What trial? Johnny Depp is playing the role of a lifetime, pandering to fans outside the courtroom

The actor's Jack Sparrow impersonation for fans shows the trial is just another spotlight opportunity for him

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published May 23, 2022 8:13PM (EDT)

Johnny Depp gestures to his fans during a break outside court during the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard civil trial at Fairfax County Circuit Court on May 19, 2022 in Fairfax, Virginia (Cliff Owen/Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images)
Johnny Depp gestures to his fans during a break outside court during the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard civil trial at Fairfax County Circuit Court on May 19, 2022 in Fairfax, Virginia (Cliff Owen/Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images)

Despite being booted from the sixth installment of "Pirates of the Caribbean," Johnny Depp is still using his former role as the swashbuckling Captain Jack Sparrow to his advantage amid his defamation court case against ex-wife Amber Heard.

Last week — the ongoing trial's fifth week — the actor entertained his supporters with a Jack Sparrow impersonation outside of Virginia's Fairfax County Circuit Court, where the case is being heard. Per CNN, a fan yelled out "You'll always be our Captain Jack Sparrow!" as Depp left the courthouse via an SUV.

"He's still around somewhere," Depp then responded in his character's classic drunken voice. "I see him now and again. He shows up now and again."

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Depp was officially dropped from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise in December 2018, shortly after Heard's Washington Post op-ed — in which she details personal accounts of abuse but refrains from naming Depp as her abuser — was published. Whether the actor will return to reprise his role or not still remains to be seen. Just a few days prior to the trial's fifth week, the franchise's producer Jerry Bruckheimer stated that Depp would not be playing Sparrow anytime soon and that his future with the franchise was still "yet to be decided."

The sudden rift in Depp's acting career was succeeded by another loss, when the actor was forced to bid farewell to the "Fantastic Beasts" movies after losing a libel case against the British tabloid The Sun. Throughout his testimony and cross-examination, Depp bemoaned both losses, stating that his string of legal battles affected both his profession and name. Regardless, Depp still remains a lauded A-lister within Hollywood — which can't be said of Heard, who is younger and not as established in the industry. And although the blows have been impactful, they've also afforded Depp with both comfort and loyalty from his enduring fanbase.

If this six-week-long trial has proven anything, it's that Depp's fans absolutely adore and worship him. According to The New York Times, Depp fanatics have routinely lined up outside of the courthouse at the crack of dawn, bearing signs with endearing messages, wearing fan merch and — in one instance — walking a pair of Depp-loving alpacas. They also have nothing but selfless praise for the actor, seemingly conflating his onscreen characters with the real man.  

"We just want to support our captain," one fan, who came dressed like an extra in "Pirates of the Caribbean" to film content for his YouTube channel, told the outlet. "If he goes down with the ship, we're going down with him."

"It's fulfilling a childhood fantasy," said another fan. "It's the reason why everyone else is here."

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It's quite clear that Depp is well aware of his own popularity and has been using it to play up to his crowd of devotees. In addition to the Sparrow video, other online videos showcase the actor gleefully accepting gifts, blowing kisses, hugging and waving to his fans. If one were living under a rock, they'd probably think the viral clips were from a meet-and-greet rather than a key trial concerning mutual abuse.

Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of Depp's treatment of the trial, alongside raging "stan culture," is that it draws the focus away from the serious allegations made by Heard and further silences survivors of domestic and sexual violence and discredits their abuse allegations. Since its inception, the Heard-Depp trial has been regarded as entertainment on social media as countless TikTok users mocked Heard's testimonies through exaggerated reenactments and dismissive commentaries. There's already enough distractors within this whole hoopla and Depp's moment under the spotlight is a tasteless tactic to absolve himself of guilt or crime. If anything, it's taking away the seriousness and severity of the case at large.

An abuse case should not be utilized as an opportunity for good PR, period. It's gross and offensive.

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By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon. She writes about food news and trends and their intersection with culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.