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Johnny Depp lost $22.5 million ‘Pirates’ role after op-ed, manager says


Johnny Depp’s lawsuit against his ex-wife, Amber Heard, asserts that his career was damaged by an op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post.

By Julia Jacobs


Johnny Depp’s talent manager testified earlier this week in the actor’s defamation trial that Depp lost a $22.5 million deal to star in a sixth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie after his ex-wife, Amber Heard, published an op-ed in which she called herself a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”


The exact timing of when Depp was cut from the “Pirates” franchise has become a pertinent question in the trial because Depp’s lawsuit against Heard claims that her op-ed, 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 has accused Depp of assaulting her repeatedly during their relationship, which Depp denies.


At Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia, the talent manager, Jack Whigham, testified that the actor had a verbal agreement with The Walt Disney Co. to reprise his role as Capt. 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 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 Whigham that Depp had, in fact, lost the “Pirates” job before the article was published.


Elaine Charlson Bredehoft, a lawyer for Heard, pointed to a previous deposition by 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.


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,” Whigham said, “and it became clear to me in early 2019 that it was over.”


In the op-ed, 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.


The idea for the op-ed came from the American Civil Liberties Union, and a communications department employee from the nonprofit organization drafted the article, according to earlier testimony from Terence Dougherty, general counsel for the ACLU. Initially, the op-ed draft referenced Heard’s relationship with Depp directly. But those references were later edited out after a back-and-forth between ACLU personnel and Heard’s lawyers about a nondisclosure agreement associated with the couple’s divorce, Dougherty testified.


Aside from discussions about the op-ed on which Depp’s lawsuit is based, much of the trial has focused on diverging accounts of physical abuse in Heard and Depp’s relationship. Depp testified that he has never hit Heard and that she was the aggressor, accusing her of punching him in the face and kicking a bathroom door into his head. Heard, who has not yet testified in the trial, has said in court papers that she never hit Depp except in self-defense or in defense of her sister, and that Depp tended to perpetrate violence against her when he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.


On Monday, Heard’s lawyers sought to undermine Whigham’s claim that Depp had a formal deal for the sixth “Pirates” movie at all.


“Do you have any explanation for why there exists nothing — no piece of paper — nothing suggesting that Mr. Depp ever had a deal with Disney for ‘Pirates 6’?” Bredehoft asked.


Whigham said it was not unusual for an actor to have a verbal agreement for a movie that is later put into writing.


Bredehoft also pointed to other possible precursors to Depp’s reputational decline other than the op-ed, citing a headline from The Sun newspaper in Britain that called Depp a “wife beater.” That article was published in April 2018, she pointed out, and Depp sued the newspaper for it in June 2018 — both months before Whigham’s recollection of Disney’s declining interest in Depp for “Pirates.”


Heard’s potential witness list includes Tina Newman, a Disney executive.


Heard’s legal team has referred repeatedly to the defamation trial in Britain that arose from that lawsuit. But it appears that the team has been restricted from mentioning the outcome of the case, in which a judge in London ruled against Depp and found that there was “overwhelming evidence” that he had assaulted Heard repeatedly during their marriage.

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