J.K. Rowling has commented on Johnny Depp’s casting in the Harry Potter prequel series of Fantastic Beasts movies today, defending it as “the right thing” for the upcoming sequel.
Spoilers for 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them below
Rowling’s comments mark the latest in an ongoing controversy that dates back to the original release of the first film in the new series Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The end of that movie reveals that the film’s antagonist, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) is actually the infamous dark wizard Grindelwald in disguise. When his identity is revealed, he’s played in a short sequence by actor Johnny Depp.
The reveal provoked some backlash online, given that only a few months before Fantastic Beasts’ release, Depp had been accused of verbal and physical abuse by his wife, Amber Heard, who filed for divorce and filed a restraining order against Depp. The two later reached a settlement and released a joint statement, saying “there was never any intent of physical or emotional harm” in their relationship, which marked the matter as closed for some.
Depp’s casting has become a public issue
The issue was moved to the back burner for a while, but with the recent reveal that Grindelwald has a title role in the upcoming film — and the growing social movement for perpetrators of sexual and physical misconduct to be held accountable, in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein accusations — Depp’s casting has become a public issue. Fans have been petitioning to have the role recast in the upcoming sequel.
Earlier this week, director David Yates defended the decision to keep Depp on board in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. Yates dismissed Heard’s claims as “one person who took a pop at him and claimed something,” and said “Whatever accusation was out there doesn’t tally with the kind of human being I’ve been working with.” Yates has previously explained Depp’s casting in an interview with The Leaky Cauldron as someone the production team thought “would do something fun and special” with the character. At a premiere in New York, Yates reportedly dismissed Heard’s statement because of his respect for Depp: “What you have to remember about Johnny is that extraordinary talent, and that talent never goes away.”
Rowling’s follow-up comments feel like damage control
Yates’ statements haven’t been received well. He’s been accused of a “truly gross” dismissal of Heard, and of suggesting that talent excuses physical abuse. Rowling’s follow-up comments feel like damage control after the negative response to Yates’ comments, but she also mostly sidesteps the issues. According to Rowling, the production team was concerned when stories first broke regarding Depp, and did consider recasting. But Rowling implies that fans may not have the full story, and due to circumstances of “agreements that have been put in place to protect the privacy of two people” — presumably Depp and Heard — “both of whom have expressed a desire to get on with their lives,” she can’t openly address the concerns. However, she adds that “based on our understanding of the circumstances, the filmmakers and I are not only comfortable sticking with our original casting, but genuinely happy to have Johnny playing a major character in the movies.”
Warner Bros. also released a statement today (via Deadline) that’s in line with Rowling’s: “We are of course aware of reports that surfaced around the end of Johnny Depp’s marriage, and take seriously the complexity of the issues involved… Based on the circumstances and the information available to us, we, along with the filmmakers, continue to support the decision to proceed with Johnny Depp in the role of Grindelwald in this and future films.”
These statements aren’t likely to shut down the controversy over Depp’s casting. But like it or not, fans have been answered — and Depp seems guaranteed to play Grindelwald for the next Fantastic Beasts movie.