Johnny Depp makes comeback in scandal-hit period drama

Actor signed up for the role before court cases involving ex-wife Amber Heard dragged out bitter accusations of domestic violence

Powered by automated translation

Johnny Depp's comeback film is full of scandal both on screen and off, as he tests out his French in the role of King Louis XV.

There were rumours Depp only had a few minutes of screentime in Jeanne du Barry, which will make its debut at the Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday and has a nationwide release in France the same day.

But the 59-year-old actor is present for much of the film, even if his dialogue is kept to short phrases that help disguise his American accent.

Depp plays the 18th century monarch, who fell in love with a prostitute to the horror of much of his family and court.

He signed up for the role before the court cases involving ex-wife Amber Heard in which bitter accusations of domestic violence threatened to derail his career.

Maiwenn, the French star who directs and plays the lead role in Jeanne du Barry, admitted she was worried about the impact of the trials.

“The film was shot last summer and he was coming out of his second trial,” Maiwenn, who goes by a single name, told AFP.

“I had a lot worries. I was wondering: 'what will his image become?'”

But Maiwenn said she had no doubts about casting Depp.

“It was so clear [he was right for the role],” she said, though she approached two French actors first.

Depp gives an impressive physical performance — mostly through amused and imperious facial expressions — and his short bursts of dialogue suggest a decent level of French for the actor, who was previously married to French star Vanessa Paradis.

Many still see Depp as a toxic figure, despite his victory in the last defamation trial against Heard, but he has already lined up his next film, directing Al Pacino in a biopic of artist Amedeo Modigliani.

Depp's trials are not the only scandal surrounding Jeanne du Barry, however.

In March, a well-known French journalist, Edwy Plenel of Mediapart, lodged a criminal complaint for assault against Maiwenn, accusing her of approaching him in a restaurant, grabbing him by the hair and spitting in his face.

Her film is a grand costume affair, shot in the Palace of Versailles, and its $20 million budget was partly funded by Saudi Arabia's Red Sea Film Foundation.

Updated: May 12, 2023, 9:53 PM