JOhnny Depp can probably thank his lawyers and PR for suddenly giving them a shot at a dramatic public image resurrection, but the question remains whether Hollywood will soon bring him back to the big screen he once dominated.
Following his dramatic victory in the defamation trial against his ex-wife and colleague Amber Heard – although Heard himself also won on one count against her former husband’s agent – there is now speculation that Depp could return to the film, despite his own claims that he has no interest in returning to the blockbuster franchises that delivered his fortune.
For at least part of that second chance, Depp has Matthew Hiltzik to thank, a New York-based PR executive with years of experience in crisis PR. Unlike Depp’s trial attorneys Ben Chew and Camille Vasquez, who appeared on joint talk shows this week following the conclusion of the trial, Hiltzik, 50, has remained strategically out of sight.
“If a public relations strategy is, by definition, to manage public relations, then any public relations strategy that Depp had cannot be separated from the legal strategy,” said Amber Melville-Brown, director of US media and law enforcement Reputation teams at Withers, a top attorney Feste. “The legal victory in the US libel court is the tool by which he can reclaim his reputation, rekindle the love of every failing fan, recharge him in his industry and rehabilitate him in the world.”
With the defamation case now resolved, it falls to Hiltzik to continue the process of rehabilitating Depp’s image to the point where Hollywood’s studio bosses and major directors can no longer deny that his commercial potential as an actor outweighs ongoing reputation concerns – and the many — outweighed Heard fans were still vocal about their anger online.
Hiltzik, whose father is a Hollywood entertainment attorney, began his public relations career at Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax after working on a listening tour that launched Hillary Clinton’s successful run for the US Senate. He founded Freud Communications in the US before founding Hiltzik Strategies in 2008, where Alec Baldwin (who was thrown off an American Airlines flight) and Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte (who falsely reported being robbed at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro). to be) were among his celebrity clients during the crisis ), Brad Pitt after his split from Angelina Jolie and “the crying conservative” TV host Glenn Beck.
Two of Hiltzik’s protégés, Hope Hicks and Josh Raffel, became key White House confidants of President Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. According to the Hollywood Reporter Hiltzik’s PR approach is intended to be ideologically independent of the client’s tender.
Depp’s legal and public relations teams, working hand-in-hand, likely realized that Depp fans, who had gone silent after Heard’s initial domestic violence allegations in 2016, were beginning to weigh in after Depp’s US defamation lawsuit three years later had been submitted.
“Depps had a natural following and the process reinvigorated it, empowered it and brought in other people who were hesitant when they realized it was okay to support Johnny Depp,” said Herald PR’s Juda Engelmayer, a friend of Hiltzik.
Throughout the trial and during a week-long hiatus, PRs for both parties continued efforts to reach out to the press to mix testimony with positive “close source” spin. Heard, unhappy with her initial representation, switched her press team early on in the case.
“In a case like this, people initially didn’t want to stand behind the man because you don’t want to be the one who is being attacked on social media for supporting the ‘abuser,'” Engelmayer said. “Until the fans realized they had a base of support among themselves and the process allowed for that, you didn’t see that much support. Then it snowed.”
But even though the trial is over, some of the fault lines that have been so brutally publicly displayed remain. In the days since Depp’s verdict, both sides have continued their respective campaigns: something that could still make a Hollywood studio nervous. Depp went on tour with Jeff Beck; joined TikTok to say he’s “moving on”; and allowed his legal team to signal on Good Morning America that Depp Heard may not uphold the court’s $10.35 million ruling.
At every turn, Heard’s lawyers and PR team have tried to return the issue to the #MeToo movement. “While Johnny Depp says he’s moving ‘forward,’ women’s rights are moving backward,” a Heard spokesman said last week.
Depp’s star attorney Vasquez countered in an interview on Friday People Magazine: “We all believe that women and victims – regardless of gender – should speak up and have their day in court… Domestic violence has no gender.”
But there is a discernible change in mood. During the process, Depp’s legal and PR teams seemed careful not to comment on #MeToo or the cancellation. It was left to Richard Marks, the Hollywood deal’s chief negotiator, to flesh it out. An actor’s reputation, he said, is tantamount to the product. “You want a reputation that supports the value you’ve put into creating this product, especially over the last five years with the #MeToo movement, you don’t want negativity when you hire an actor who, quote, is unquoting , was cancelled.”
But media and entertainment companies appear to be reassessing Depp and weighing a potential comeback. Since the verdict, actors and models including Zoe Saldana, Emma Roberts, Patti Smith, Bella Hadid, Helena Christensen and Jennifer Aniston have “liked” Depp’s post-judgment. expression to his 25 million Instagram followers, who say he’s “really humble.”
Thomas Doherty, author of Show Trial, on the ’50s Hollywood blacklist and “red scare,” says Depp’s trial could be viewed as similar to that of Fatty Arbuckle – charged and later acquitted of rape and murder – or Charlie Chaplin – accused of communist sympathies and was questioned about his involvement in a paternity case.
“It’s difficult to get your reputation back, and maybe that’s one of the reasons the Depp case has had such resonance,” Doherty said. “This fan letter could be a tipping point where you can feel the culture shift.”
But while Hollywood is weighing its options, another lucrative industry is already taking hold: fashion.
French luxury brand Dior has never dropped Depp as the face of its Sauvage fragrance, and sales have reportedly soared. Supermodel Kate Moss’ involvement in the process to support Depp signaled that the fashion world often takes a different approach.
“Fashion can’t really afford to exile people for long periods of time, because it’s about the constant upheaval and remodeling of ideas, images, people, tropes, and also pushing the boundaries of good taste and decency,” said New York fashion marketing consultant Bonnie Morrison.
Many believe Hollywood too could soon bounce back if the weight of public support evident during the fall and now on social media provides an opportunity to test Depp in front of a movie audience. In a way, Depp’s behavior at the trial itself was actually a kind of audition. “He was humorous, distant, making comments or doing things that reminded people why they love him. He was quite Jack Sparrow and his fans saw that,” Engelmeyer said.
And what really counts for Hollywood in the end, of course, is the possible end result. Los Angeles attorney Allison Hope Weiner said, “Hollywood isn’t about politics. It’s about business and making money. They want to create a product that appeals to the largest audience.”