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David Yates Explains Johnny Depp’s FANTASTIC BEASTS Casting

David Yates Explains Johnny Depp’s FANTASTIC BEASTS Casting

In the last few weeks, a whole new world has opened up to us, magically speaking. First, there was the news that we would get not one, not two, but FIVE movies pegged to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Then there was the revelation that we’d probably see a young, fresh-faced Dumbledore and the wizarding wars briefly mentioned in the Harry Potter series. Just a few days ago we were bombarded with the revelation that Gellert Grindelwald—friend and possible unrequited love interest for our favorite head of Hogwarts, Dumbledore—would not only appear in Fantastic Beasts, but also co-star in the forthcoming sequel. Last, but not least, it was revealed that this person would be played by Johnny Depp.

Needless to say, for a myriad of reasons, the reaction was decidedly mixed.

For those of you who don’t know who the character is, a quick lesson: Gellert Grindelwald (born: 1882, died: March 1998) was considered one of the most dangerous Dark Wizards of all time, second only to Voldemort. But prior to his devious turn, he fostered a friendship (over a desire to find and utilize all of the Deathly Hallows) with a young Dumbledore while the two were living in Godric’s Hollow. Grindelwald has already been portrayed by actor Jamie Campbell Bower in the Harry Potter films as a youngin’ (with Michael Byrne as his elder iteration). And while the 27-year-old actor may be a bit young to play a roughly 44-year-old Grindelwald (Grindelwald was born in 1882, approximately—Fantastic Beasts takes place in 1926), Depp is 53, so it’s not like he’s exactly on target, either. So why Depp?


Over on The Leaky Cauldron, director David Yates explained it came down to talent: “The whole principal of casting the movie was go with the best actor,” said Yates. “Go for the most inspired, interesting, right fit for that character. And as we approached Grindelwald we thought, ‘who’s going to take this in an interesting direction?’ In this business, it’s a weird old business. You’re brilliant one week, people are saying odd things the next, you go up and down. But no one takes away your pure talent.”

For Yates, Depp’s portrayals of kooky, out-of-the-box characters is what solidified the team’s choice. “Johnny Depp is a real artist. He’s created several characters who have really resonated in our popular culture. He’s a really brilliant, brilliant actor. We were excited about seeing what he would do with this guy, the character. He’s fearless; he’s imaginative; he’s ambitious. We thought he would do something fun and special. So we went for him, purely on that selfish basis. We don’t care if he’s famous or not famous. We just know he’s interesting.”

Now, it goes without saying, but we here at Nerdist are very, very excited about Fantastic Beasts (and have been for ages now). We’ve been counting down the days, wistfully staring at our Time Turners with a hope that they were real and worked so we could watch the damn film already. And we also firmly believe that everyone’s entitled to their own opinion on what constitutes a reason to like or dislike an actor. But we also cannot help but be admittedly frustrated with the reasoning Yates lays out here.


First, there’s the question of Depp’s suitability for the part, which was highlighted as a main reason for his casting. To be sure, Depp has a long history of playing a host of memorable characters—many of them outlandish and bombastic and charismatic weirdos; certainly what you’d want for one of the most dangerous Dark Wizards in history. And in his earlier performances–like Blow and Donnie Brasco and Edward Scissorhands and Cry-Baby–Depp showed a quirky enigmatic quality that was truly captivating to watch on screen. So does it make sense on paper? Sure.

As his career has continued, however, Depp has staunchly settled into caricature play. A good role for Johnny Depp relies on his “Johnny Depp-ness” being inextricable from the weirdos he plays on screen. (If this were an SAT test, Johnny Depp:character actors::George Clooney:leading men.) He basically plays himself at this point, and even then he’s not all that captivating to watch anymore; his tricks have become stale, and the resulting characters haven’t resonated in recent years—Willy Wonka, Jack Sparrow, the Mad Hatter, even his James ‘Whitey’ Bulger—despite Yates’ claims. Their reviews have not exactly been positive, raising eyebrows with both critics and movie-goers alike. Where there once was nuance and artistic idiosyncrasy, Depp’s abilities have become parodies of themselves. And that, my friends, ain’t good. Nowadays, the name Johnny Depp instantly conjures a jangly, quirky, ramshackle sort of image in one’s mind, all scarves and dark glasses and whimsically mumbled phrases couched in counterculture grit.

Is aligning an actor known for being “interesting” really all that “inspired” of a choice? Or just the most obvious one?


And then there’s the argument regarding his personal issues. It’s important to note that Depp’s casting and cameo were shot well before his most recent domestic abuse allegations from ex-wife Amber Heard. Previous rumors about domestic abuse in his relationship with Kate Moss are, as of yet, unconfirmed. (Moss herself has not commented on the matter.) But it does make one scratch their heads when this project has been shepherded by J.K. Rowling, herself a survivor of domestic violence who has—at the time of publication—remained silent on the casting of Depp.

Real Talk: the court of public opinion is in no way binding, nor should it have the final say in how we perceive and understand a person’s experience. That said, it should not be outwardly dismissed, either, because the question of whether or not we should reward people for their talent without taking into consideration bad behavior and/or mistakes is a worthy, and necessary, one. It is something that should be continually discussed and re-contextualized by debate and conversation in society. This is especially important at a time when there’s a renewed interest in how we view—both subconsciously and otherwise—and react to allegations of domestic abuse.

If this were a few years ago, this sort of thing wouldn’t even merit a tweet, let alone an article. And we are not here to pass judgement on whether or not Depp definitely did or did not do what is alleged. But the truth of the matter is this: we’re evolving our societal opinion on how to handle alleged abusers and their victims, and to simply ignore what has occurred between Depp and Heard outright because we are all innocent until proven guilty is not only short-sighted, but ultimately enables continued willful ignorance when it comes to these complicated conversations. It is a case-by-case basis sort of thing, because the nuance and instances specific to their lives shapes the bigger picture on each and every individual matter. It is our responsibility, as human beings, to constantly question what is or isn’t okay by seeing where our own personal lines lie. And it is well within everyone’s right to let those occurrences—and the nuance that comes with each individual case—shape or not shape their opinion on public personalities. Because those individual opinions, when lumped together, ultimately shape our larger opinion and all discussions moving forward.


Will Johnny Depp be a good Grindelwald? Maybe. Should that matter? It’s up to you to decide because, as it stands, the deal is done, the ink is dry, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to recast him any time soon. (Sigh.) But who knows? Anything’s possible in the world of magic. You don’t have to be a wizard to share or have an opinion on it, either. These movies are made for us, the paying public and viewing audience, after all.

What do you think about the confirmation that Johnny Depp will portray Grindelwald? Let us know—respectfully and politely!—in the comments below.

Images: Walt Disney Pictures
GIFs via Giphy

Here’s how fans figured out Depp’s role in Fantastic Beasts!

Alicia Lutes is the Managing Editor of Nerdist and creator/co-host of Fangirling!, Mondays at 5pm PST/8pm EST. Find her on Twitter if you want!

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