It’s been five years since Johnny Depp was last seen in a major Hollywood blockbuster — 2018’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald to be precise. Flash-forward to 2023 and the controversial actor received his biggest stage since that creatively and commercially ill-fated Harry Potter prequel. Depp stars in the historical epic Jeanne du Barry, which served as the opening night film of the 2023 Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday. His return to the big screen via such a prominent platform has already stirred up controversy, and speculation about how his attempt at a career comeback might unfold.
Depp himself seems resigned to most likely not returning to Hollywood blockbusters anytime soon, though. “I don’t think about Hollywood. I don’t feel much further need for Hollywood — I don’t know about you,” the actor remarked at the Jeanne du Barry press conference after the premiere.
Here’s what you need to know about the debate over Depp’s appearance at Cannes.
Depp hasn’t exactly been missing in action in between The Crimes of Grindelwald and Jeanne du Barry. Last year, he starred in one of the most closely watched celebrity trials ever when he and his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard, faced off in a Virginia courtroom for six weeks. Depp had sued the Aquaman star for defamation over a 2018 Washington Post op-ed in which Heard stated she was the victim of sexual and physical violence. Both stars took the stand during the bruising trial, and their dueling testimonies were picked apart by the lawyers in the courtroom, experts in the media and fans on social media.
The trial ended on June 1, 2022 with the jury finding in Depp’s favor — a bombshell ruling that led some to speculate if the gains made during the #MeToo movement had been lost. Depp was awarded a total of $15 million in damages, while Heard received $2 million for her counterclaim. After exploring various post-trial options, the two camps reached a settlement in December. Heard took to Instagram in the wake of the settlement to say that she had “lost faith in the American legal system,” but that she still intended to use her voice to “effect change.”
The protracted, bitter legal battle impacted the careers of both performers: Depp was relieved of his Fantastic Beasts franchise duties, replaced by Mads Mikkelsen for the third film in the series, 2022’s The Secrets of Dumbledore, and has since only appeared in internationally-made fare like Waiting for the Barbarians and Minamata. Heard, meanwhile, will still appear in the DC Studios sequel Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, although the size of her role is unclear. The actress was also the target an intense social media campaign during and after the trial that Heard publicly characterized as unfair.
“Even somebody who is sure I’m deserving of all this hate and vitriol, even if you think that I’m lying, you still couldn’t tell me — look me in the eye and tell me — that you think on social media there’s been a fair representation,” Heard told Today in June. “You cannot tell me that you think that this has been fair.”
The Crisis Point
Depp’s appearance in Jeanne du Barry was first announced in January 2022 and the film went before cameras in July, following the trial. Directed by and starring French actress and filmmaker, Maïwenn Le Besco, the film follows the scandalous life and times of King Louis XV’s mistress as she gains power in his court just before the French Revolution brings down the monarchy. Jeanne du Barry was announced as the 2023 Cannes Film Festival’s opening night screening in April and festival director, Thierry Fremaux, has staunchly defended the selection.
“I don’t know about the image of Johnny Depp in the U.S.,” Fremaux recently remarked at a pre-Cannes 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 acting within a legal framework.”
But Cannes jury member, Brie Larson, struck a more ambivalent tone about Depp’s presence at the festival. During a jury press conference on Tuesday, the Room Oscar winner declined to say whether she’d attend Jeanne du Barry premiere — although attendance isn’t mandatory for jury members as the film isn’t competing for the festival’s coveted top prize, the Palme d’Or.
In fact, Larson seemed to suggest that she might not see the film at all. “You’ll see, I guess, if I will see it,” she said. “And I don’t know how I’ll feel about it if I do.” (Larson has frequently spoken up in favor of the #MeToo movement, and famously declined to applaud Casey Affleck following his Best Actor win at the 2017 Academy Awards following reports of sexual harassment claims against the actor.)
Larson ultimately was photographed in attendance at the Cannes premiere of Jeanne du Barry, although it’s unclear whether the Fast X star watched the film. Depp’s fans were also out in force when he arrived to walk the red carpet, and the actor posed for selfies with the crowd.
The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” played over speakers as the cast posed for photographs.
Inside the theater, Depp reportedly received a seven-minute standing ovation as he entered to take his seat.
Meanwhile, Heard’s supporters took to social media to protest Depp’s red carpet welcome at Cannes using the hashtag #CannesYouNot. Ahead of the Jeanne du Barry premiere, one of the organizers of the campaign told Variety: “The Depp v. Heard trial became the vehicle through which the backlash against the #MeToo movement went viral. Hollywood industries seem to be riding that backlash to return to the status quo. To open your festival with Johnny Depp? To be frank, it feels like a slap in the face.”
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the audience gave Depp and Maïwenn another standing ovation when the film concluded, and “both teared up.”
The first reviews of Jeanne du Barry out of Cannes indicate that — standing ovation aside — Depp’s performance isn’t much to write home about:
“Even the casting — some would say stunt casting — of Johnny Depp as the king offers a few early thrills and then mostly yawns, with Depp dishing out what feels like a total of a dozen lines in respectable French, while otherwise remaining mute. His performance isn’t bad, and neither is Maïwenn’s in the lead role. But the two of them, like the movie, rarely get our pulse racing. With all the recent controversy surrounding Depp… the result of their collaboration is a handsome period piece that feels both flat and shallow, and certainly far from any scandale.” — Jordan Mintzer, The Hollywood Reporter
“Though performing wholly in French and given ample screen time, the American star leaves a strangely scant impression, offering a dim and muted turn that plays off his wider reputation in often fascinating ways.” — Ben Croll, Indiewire
“Depp is hardly the first Hollywood outcast to find work in Europe, but it would be a stretch to say this feels like the first spark of a glorious comeback.” — Robbie Collin, The Telegraph
“For his part, Depp delivers his lines in well-turned French, wearing fine powder and a stiff white wig, and yet he seems strangely uncomfortable in the role — adequate but not especially engaged.” — Peter Debruge, Variety
While the movie is opening in France directly following its Cannes launch, there’s still no announcement of when, or if, it will open in the U.S. (Due to a previous licensing deal, Netflix will be the streaming home for the film in France, but not in any other territory.) And while Depp has revealed plans to direct a new film based on the life of Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani, he notably has no new Hollywood roles in the offing.
Asked during the post-premiere press conference if he felt boycotted by the American film industry in the wake of his trial, the actor described his experience as a “weird joke,” adding: “It’s a very strange, funny time when everyone would love to be themselves, but they can’t because they must fall in line with the person in front of them. If you want to follow that line, be my guest. I’ll be on the other side.”
Depp also declined to label his Jeanne du Barry appearance a “comeback,” saying: “I keep wondering about the word ‘comeback,’ because I didn’t go anywhere,” Depp said. “Maybe people stopped calling — out of whatever their fear was at the time — but I didn’t go nowhere. I’ve been sitting around. ‘Comeback’ is almost like I’m going to come out and do a tap dance — dance my best and hope you approve. That’s the notion. It’s a bizarre mystery.”
This post was originally published on May 16. It has been updated to include Depp’s press conference remarks.