Johnny Depp makes divisive Cannes comeback after Amber Heard trial
Johnny Depp made his first public appearance since his defamation trial against ex-wife Amber Heard at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday, where his historical drama Jeanne du Barry opened the prestigious fest.
The actor received the movie star treatment on the red carpet as some fans erupted in applause, tears, and shrieks, hoping to get his autograph and pose for photos together. "We love Johnny" and "Congrats Johnny" signs could be seen from the crowds, standing in stark contrast to the brewing backlash overseas and online amid controversy surrounding Depp after the 6-week trial.
Andreas Rentz/Getty Johnny Depp at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival
The historical romance from Maïwenn Le Besco, known mononymously as Maïwenn, stars Depp as Louis XV and marks the actor's first leading role following his ongoing legal battles. Last summer, Depp won his defamation lawsuit against Heard after a jury decided that Heard intentionally and maliciously defamed the actor when she penned her 2018 Washington Post op-ed about about her experiences as a domestic abuse survivor.
The verdict came after Depp lost a libel lawsuit against The Sun in 2020, centered on the newspaper's use of the word "wife beater" in a piece on Heard's allegations against Depp. A judge ruled the article was "substantially true" and that "the great majority of alleged assaults of Ms. Heard by Mr. Depp have been proved to the civil standard." Depp has continued to deny the allegations.
Amid the fanfare on the red carpet, Heard's supporters launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #CannesYouNot and slammed the festival for "celebrating abusers for 76 years." (French actress Adèle Haenel also accused Cannes and the French film industry of "complacency toward sexual aggressors," citing controversial filmmakers Roman Polanski and Christophe Ruggia, the latter of whom Haenel accused of sexual harassment.)
Festival chief Thierry Fremaux dismissed the backlash during a press conference on Monday, calling Haenel's "radical" comments "false" and defending Depp's inclusion. "I don't know about the image of Johnny Depp in the U.S.," Fremaux said. "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 acting within a legal framework."
He added of the Depp v. Heard trial: "I'm the last person to be able to discuss all this. If there's one person in this world who didn't find the least interest in this very publicized trial, it's me. I don't know what it's about. I also care about Johnny Depp as an actor." It signals the country's ongoing support for the star, who recently signed a $20 million+ deal with French luxury house Dior, marking the company's biggest men's fragrance contract.
Why Not Productions. Johnny Depp in 'Jeanne du Barry'
During the festival's opening press conference, Cannes juror and #TimesUp advocate Brie Larson also fielded a reporter's question about Depp's inclusion: "You're asking me that? Um, I'm sorry, I don't understand the correlation of why me specifically," Larson said, adding of whether she'll see his movie, "I'll see it when I see it. I don't know how I feel about it frankly."
Maïwenn has also courted controversy. The director, who also stars opposite Depp in Jeanne du Barry as the titular mistress, recently admitted to spitting in the face of journalist Edwy Plenel, the founder of outlet Mediapart, which reported about several women who accused Maïwenn's ex-husband, the director Luc Besson, of rape. "Do I confirm that I assaulted him?" Maïwenn said during a talk show appearance on Quotidien. "Yes."
"I'll speak about it when I'm ready," she added. "I'm very anxious about the release of my film." Plenel — who said Maïwenn approached him at a restaurant, tilted his head back, and spit in his face — slammed Maïwenn as "outspokenly anti-#MeToo" in an interview with Variety. "This aggression caused more stupor than anything else," Plenel said. "She didn't attack just me individually, but the symbol that I represent, as the founder and director of a journal, which in France has been at the forefront of all the #MeToo revelations."
Stéphanie Branchu/Why Not Productions. Johnny Depp in 'Jeanne du Barry'
Reception to the French-language film at the opening night screening was a bit removed from the fanfare Depp was welcomed with outside. The actor received far less applause on sight as he arrived inside the theater. After the film's conclusion, someone in the back of the Debussy theater where press was seated yelled out, "Give him an Oscar!" which was followed by a few chuckles. The ovation was observed as short by Cannes standards, with Maiwen seeming to earn more of the audience's praise.
Reviews posted afterward echoed the more tepid response observed at the screening. Variety critic Peter Debruge said Depp "seems strangely uncomfortable in the role — adequate but not especially engaged."
"His French is not too shabby, but his regal gravitas is nonexistent, and he only truly looks at home in the role during occasional bouts of clowning, which hardly help sell his casting as an inspired choice," wrote The Telegraph critic Robbie Collin, "It would be a stretch to say this feels like the first spark of a glorious comeback."
Jeanne Du Barry is playing in theaters in France now, while its U.S. release plan is not yet announced.
With additional reporting by Carita Rizzo and Wendy Naugle.
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