On Tuesday, Depp was here in Cannes to walk the red carpet for the festival’s opening night film, Maïwenn’s misunderstood-mistress extravaganza Jeanne du Barry, in which Depp plays King Louis XV, whose devotion to his favorite extramarital squeeze brought scandal upon Versailles. When it was announced that a Depp film would be opening the festival, murmurs of “Sacre bleu!” were heard far beyond the kingdom, though perhaps not so much in France: the festival itself has opened its arms wide to Depp, who hasn’t exactly been untouched by controversy in the past few years, given his involvement in two high-profile defamation suits connected with allegations that he physically abused his former wife, Amber Heard. (The jury ruled that Heard defamed Depp on three counts and awarded him $15 million in damages; Depp was found guilty of one of three charges in Heard’s countersuit and she was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages.)
The allegations, and the details of the subsequent messy trials, are horrifying enough by themselves. The trollish Depp fans who took to social media to harass Heard and the women who stood up for her made the situation uglier. You’d have to have been cryogenically frozen through most of 2022 to have missed any of it. Yet at the festival’s opening press conference on Monday—this is its 76th edition—Cannes chief Thierry Fremaux defended the festival’s choice to kick off with the film. “If there’s one person in this world who didn’t find the least interest in this very publicized trial, it’s me,” he said. “I don’t care what it’s about. I also care about Johnny Depp as an actor.”
Fremaux’s ostrich-head-in-the-sand act is disingenuous. But his last two statements entwine opposing ideas that bear thinking about. Is it possible to care about acts Depp may have committed, and to care about what happens to women when they come forward with allegations of domestic violence? And also to care about Johnny Depp as an actor as a performer who, at certain points of his career, if no longer, was capable of bringing us the kind of joy that we go to the movies for in the first place?
Though Depp still has legions of hardcore fans who will not give up the Black Pearl for love or money—quite a few of them showed up in Cannes on Tuesday night to cheer him on—many of us who used to love him can’t look at him exactly as we did in the 1990s. The Depp of Donnie Brasco, of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, of Ed Wood and Dead Man, was magnificent to behold, an actor of microshaded subtlety and unforced charm. Even his roles in the earlier Tim Burton movies—as a somber, stammering Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow, or a winsome artificial boy in Edward Scissorhands—showed layers of depth within their expressionist stylization. His translucent silent-movie-star skin, his eyes capable of shifting emotional colors within the space of a heartbeat: to watch him was to sink into the deepest pleasures an actor can give us.
Then Depp began to hide—or allow himself to be hidden—in the bedraggled pirate ruffles and rock-star eyeliner of the dismal Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and the “Look at me!” multi-toned pancake of Tim Burton’s exhaustingly eccentric characters. His lost-boy naivete began to come off as schtick. In the Pirates movies, his googly-eyed mannerisms drove audiences wild. Why bother with acting when gimmickry will do the trick?
“Jeanne du Barry” tells the story of Jeanne Bécu, Comtesse du Barry, who was known as Madame du Barry, and was a mistress of King Louis XV.
In April, Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux talked to Deadline about the decision to open the festival with the Depp movie, calling it “a beautiful film.”
Supporters of Heard have questioned Depp’s appearance at the film festival, launching the CannesYouNot campaign on social media. The 59-year-old actor, however, did not appear to be concerned with the criticism or his perception within the industry.
“I don’t feel boycotted by Hollywood, because I don’t think about Hollywood,” Depp said. “It’s a strange, funny time where everybody would love to be able to be themselves, but they can’t. They must fall in line with the person in front of them. If you want to live that life, I wish you the best.”
Depp said that he is focused on promoting his new film and the acting process, adding that he is not going anywhere.
“I’ve had about 17 comebacks apparently,” Depp said. “I keep wondering about the word ‘comeback’ because I didn’t go anywhere. As a matter of fact, I live about 45 minutes away.”
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