her life.

In March, two Court of Appeal judges refused Depp permission to challenge the verdict.

His attempt to restore his reputation has now shifted to the US, where on August 18 he was granted permission to proceed with a $US50 million ($69 million) defamation lawsuit against Heard in Virginia over an opinion piece she wrote in the Washington Post.

Johnny Depp on the set of Edward Scissorhands, written and directed by Tim Burton. Photo: Getty

Without a doubt the libel case damaged Depp’s career.

Afterwards he was asked to leave the Fantastic Beasts franchise, the movie spinoffs from the Harry Potter books and films.

But the question now is whether we believe in redemption, and whether Depp has a chance at another crack at Hollywood.

Rapidly becoming a teen idol after 21 Jump Street in the 1980s, Depp achieved what few actors do, and pushed out three decades of critically acclaimed (mostly, forget Mortdecai and The Lone Ranger) and award-winning roles.

On the red carpet, he hung with the darlings of Hollywood, dating Winona Ryder and British supermodel Kate Moss, and his charm and charisma played out in largely independent movies including What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Arizona Dream.

He cultivated a so-called grunge heart-throb image alongside the late River Phoenix (Stand By Me) and Keanu Reeves (Speed, John Wick), which lasted decades.

With a catalogue of 70 feature films (he made his movie debut at 21 with A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984), dozens of documentaries and TV shows to his credit, Depp became one of the world’s biggest film stars, listed by Guinness World Records in 2012 as the world’s highest-paid actor, with earnings of $US75 million ($104 million).

johnny depp
Depp has said Sparrow is ‘definitely a big part of me’, and that he modelled the character on The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and cartoon skunk Pepé Le Pew. Photo: Getty

Depp now has his work cut out for him.

Minamata will score him a lot of brownie points, and he hopes the movie’s momentum is the start of a new chapter in his once-illustrious career.

The Times asked him: “Is that it?” His last film?

“No. No. Actually, I look forward to the next few films I make to be my first films, in a way,” Depp replied.

“Because once you’ve … Well, look. The way they wrote it in The Wizard of Oz is that when you see behind the curtain, it’s not him. When you see behind the curtain, there’s a whole lot of motherf—ers squished into one spot.

“All praying that you don’t look at them. And notice them.”

Well, the film festival world is noticing Depp, with the San Sebastian Film Festival announcing he is the recipient of the coveted Donostia Award, which “recognises outstanding contributions to the film world of great names who will be part of cinema history forever”.

As The Times noted: “Some people are just too famous to fail”.