Like it or not, Johnny Depp has now been officially ruled a wife-beater by a British court, and there’s likely very little he can do at this point to prove otherwise. The ruling, which came about after a prolonged legal battle between Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard (whom Depps claims physically and emotionally abused him, and who herself claims to be the victim of Depp’s own abusive tendencies), has already led to consequences for Depp, at least from a business perspective: it wasn’t long after the court case ended that Warner Brothers announced they had let him go from the Fantastic Beasts franchise. Depp was actually the first to break the news, in an Instagram post where he admitted that Warner Brothers had asked him to resign from the role of the dark wizard Grindelwald, a pivotal character in the franchise whom he has played since the Fantastic Beasts franchise’s start in 2016.
What both Depp and Warner Brothers neglected to mention at the time was that Depp, who had not yet filmed any scenes for the third film in the Fantastic Beasts series, would nonetheless be receiving his full 8-figure salary for his work. In light of that reveal, I think we can all agree that – no matter how you feel about Depp and the allegations against him – the actor has been left financially well-equipped by Warner Brothers to continue his fight in court (he hopes to challenge Heard again for libel, here in the United States), and probably find work elsewhere before long. In the meantime, filming is still underway for Fantastic Beasts 3, but the movie now needs a new Grindelwald fast – he’s not a side-character who can just be removed from the story. He’s the main antagonist of the series.
Luckily for the franchise and its small but admittedly devoted hardcore fandom, it seems that Fantastic Beasts director David Yates has long had a replacement in mind, and thus, after just a few days, Yates and Warner Brothers have expressed their intent to bring Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen into the Wizarding World. Mikkelsen, who is often cited as the actor most people wish had gotten the role in the first place, is already in early talks to join the series – a bold and potentially very risky move for the actor, who has up until now made mostly solid career choices: his most significant role to date being Hannibal in the popular TV series of the same name. He hasn’t had much luck when it comes to big film franchises, which may be part of the reason why he’s interested in taking the juicy role of Grindelwald – a charismatic fascist dictator whom we last saw mustering armies of dark wizards to conquer the world and enslave the non-magical population, and who cunningly manipulates the emotions of his nemesis and former lover, Albus Dumbledore. A few years ago I think all this would have been quite enough to convince Mikkelsen (or anyone, really) to take the role. But nowadays, I would personally be hesitant to attach Mikkelsen to the Fantastic Beasts franchise and its swiftly growing hurricane of controversy – for Mikkelsen’s sake.
It’s not just because Mikkelsen will receive a barrage of unwarranted abuse from Johnny Depp’s most ardent supporters, who will cry foul and continue to defend Depp’s right to return to the role; it’s not just that Mikkelsen will have to work around and hopefully overcome valid criticisms that the characters of Grindelwald and Albus Dumbledore are written intentionally vaguely so as to queerbait audiences; it’s not even just that J.K. Rowling, the series’ creator and lead writer, is a ticking time bomb who has done her level best to destroy her own reputation and the reputations of those who associate with her by constantly waging war on the trans community in a series of attacks that ranged from depicting transwomen in her adult crime novels as serial killers by nature, to writing up entire essays about how she thinks transwomen are infiltrating spaces reserved for cisgender women or being forced to transition by nefarious forces, to unfollowing fellow author Stephen King on Twitter after he simply proclaimed that transwomen are women. It’s also that Fantastic Beasts is a struggling franchise overall, one which any bystander can see is probably on a collision course with disaster. While the first film was fairly decent and made a good profit, the sequel derailed the story entirely – and unsurprisingly, it drew in overwhelmingly negative reviews before dying a long, slow, death at the box office. Fantastic Beasts 3 is now being moved from the franchise’s consistent, safe, November release date to an alarming spot in mid-July, where it will open just a week after Captain Marvel 2, the sequel to last year’s female-led, billion-dollar-club entry. At one point, this series was supposed to be a five-film epic: now, with everything up in the air, it’s going to be extraordinarily difficult to make a fourth or fifth film happen, and J.K. Rowling would be wise to at least try and wrap up the entire series in this third movie – the only one she’s assured to get. But with the way she’s been acting recently, I’m not holding my breath. What seems more likely is that she’ll end Fantastic Beasts 3 on yet another bizarre cliffhanger just before the entire franchise gets gently terminated, leaving us all unsatisfied, frustrated, and exhausted. Either that or Warner Brothers sticks with J.K. Rowling’s vision and continues to suffer the consequences.
And as for Mads Mikkelsen personally, well, he’ll get a big paycheck for sure, but the laundry list of possible consequences for him for taking this role goes on. Right upfront, he’ll be expected to come up with an excuse for how he can be comfortable working under J.K. Rowling – and, in fact, all the Fantastic Beasts stars will need to do so before long. So far, the series’ lead Eddie Redmayne has wavered between vocally condemning Rowling’s harsh rhetoric and writing supportive letters to her. Mikkelsen should be ready with a statement of his own: if he signs on, he will become the first major actor to join the franchise after Rowling’s transphobic views became widely-known, putting him in an unenviable position. For the moment, he’ll also carry the massive burden of trying to rescue the franchise (assuming that’s even a concern of Warner Brothers’ at this point): he’s the only new name thus far attached to the cast, and none of his costars, not even Jude Law, did much to draw audiences to theaters when the last film came out in 2018. Depp’s parting and Rowling’s statements make it inevitable that we’ll also see calls to boycott in the months and weeks leading up to the film’s release: there’s a widespread feeling among the fandom that supporting Fantastic Beasts financially equals supporting transphobia.
With that being said, Mikkelsen is popular enough that he might actually be able to rescue the franchise, though he’ll never be able to repair all the damage that’s been done. Since the news of his involvement broke last night, I’ve been surprised to see a surge of people expressing renewed interest in the upcoming third film, saying that they’ll watch it just for Mikkelsen, or at least catch it on HBO Max. Granted, this moment of hype could die out by the time the film actually opens, and we’ll have to see how Mikkelsen looks and acts in the Grindelwald costume (or if he gets embroiled in any controversy of his own, something I truly hope doesn’t happen), but he’s almost certain to turn in a great performance: the kind of performance that could even get Fantastic Beasts some good reviews. If Warner Brothers is trying to get this franchise off their hands, they might have chosen too good an actor to make that possible just yet.
So what do you think? Is Mikkelsen a much-needed win for a franchise getting back on its feet after failure, or is this a disastrous career choice the actor will regret for a long time? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!