Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore recast Johnny Depp’s Gellert Grindelwald, with Mads Mikkelsen taking over as the dark wizard. Here’s why.

Here’s why Johnny Depp was recast as Gellert Grindelwald for Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. Depp’s Grindelwald was first introduced in a cameo role at the end of 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, before the actor went on to star in the sequel, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Although the franchise started as the story of magizoologist Newt Scamander, the presence of Grindelwald, and subsequently Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), transformed the Harry Potter spinoffs into a much bigger story, setting up the First Wizarding World War. WB has long had ambitious five-movie plans for the franchise, though a combination of controversy and poor box office returns for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald and The Secrets of Dumbledore have thrown those into doubt.

Nonetheless, if Fantastic Beasts is to have five films, then Grindelwald must be an integral part until the very end, likely climaxing with his 1945 duel against Dumbledore. Grindelwald is in Fantastic Beasts 3 at least, but he isn’t played by Depp in that movie, nor will he be in any follow-ups should they happen. While once among the biggest movie stars in the world, WB’s decision to recast Depp’s Grindelwald for Fantastic Beasts 3 speaks to the many controversies and legal cases surrounding the actor over the latter part of the 2010s and into the 2020s. In particular, it’s the allegations of domestic abuse made by his ex-wife Amber Heard, and the court ruling that followed, which saw Depp exit Fantastic Beasts 3 and Grindelwald recast, though Depp’s presence was controversial since the franchise’s beginning.

Johnny Depp’s casting as Gellert Grindelwald for Fantastic Beasts 2 was announced in November 2020, shortly before the release of the first movie in the franchise, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which featured Depp in a cameo role towards the end of the movie. Even then, there was a backlash to Depp’s Grindelwald casting. Amber Heard filed for divorce and took out a temporary restraining order against Depp in May 2020, alleging that the actor had been verbally and physically abusive towards her during their relationship (claims Depp himself has denied). Because of the allegations around Depp, then there were many complaints over his casting in the movie, to the point that J.K. Rowling came out with a statement defending the decision. In a post published in December 2017 on JKRowling.com, the author wrote:

“…Around the time of filming his cameo in the first movie, stories had appeared in the press that deeply concerned me and everyone most closely involved in the franchise. Harry Potter fans had legitimate questions and concerns about our choice to continue with Johnny Depp in the role. As David Yates, long-time Potter director, has already said, we naturally considered the possibility of recasting. I understand why some have been confused and angry about why that didn’t happen… 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.”

While WB, Rowling, and director David Yates stuck behind their decision to cast Depp, the backlash only intensified in the lead-up to the second movie’s release, especially after it was titled Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, ensuring Depp’s dark wizard would play a very central role. The discussion of the actor continued to dominate talk about the movie long before and up to its release, with even some talk of a boycott, as reported by Digital Spy – Rowling herself admitted that “there will be those who are not satisfied with our choice of actor in the title role.”

Why WB Asked Johnny Depp To Resign From Fantastic Beasts 3

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard reached a settlement in August 2016, and finalized their divorce in January 2017, but that did not end the controversy surrounding the pair’s relationship, nor that of Depp’s ongoing role in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, despite him being confirmed to return for Fantastic Beasts 3. An April 2018 article published by The Sun referred to Depp as a “wife beater,” which led to the actor suing the newspaper’s parent company, News Group Newspapers (NGN), and The Sun’s then-executive editor Dan Wooton, for libel, claiming that not only were Heard’s allegations lies, but that she had been the abuser in the relationship and that she had orchestrated a “hoax.” Later that same year, it was reported that Warner Bros. had concerns over how Depp’s ongoing controversy would impact Fantastic Beasts 3, but the actor remained attached to the project all the way through to the beginning of production in September 2020, filming one scene for the movie, before departing in November 2020.

The biggest change in why Depp left as Grindelwald stemmed from the libel lawsuit against NGN. Despite Depp’s claims, the court found in favor of NGN and Wooton. Their lawyers presented 14 separate incidents as evidence of abuse from Depp to Heard, and 12 were found to have passed the reasonable civil standard, meaning The Sun’s report was found to have “substantial truth.” Depp attempted to appeal the verdict, but was unsuccessful. Depp losing his libel lawsuit created, at the very least, a PR disaster for Warner Bros., as it meant other UK publications could refer to him in those same (or similar) terms, and the optics, as well as moral obligations, of keeping him in Fantastic Beasts 3 were seemingly too much to bear. Depp technically wasn’t fired from Fantastic Beasts 3, but was asked to resign by WB, which he did.

As Variety reported, AT&T’s merger with WarnerMedia also likely had an influence; that had already resulted in sweeping changes at WB, and their sources suggested that one major change was “an overall lack of tolerance for the kind of controversy that every major studio has had to weather at one time or another when courting mercurial – but historically popular – talent like Depp.”As reported by THR, Depp was still paid his full salary – believed to be $16 million – despite only shooting one scene for the movie, as he had a “pay-or-play” contract, meaning he’d be paid regardless of whether the film happened or not.

What Happened To Johnny Depp After Being Recast

Since leaving and being recast for Fantastic Beasts 3, Johnny Depp’s movie roles have largely dried up, with the court case not only finding in the defense’s favor of calling him a “wife beater” and proving multiple allegations of domestic abuse true to civil, if not criminal, level, but also detailed years of substance abuse. Depp’s only movie roles since leaving are City of Lies, which had filmed in 2016 and 2017, but been pulled from release schedule in 2018 before eventually releasing in March 2021, and Minamata, which also filmed prior to the verdict in Depp’s libel lawsuit and subsequent exit from Fantastic Beasts 3. Both films were small releases, with a combined box office taking of less than $5 million, albeit amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Depp only has two upcoming projects announced: the animated web series Puffins Impossible, in which he voices a puffin named Johnny Puff, and a role as King Louis XV in an untitled movie from director Maiwenn.

