Johnny Depp, and the Director of His New Movie, Face Controversy in Cannes
Johnny Depp has not appeared in a movie sinceJune 2022, when the verdict of his controversial defamation lawsuit against former partner Amber Heard left many considering him the winner of their bitter battle. But it was only a matter of time before he’d make his return to the silver screen and re-ignite the controversy, which seems to follow him and Heard whenever they do anything now. Sure enough, the 59-year-old actor’s latest project has proven to be an early lightning rod out of the Cannes Film Festival.
Depp stars in Maïwenn Le Besco’s Jeanne du Barry, a biopic about the mistress of France’s King Louis XV during the mid 1700s, which is debuting out of competition at the festival. The director and star, known mononymously as Maïwenn, cast Depp in 2019. According to industry rumors, there was major dysfunction on set, and Depp’s role was reportedly reduced significantly (though some of the early reactions from the festival seem to contradict that). . Depp is a three-time Best Actor Oscar nominee but has done little high-profile work since leaving Warner Bros. Fantastic Beasts franchise in 2020.
According to Variety, Cannes festival chief Thierry Fremaux addressed controversy over the film’s inclusion with journalists the night before the festival opened. Fremaux claimed that he “[didn’t] know about the image of Johnny Depp in the U.S.,” and went on to say, “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 also encouraged reporters to talk to Maïwenn herself about the casting decision.)
In a letter published by Telerama, acclaimed actor Adéle Haenel, star of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, blasted the Cannes festival, accusing them of celebrating rapists. Haenel stated that she retired from the industry due to its “general complacency” towards sexual predators. She famously left the 2020 César Awards when Roman Polanski won Best Director, deriding the French award show and shouting “Bravo pedophilia!” Fremaux was asked about Haenel’s Telerama comments and said they were “false,” adding, “But if you thought that it’s a festival for rapists, you wouldn’t be here listening to me, you would not be complaining that you can’t get tickets to get into screenings.”
Brie Larson, one of the festival jurors, was asked specifically by press about her reaction to Jeanne du Barry’s inclusion, and seemed taken aback that she was being singled out. “I don’t understand the correlation of why me specifically,” she said.
“I’ll see it when I see it. I don’t know how I feel about it, frankly,” Larson added. (Larson was active with the Time’s Up organization, and has a record of speaking out for survivors of sexual abuse.)
And if the Depp-related controversy wasn’t enough, Maïwenn recently admitted to spitting on a journalist in February who had published a story featuring accusations of sexual assault against her ex-husband, director Luc Besson. The journalist, Edwy Planel, later called Maïwenn “outspokenly anti-#MeToo” in a Variety interview. (Jeanne du Barry also underwent additional scrutiny in January when outlets like Deadline reported that the movie’s post-production would be partially financed by a Saudi Arabian film festival.)
Both the decision by Maïwenn to cast Depp in a prominent role, and Fremaux’s responses to questions about Jeanne du Barry’s inclusion in this year’s Cannes slate are being held up as emblematic of differences between the modern American and French film industries.
Depp has no projects lined up stateside, but is in pre-production as director on Modigliani, a film about the Italian artist who worked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The film stars European actors Riccardo Scamarcio and Pierre Niney, as well as Al Pacino.
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