Johnny Depp’s agent testified on Monday that Depp was to receive $22.5 million to star in the sixth “Pirates of the Caribbean” film, but Disney decided to go “in a different direction” after Amber Heard published an op-ed reviving her domestic abuse allegations.
Jack Whigham, who represented Depp at Creative Artists Agency and later at Range Media Partners, testified that the December 2018 piece in the Washington Post had a “catastrophic” impact on Depp’s career.
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“After the op-ed it was impossible to get him a studio film,” Whigham testified.
Depp is suing Heard for $50 million, alleging that she destroyed his career with false allegations of domestic violence. The trial in Fairfax, Va., entered its fourth week on Monday, as Depp’s team continued to call witnesses to support his claims.
Heard’s side has yet to begin offering evidence, and she is expected to tell her own side of the story later in the trial.
Depp’s attorneys are seeking to prove that it was the op-ed that damaged Depp’s employment prospects and not Heard’s prior abuse allegations in 2016, which concluded in a divorce settlement.
Whigham testified Monday that he started working with Depp in October 2016 and that Depp worked steadily in 2017. He said Depp earned $8 million for “City of Lies,” $10 million for “Murder on the Orient Express” and $13.5 million for “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” — all of which were shot in 2017.
In the fall of 2018, he made $1 million for “Waiting for the Barbarians,” an independent film, and he was set to receive $3 million for “Minamata,” another independent film, to shoot in early 2019.
Whigham testified that the op-ed brought Depp’s career success to a halt.
“It was a first-person account coming from the victim,” he said. “It became a death-knell catastrophic thing for Mr. Depp in the Hollywood community.”
After it was published, he said, the financing on “Minamata” became shaky, and Depp had to give up some of his compensation to salvage the project. Depp has not appeared in a film since then.
In early 2019, Whigham said he learned that Depp would not star in the sixth “Pirates” film.
“It became clear they were going in a different direction,” he said.
On cross-examination, Heard’s attorney Elaine Bredehoft pointed out that Depp never had a contract for $22.5 million for the film — and in fact, the number was never committed to writing. Bredehoft also pointed to prior testimony suggesting that Disney was not likely to cast Depp in the film as early as the fall of 2018. Whigham testified that while Disney might have been hesitant at that point, producer Jerry Bruckheimer was advocating on Depp’s behalf.
“It was trending badly in the late fall on behalf of Disney,” Whigham testified. “But Jerry Bruckheimer and I were lobbying to make it happen, and so we had hope. And it became clear to me in early 2019 that it was over.”
Depp’s attorneys called Richard Marks, a transactional attorney, who testified that Heard’s op-ed served to put Hollywood on notice for sustaining Depp’s career. In the piece, Heard wrote that she had first-hand experience of how “institutions protect men accused of abuse.”
“Amber Heard was calling out Hollywood for supporting… her abuser and she felt the wrath of Hollywood,” Marks said.
He noted that the piece was timed to the release “Aquaman,” in which Heard starred. “This was the height of her fame. She used it in that moment to call Hollywood out… They heard that loud and clear.”
Depp has been known for years for alcohol and drug use, and for showing up late to set, but Marks argued that, in the #MeToo era, Hollywood has “drawn a line” at domestic and sexual abuse. He suggested that Depp’s career could be restored if he can clear his name.
“I think Disney will do everything possible to try to put him back in ‘Pirates,’ but not under this cloud,” Marks said.
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Depp’s attorneys also called Douglas Bania, an expert on intellectual property, who had studied Depp’s Google results and Q Scores. Bania testified that Depp’s image was generally positive before Heard made her allegations in 2016, but that after that — and after the 2018 opinion piece — “the public perception of Mr. Depp has been damaged.”
Heard’s attorney, Adam Nadelhaft, countered that Bania’s study could not pinpoint the damages to the December 2018 op-ed, and that Depp’s reputation had been harmed both before and after that by other events. In particular, Nadelhaft cited spikes of interest around the defamation case which Depp filed in the United Kingdom, during which his violent text messages were revealed.
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Q Scores are used in marketing to quantify a performer’s fame and popularity. Bania noted that Depp’s Q Score had dropped since Heard first made her allegations, in May 2016. In February 2016, he had a positive Q Score of 35, and a negative Q Score of 11. In August 2018, the score was 31 positive, 16 negative.
“They like him less and dislike him more,” Bania testified.
In February 2019 — two months after the op-ed — Depp’s score was 29 positive, 15 negative.
Nadelhaft suggested that slight drops in Q Scores have little statistical meaning — but Bania testified that the industry takes even small declines seriously in its hiring decisions.
Depp’s side is expected to wrap up its case on Tuesday, and Heard’s side will begin to present defense testimony. Heard is expected to take the stand on Wednesday. The New York Post reported on Sunday that Heard had fired her PR team because she was frustrated with “bad headlines” about the case thus far.
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