Johnny Depp Rolls Dice on High-Stakes Cannes Appearance

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This year’s Cannes Film Festival could be a defining moment for Johnny Depp’s acting career comeback. Jeanne du Barry will open this year’s festival on the evening of May 16 in a coup for Depp and widely known French multihyphenate Maïwenn. The period drama stars Depp as King Louis XV, while Maïwenn plays the titular character in addition to directing.

The following day, Depp will participate in the festival’s official press conference for Jeanne du Barry, according to sources familiar with his schedule.

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The various events — as well as the movie itself — will provide a chance for Hollywood to assess Depp’s current composure. “I haven’t seen the movie, but it feels like it was a good way for [Depp] to get back into everything,” says a veteran specialty distributor.

Jeanne du Barry will open in theaters in France timed to its Cannes debut but has yet to land a U.S. distributor. Even in the best of circumstances, a French-language film faces challenges when it comes to a theatrical release domestically. (Netflix has snapped up post-theatrical rights in France.) “I think it’s all going to depend upon the quality of the movie and the quality of his performance,” adds the source.

The last time Depp was part of the Cannes Film Festival was in 2011 for the world premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

He was then one of the world’s biggest movie stars, a ranking he relinquished in subsequent years after reports of erratic behavior on set and a messy divorce from actress Amber Heard involving allegations of domestic abuse. His acting career hit free fall in late 2020 when Warner Bros. dropped him from the Fantastic Beasts franchise after a British court ruled against Depp in a defamation case over The Sun referring to him as a “wife-beater.” Last year, Depp prevailed in a defamation suit he filed against Heard in the U.S. and was awarded more than $10 million.

Penelope Cruz and Johnny Depp attend the "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" Premiere during the 64th Annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 14, 2011 in Cannes, France.
Penelope Cruz and Johnny Depp at the Cannes premiere of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.’

Depp has been a visible presence on the music and art circuits of late, including selling his paintings for millions of dollars and touring with the late Jeff Beck. Depp also has a lucrative brand ambassador deal with Dior. But Jeanne du Barry marks his return to film.

“People are waiting to see how he presents himself in Cannes,” says another veteran indie player.

Adds another source, “People had to take a chance on Robert Downey Jr. when he came out of rehab and it wound up paying off in a huge way.” (Downey’s comeback began after Mel Gibson cast him in indie film The Singing Detective.)

If Jeanne du Barry is well received on its own merit, there’s sure to be interest among numerous U.S. buyers. “We would absolutely consider it if the movie is good and especially because of him,” says an indie distributor. “For a company like ours, it presents an opportunity.”

Johnny Depp on the red carpet during the 50th Cannes Film Festival on May 11, 1997 in Cannes, France.
Johnny Depp on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997.

For their part, the filmmakers are intent on a proper release in the U.S., whether in theaters or on streaming.

Some sources say they’d be surprised if the likes of Focus Features or Searchlight Pictures — which are owned by Universal and Disney, respectively —  bid on Jeanne du Barry. “It feels more like a streaming play. It’s less risky,” says another veteran distributor.

Other potential buyers say their interest could depend upon the tone of the coverage in Cannes, and whether the media is willing to focus on the movie versus Depp’s past. Put another way, no one wants to invite bad press.

In Jeanne du Barry, Depp stars alongside Benjamin Lavernhe, Melvil Poupaud, Pierre Richard, Pascal Greggory and India Hair.

The movie isn’t the only Cannes item on Depp’s to-do list. His directing effort Modi — starring Al Pacino, Riccardo Scamarcio and Pierre Niney, among others — will be shopped to foreign buyers at the Cannes film market. The project is a biopic of Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani, known as “Modi” to his friends, and is based on Dennis McIntyre’s play Modigliani, with a screenplay by Jerzy and Mary Kromolowski.

Benicio Del Toro and Johnny Depp pose for photographers during a photocall for their film "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" directed by Terry Gilliam, 15 May at the Palais des festivals. The film is shown today in competition at the 51st Cannes film festival.
Benicio Del Toro and Johnny Depp pose for photographers for their film ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ at the 51st Cannes film festival.

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