On Dec. 7, 2017, J.K. Rowling posted a lengthy statement to her website in defense of Johnny Depp, the actor cast to play the infamous dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald in the “Fantastic Beasts” movie franchise, part of Rowling’s “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” media fiefdom. For over a year, Depp had been dogged by headlines surrounding his disintegrated marriage to actor Amber Heard, who alleged Depp had repeatedly physically and verbally abused her. Even before the #MeToo movement exploded in late 2017, many of Rowling’s fans had made clear how upset they were that, after briefly appearing in 2016’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” Depp was set to headline the follow-up, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” despite Heard’s claims.
In her statement — which was bolstered by similar statements from director David Yates and Warner Bros. — Rowling sought to assure fans that while she understood and appreciated their concerns, “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.”
Almost three years later, on Nov. 6, Depp announced on Instagram that Warner Bros. had asked him to “resign” from playing Grindelwald in the third “Fantastic Beasts” film. “I have respected and agreed to that request,” the actor wrote. Warner Bros. confirmed Depp’s withdrawal with a brief statement, thanking Depp “for his work on the films” and confirming “the role of Gellert Grindelwald will be recast.” While a source close to the production says Rowling signed off on Warner Bros.’ decision, to date, the author has yet to make any public comment about Depp leaving the franchise.
While “Fantastic Beasts 3” has been shooting for roughly two months largely in the UK, Depp left the project after shooting just one scene, sparing the production any costly, Christopher Plummer-style reshoots. A replacement actor, however, needs to be found with dispatch. The most obvious candidate, Colin Farrell — who played a disguised Grindelwald in the first “Fantastic Beasts” film — is most likely not available, Variety has learned, given the demands of playing the Penguin in “The Batman,” also currently in production in London.
So what’s changed from the second to the third “Fantastic Beasts” movie to cause Depp’s departure? Three letters: AT&T.
On Nov. 2, Depp lost his libel case against News Group Newspapers, which he sued in British courts for a 2018 article in The Sun that called Depp a “wife beater.” Judge Andrew Nicol wrote that he found the defendants had proved that what they’d printed was “substantially true,” a finding that gives significant cover for other UK journalists to characterize Depp in comparable fashion. (In his Nov. 6 statement, Depp said he plans to appeal the verdict in the trial and “prove that the allegations against me are false.”)