In a THR expose, detailing, among other things, claims of substance abuse, several lawsuits, and bad on-set behavior, he was referred to, much like Will Smith, as “Hollywood persona non grata,” reflecting his newfound status as someone on the outside studios are now reluctant to work with, citing a studio source saying: “You simply can’t work with him now. He’s radioactive.” Depp had reportedly been attached to a Harry Houdini TV show, led by producer Jerry Bruckheimer (with whom he worked on the Pirates of the Caribbean movies), but is no longer involved. Likewise, Disney had already started to move on from Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, with a Margot Robbie-led reboot now in the works, despite a petition for Depp’s Jack Sparrow to return. The actor has, however, continued to remain the face of Dior’s Sauvage fragrance line.

The story between Depp and Heard might’ve come to an end, after Depp sued Heard for defamation. This $50 million defamation suit Depp filed after Heard wrote an article in The Washington Post in 2018, headlined “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.” Depp wasn’t directly mentioned, but the actor claims it severely damaged his reputation, with Heard then launching her own countersuit. The trial has been delayed several times, but it began in April 2022, the same week as Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore released in theaters.

Who Replaced Johnny Depp As Grindelwald In Fantastic Beasts 3

Mads Mikkelsen replaced Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald for Fantastic Beasts 3, with the actor’s casting officially confirmed in late-November 2020. Following Depp’s departure from the role, Mikkelsen was almost immediately touted as one of the front-runners, and though he initially downplayed reports he did eventually come to an agreement to take over the part. The Danish actor is best known for playing the titular role in NBC’s Hannibal, as well as portraying Galen Erso in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Kaecilius in Doctor Strange. After being cast as Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts 3, Mikkelsen said he’d wanted to speak to Depp about replacing him but “didn’t know him in that sense.” On the same topic of replacing Depp in Fantastic Beasts 3, Mikkelsen added:

“I know it was controversial for many people, but that’s just the way it plays out once in a while. I didn’t want to copy what Johnny had done. I think he’s a masterful actor, so copying him would’ve been creative suicide. I had to figure out something that was definitely my own, and yet also act as a bridge to what he had done. My take is different, and the look is a little different.”

Mikkelsen’s Grindelwald does look different in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, with the shock white hair mostly gone — save for one white stripe — and the different coloured eyes seemingly changed as well, meaning his version is clearly distinct from what came before, as WB and Fantastic Beasts looks to move on from Johnny Depp’s recasting.

Mads Mikkelsen Thinks Johnny Depp Might Return

Mads Mikkelsen played the role of Gellert Grindelwald with aplomb, and his performance is one of the highlights of the third Fantastic Beasts film. However, the actor thinks it is possible for Johnny Depp to make a return since winning his defamation case against Amber Heard. While at a festival to win the Honorary Heart of Saravejo award for his contributions to film, he spoke during the “Coffee With…” event about taking over the role from Depp — and the possibility of the previous Grindelwald actor’s return. “Obviously, well, now the course has changed—he won the suit, the court [case]—so let’s see if he comes back. He might. I’m a big fan of Johnny. I think he’s an amazing actor, I think he did a fantastic job,” Mikkelsen stated.

However, this might not be the right choice for Warner Bros. Since the role has already been recast once, people have now been forced to get used to Mads Mikkelsen’s portrayal of the character. Despite the controversy surrounding Depp being resolved (for now), it doesn’t mean that he’ll be allowed to return as Grindelwald. After all, Mikkelsen’s performance was highly praised and many thought he was a better fit for the part. Despite the Hannibal actor’s statements, Depp will most likely not return to reprise his role as Grindelwald, and it’s arguably for the better. Despite the trial being concluded, the court of public opinion on Depp is far from settled. Recasting Depp at this point would still bring a huge amount of controversy to the Fantastic Beasts franchise, which arguably isn’t healthy enough to withstand yet more infamy.

Recasting Grindelwald Didn’t Help Fantastic Beasts

Despite Mads Mikkelsen’s performance being critically successful, it wasn’t enough to save Fantastic Beasts 3. While the film did do better than its predecessor, The Crimes of Grindelwald, it still received middling reviews and had a rough go at making back its budget. On Rotten Tomatoes, the critics’ score is a measly 46%, meaning it’s certified rotten. However, it did perform a little better amongst audiences, raking in an 83% score. On its opening weekend, the movie only made $42.1 million, a far cry from the film’s $200 million budget. However, it was able to make back its money when one considers the numbers from its worldwide release, which come in at $405.1 million. Either way, this is the second box office bungle that the Fantastic Beasts franchise has now made, with its predecessor being regarded as one of the worst Harry Potter franchise films of all time. At the end of the day, Fantastic Beasts 4 may not come to fruition. The third movie ended with a duel between Grindelwald and Dumbledore, though it’s certainly not the duel of legend. However, studios may be using this instance as an out if they are forced to abandon the movie series. Couple that with the fact that director David Yates is slated to make something else in the near future, and it looks like Fantastic Beasts 4’s chances of being made are slim. Mads Mikkelsen may have replaced Johnny Depp for Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, but it may not be enough to save the franchise.

 

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