J.K. Rowling Defends Casting Johnny Depp in 'Fantastic Beasts' Sequel

J.K. Rowling has broken her silence about casting Johnny Depp in the Fantastic Beasts sequel.

Depp is set to reprise his role in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the follow-up to the 2016 hit in which he made a cameo-sized debut at the end of the movie as the powerful dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald. However, fans have called for a recasting of the role, as Depp's then-wife, Amber Heard, accused him of emotionally and physically abusive behavior and released a video of an angry Depp and a photo of herself with a black eye. Depp called the reports "salacious false stories, gossip, misinformation and lies." Their divorce was finalized earlier this year.

Rowling, who is writing all of the Harry Potter spinoff franchise's scripts, expressed her thoughts on the matter on her website Thursday. "When Johnny Depp was cast as Grindelwald, I thought he'd be wonderful in the role. However, around the time of filming his cameo in the first movie, stories had appeared in the press that deeply concerned me and everyone most closely involved in the franchise," she wrote. "Harry Potter fans had legitimate questions and concerns about our choice to continue with Johnny Depp in the role. As David Yates, longtime Potter director, has already said, we naturally considered the possibility of recasting. I understand why some have been confused and angry about why that didn't happen."

"The huge, mutually supportive community that has grown up around Harry Potter is one of the greatest joys of my life. For me personally, the inability to speak openly to fans about this issue has been difficult, frustrating and at times painful," Rowling continued. "However, the agreements that have been put in place to protect the privacy of two people, both of whom have expressed a desire to get on with their lives, must be respected. Based on our understanding of the circumstances, the filmmakers and I are not only comfortable sticking with our original casting, but genuinely happy to have Johnny playing a major character in the movies."

"I've loved writing the first two screenplays, and I can't wait for fans to see The Crimes of Grindelwald," she concluded. "I accept that there will be those who are not satisfied with our choice of actor in the title role. However, conscience isn't governable by committee. Within the fictional world and outside it, we all have to do what we believe to be the right thing."

In the sequel, Depp's titular character is essential to the story, as Grindelwald gathers followers to raise pure-blood wizards up to rule over all non-magical beings. Meanwhile, a young Albus Dumbledore (played by Jude Law) attempts to thwart Grindelwald. Rowling, previously explained that Dumbledore and Grindelwald were friends when they were teens, but the two grew apart after Dumbledore suffered a devastating family loss. "Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was," she had said, adding that Grindelwald then grew into one of the most powerful dark wizards in history.

Director David Yates and producer David Heyman released a joint statement on Thursday as well: "None of us involved in Fantastic Beasts would ever let our appreciation of talent obscure other, far more important considerations. We recognized the magnitude of the issues raised and understood the strength of feeling expressed. We hoped and strived at all times to be sensitive to both parties. We stand by our decision to have Johnny in the films."

Warner Bros. also stated, "We are of course aware of reports that surfaced around the end of Johnny Depp's marriage and take seriously the complexity of the issues involved. This matter has been jointly addressed by both parties, in a statement in which they said 'There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.' Based on the circumstances and the information available to us, we, along with the filmmakers, continue to support the decision to proceed with Johnny Depp in the role of Grindelwald in this and future films."

On Thursday night, Heard appeared to take issue with Warner Bros. using just part of her joint statement with Depp from when she settled her domestic abuse case against him. "For the record, this was our FULL joint statement.To pick&choose certain lines & quote them out of context, is not right.Women, stay strong," she tweeted, along with the original statement from August 2016. 

Heard appears in Warner Bros.' Justice League and its upcoming Aquaman, which opens in December 2018.

Yates again will direct the follow-up, with Eddie Redmayne — who stars in the series as a 1920s magizoologist named Newt Scamander — Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller and Carmen Ejogo reprising their roles in the sequel. Callum Turner, Zoe Kravitz and Jessica Williams are among the franchise's additions.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald hits theaters Nov. 16, 2018. 

Dec. 7, 8:13 p.m.: Updated with Heard's tweet.
Dec. 8 8:30 a.m.: Updated with Heard-Depp divorce detail.

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