Outside the Palais des Festivals, on the world’s most famous red carpet, it’s hard to imagine that Johnny Depp remains a controversial figure. The actor was embraced with a movie star’s welcome as he returned to Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday for the premiere of “Jeanne du Barry.” The period drama, from director Maïwenn, marks the actor’s first leading role in three years, following ongoing legal battles with ex-wife Amber Heard.
French fans began gathering as early as 10 a.m. along the Croisette in the hopes of scoring an autograph and snagging a selfie with Depp, who made his way into the theater just after 7 p.m. Enthusiastic spectators were holding up posters saying “Viva Johnny” and “We Love Johnny” while others chanted “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny” and held out the actor’s Dior ads for a signature. Depp, sporting a pony tail and purple sunglasses, took his time to pose for selfies and acknowledge the admirers who came to see him. By the time he got to his seat inside the theater, the adoration continued as he was greeted with a rapturous standing ovation.
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It was nearly impossible to move around the Croisette, where security guards inside the luxury shops of Louis Vuitton and Dior were visibly annoyed by the growing crowds, repeatedly asking people to stand clear of their doors. A group of four teenage girls who live in the South of France attended the premiere hoping to catch a glimpse of Depp, whom they’ve been fans of for a “very, very long time.” Another bystander, who traveled from Switzerland, stood outside the venue with a sign asking for a ticket to “Jeanne du Barry.” She says she’s fixated on Depp as an actor, but “I’m not very interested in personal life stories.”
But in recent years, it’s Depp’s personal life and not his professional work that’s dominated the lion’s share of headlines. His career in Hollywood stalled as he lost a 2020 libel case in the United Kingdom involving a tabloid article referring to him as a “wife beater” and won another one in the U.S. in 2022. During that time, he was fired from the “Harry Potter” spinoff series “Fantastic Beasts,” in which he played the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald.
But Depp has remained hugely popular in Europe and other parts of the world, receiving career achievement and tribute awards from various international film festivals and retaining a lucrative brand ambassador deal with Dior. All the while, the actor’s fans (likely in the United States) were vocal on social media in rallying to nominate his under-seen 2020 film “Minamata” for the Oscars’ short-lived fan favorite award.
Despite the ongoing controversies surrounding Depp, organizers of Cannes have stood by their decision to screen the film. Cannes Film Festival’s chief Thierry Fremaux on Monday referred to the inclusion of “Jeanne du Barry” in this year’s festival as a matter of free expression.
“I don’t know about the image of Johnny Depp in the U.S.,” Fremaux said during a press conference. “To tell you the truth, in my life, I only have one rule: it’s the freedom of thinking, and the freedom of speech and act within a legal framework.”
In the lead up to the premiere, Maiwenn has made headlines of her own because she admitted to spitting in the face of investigative journalist Edwy Plenel. His paper published a report alleging several women had accused her ex-husband, director Luc Besson, of rape. She appeared arm-in-arm with Depp as they walked the red carpet and entered the Palais.
They channeled their characters in “Jeanne du Barry” as they entered the auditorium holding hands. The movie centers on the tumultuous relationship of France’s King Louis XV (Depp) and the working class woman (Maiwenn) who became his great love. Louis XV, nicknamed “the beloved,” reigned for 59 years and eventually died as an unpopular king after accusations of corruption.
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