Johnny Depp’s failed libel action against The Sun newspaper over an article which labelled him a “wife beater” is “immensely damaging” to his career, according to a leading reputation management lawyer.
Mr Justice Nicol dismissed the Pirates Of The Caribbean star’s claim, saying News Group Newspapers (NGN) had proved what was in the article to be “substantially true”.
The blockbuster court case, which was the biggest English libel trial of the 21st century, saw both Mr Depp and ex-wife Amber Heard share deeply personal details about their tempestuous relationship, while the actor answered questions about his drink and drug use.
Mark Stephens, a partner at Howard Kennedy and expert in reputation management, who was not involved in the case, told PA: “I thought this was an ill-advised action anyway, and it’s just proven to be that.
“Obviously there are serious findings of fact against Johnny Depp, that the judge believes that he was a wife beater, that he was a habitual user of drugs and alcohol and obviously one hopes that he gets the help that he obviously needs.”
Depp has starred in five Pirate Of The Caribbean films and also appears in the Fantastic Beasts films, of which the third installment of a planned five film series is currently in production. Warner Bros. has yet to respond to the court ruling, but Depp is expected to return as dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald in the third film.
Watch: Depp loses court case
Discussing the impact this will have on his career, Mr Stephens said: “It’s immensely damaging. This is something which could have been dealt with quietly out of the public spotlight.
“I think it is something he could have chalked up to his bad boy image and moved on but he has drawn attention to two things – one, his demons and his monster, which effectively the judge finds is when he abused Amber Heard, and also the amount of drugs that he’s taking.
“So one of the challenges on the drugs is that although he’s not got a conviction, there are many countries of the world which do not let people who are users of drugs into the country. He will find great difficulty in getting visas for Singapore or Malaysia or countries of that kind.”
Asked if there is a way Depp might be able to recover, he said: “I think the only way he recovers is by admitting the problems that he obviously has and getting treatment, then I think Hollywood and the public will forgive him.
“But it’s very difficult to see how children’s authors like JK Rowling or children’s entertainment companies like Disney can continue to promote somebody who is a wife-beating drug addict and that I think is going to be the problem that he has to deal with.
“I said right at the beginning that is what he was gambling with and he didn’t need to do it, this is another example of self-destruction.”
Disney is currently working on reviving the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise for a sixth film, starring Margot Robbie, however Depp is not thought to be involved.
PR guru Mark Borkowski said the case was “one of the biggest showbiz fails for a long time”.
“He had to win this,” Borkowski told the PA news agency.
“Even if he had won there would still be questions. But now he’s lost he hasn’t even got a Pyrrhic victory.
“He has just switched the volume on (his) lifestyle. And this makes Amber Heard a martyr and it makes him something much darker than just a pantomime villain.”
Borkowski added: “His brand had a sort of edge and that edge now has turned to something that is really ugly and abusive.
“The question is: how the hell does he re-establish himself? Because he’s been involved with some of the biggest franchises going.
“In this new woke world, the culture wars, you do not want to be involved with a story (that) will not go away.
“This is like an indelible stain on his character.”
And he added of the case: “It’s a double whammy. It has created so much interest.
“He has not got rid of a substantial slur that, before the case, less people knew about.”
On Depp’s future in film, he said: “Nothing is impossible, write no obituaries for his career.”
Borkowski added: “All those fans, those dedicated fans across the world and those who turned up at the High Court every day, do not underestimate how much they will do.
“They will not accept this judgment. When you’ve got a hard, firm base, you can start rebuilding.”
Depp’s latest film, Waiting for the Barbarians starring Mark Rylance and Robert Pattinson, was released straight to digital over the summer, while his next film Minamata will be released by Vertigo in the UK and Ireland on 12 February, 2021.
Watch: Johnny Depp in the trailer for Minamata