Two reports and entirely different conclusions about Johnny Depp’s future, in response to his crisis of reputation. One is of doom and the other of cynicism that could be interpreted as blue sky optimism. This says something, but what?
Neither Depp’s personal character or reputation is respected right now after his scandalous, abusive behavior towards Amber Heard and subsequently, his lost libel case in the U.K. regarding it. It’s significant enough of a problem that his career could very well be on the rocks.
Newspaper headlines of ‘wife beater’ tend to make a professional difficult to hire, especially when that employer counts on name recognition and the attractive emotional attachment in the public to it to earn the needed and desired return on investment.
In the article, Johnny Depp Destroys What’s Left of his Reputation, the New York Post’s Maureen Callahan writes “It’s another terrible outcome of a terrible year, another loss, confronting Depp as he is, a late-stage Elvis surrounded by yes-men deputized to keep the boss drugged up and in denial.”
What was discovered in court was certainly vivid and damning.
“Now, Depp will forever be known as not just a wife beater, but — due to the sheer volume of detail elicited at trial — a hopeless addict and alcoholic who used a tampon applicator to snort coke, who once sliced off part of his finger and used the bloody stump to scrawl hateful messages to then-wife Amber Heard, who pissed all over the floor in an attempt to write even more hateful words…,” Callahan reported.
The details don’t end there and they got worse. In conversing about Heard, Depp communicated through text with actor Paul Bettany in an eye popping, deeply disturbing manner.
“Let’s burn Amber!!! . . . Let’s drown her before we burn her!!! I will f — k her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead.”
That has to be career ending. Maybe people can start shoveling dirt on Depp’s career and body now. Stick a fork in him, he’s done, and deservedly so.
Or is he?
In his article, Is Johnny Depp’s Career Over? I Doubt It, Guy Pewsey poses the serious, sobering question as rhetorical as it is, “When did a confirmed act of violence ever rule a man out of professional success?”
Pewsey briefly names names of past offenders: the now late Sean Connery, Chris Brown, Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson. There are more, of course.
Pewsey doesn’t communicate that it’s morally right or acceptable that little career punishment happens to men. He shakes his head in disappointment about the misguided priorities, easy forgiveness and enabling.
About Depp specifically, he writes, maybe resigned to the status quo, frustrated and seemingly forecasting:
“I predict that he will be absent from the big screen for a short period of time, perhaps a year, and will then return via small roles in indie pictures, eventually finding success once again in big budget blockbusters.
“I predict a major profile in a glossy monthly — GQ, maybe — in which he bares his soul and insists on his innocence. The headline — ‘Here’s Johnny’, ‘Johnny Laid Bare’, ‘Johnny: In His Own Words’ — will not claim his innocence but instead suggest that his voice should be heard.
“He will have another Oscar nomination by 2025. He will win one by 2030. The woman forced to hand him his prize will do so with a stony face — much like Brie Larson did when presenting Casey Affleck with his trophy after he was accused of sexual harassment — claims he has denied — and she will be deemed brave for doing so.”
Depp has sustained one major hit already though. Warner Bros. doesn’t want anything to do with Depp’s name, scandal or reputation. He’s bad business.
“Johnny Depp will depart the ‘Fantastic Beasts’ franchise. We thank Johnny for his work on the films to date,” a Warner Bros. spokesperson said.
Depp however doesn’t seem to grasp what is transpiring in his life in the minds of prospective employers, media and the court of public opinion. How he is choosing to communicate is unlikely to prove helpful to him.
“The surreal judgement of the court in the U.K. will not change my fight to tell the truth and I confirm that I plan to appeal,” he said. “My resolve remains strong and I intend to prove that the allegations against me are false. My life and career will not be defined by this moment in time.”
As to what’s true — Depp’s career as being burnt beyond saving or the actor being put into the figurative penalty box for a relatively short period of time before coming out to work and be bankable again, that is the question.
Is Callahan speaking as a realist or idealist? Is Pewsey speaking as a cynic or realist, when he writes “Johnny Depp’s career isn’t over.”
The two agree Depp’s actions are unconscionable and both appear to want Depp to suffer consequences. It’s just Callahan believes Depp will pay a forever price while Pewsey is convinced punishment will be shamefully short and mild.
While both outcomes are plausible the reality might be determinant on a variety of variables, starting with Depp cleaning himself up health wise, overcoming reported psychological and physical addiction to substances and coming to the conclusion that strong evidence is showing his history of rage and abuse. Getting professional assistance and support in both areas is critical.
Depp can then commit to thorough, moral, successful crisis management behind the scenes and come forth in public with an intensive, humble, sustained crisis communications response. That will have to be, as in must-be, much more speaking to his problems, owning his history of abuse and physical and psychological harm selfishly inflicted. He must exhibit with sincerity his shame, yet without it all about him.
His public communication must at all costs never smack of manipulative impression management if Depp is to raise the odds of him having the privilege of a career again.
He has to show courage, self awareness, social awareness, empathy and that he’s doing the work and will keep doing it to earn an opportunity to be forgiven by Hollywood, anyone who wants to work with him and the movie-paying public.
This will also help Depp earn credibility, trust and work in his profession, quality work.
While the odds might be that Depp’s career is dead or that cynicism will prove true and he will work soon merely because a man’s abusive behavior doesn’t always prove to lead to a death of a career, the more likely reality is Depp is at a crossroads.
He certainly has the capability to save his name, reputation and career yet the too common problem with those in similar situations is their lack of humility, courage and willingness to do what must be done. That is the script Depp must approve, accept and pursue with perseverance for his survival.
Michael Toebe is a specialist who helps individuals and organizations accurately evaluate and wisely respond to reputation crisis and scandal. He is the writer of Red Diamonds Essays and Reputation Specialist Essays (both on the Medium platform) and contributes analysis and advisory for: Chief Executive, Corporate Board Member, New York Law Journal, Physicians Practice and Corporate Compliance Insights. He is the voice of the Red Diamonds Podcast.
Image of Johnny Depp courtesy of Report Door