If you're a little apprehensive about watching a movie based on Johnny Depp and Amber Heard's hyper-sensationalized defamation trial, wall-to-wall coverage of which ended just four months ago, the actors playing the former couple don't blame you. In fact, they initially felt the same way.
"You have every right to be skeptical," says Mark Hapka, who plays Depp in Hot Take: The Depp/Heard Trial, now streaming on Tubi.
"Listen, I was a little skeptical too when I first heard about it," Megan Davis, the actress playing Heard, tells EW in a separate interview. "It's a topic you want to treat with such respect, and the problem I think with the trial is that people see themselves in both."
Naturally, the two actors had reservations about taking their roles, but each cited conversations with the filmmakers as easing their wariness. "When I was offered the role, it wasn't necessarily a hell yes," Hapka recalls, later admitting "it's a risky role."
"I had questions," he adds. "I got on the phone with our director and I spoke to our producer and wanted to find out what kind of movie they were going to make, because if there was going to be any type of bias or sway to either side, then I really wasn't interested."
Tubi Mark Hapka and Megan Davis in 'Hot Take: The Depp/Heard Trial'
Davis adds, "Everyone was very much a believer in portraying [Heard] as a real human being and her truth as fairly as his truth, and that made me feel comfortable even though it was such a short time frame."
Ultimately, Hapka says he took the part out of a desire to bring neutrality and humanity to the real people he and Davis play. "I knew this movie was getting made with or without me," he explains. "Megan and I sat down and spoke together and she goes, 'I'm going fully protect Amber, and you're going to fully protect Johnny,' so in doing so, in that tug of war, we can find that balance and make sure everything stays as neutral as possible."
For Davis, seeing the hatred directed toward Head on social media during the trial inspired her even more to take the part. "If anything, to be honest, it was more the vitriol that made me want to play her," she says, "because it breaks my heart when we can't see that people are human beings."
Still, despite their best intentions, both actors were prepared to face criticism from both sides. "We expected every bit of backlash," Hapka admits. "This was such a moment in the cultural zeitgeist with so many layers, where each individual you ask will perceive this trial completely differently; there's no objective truth to it, so I think that in that sense, I wasn't too worried about it because I was just there to do my job, which was to bring authenticity to the testimonies and bring to life what was said by each person as a dramatization."
To play Depp as authentically as possible, Hapka didn't want to appear as though he were doing an impression or cosplay. While neither actor watched the trial in real time, both used a combination of courtroom testimony, recordings of the former couple fighting that were entered into evidence, and red carpet interviews from their whirlwind courtship as research. "I focused on things like essence and mannerisms," Hapka says, "and not necessarily trying to do an impersonation of him, but rather just drop into the whole essence of it."
Tubi Mark Hapka as Johnny Depp in 'Hot Take: The Depp/Heard Trial'
Part of that meant learning to adapt Depp's unique way of speaking. "He has this accent that you can't pinpoint," Hapka notes. "I think it's like a conglomeration of all of the roles he's ever played that have stayed with him and they've all sort of blended." The wardrobe department also helped the actor look the part. "They really understood Johnny's exotic and random style, down to safety pins holding things together and handkerchiefs and the amount of bracelets that weigh his arms down, and the necklaces and different earrings. Certain tattoos would have to be put on and disappear; we had a whole timeline of his tattoos."
For Davis, listening to the audio recordings of the couple fighting provided the deepest insight into Heard's psyche. "When I was listening to those discussions, that's when I felt the most connected to her," she says. "I think you're never more vulnerable and raw than when you're arguing with the person you love. In my experience, some of my greatest moments have come out of love, and definitely my worst. When I was listening to her, I honestly felt very much like I saw myself in her."
In telling the story of the trial, Hot Take combines dramatic re-enactments of real courtroom testimony with scenes imagining what the couple's volatile and abusive relationship might have looked like behind closed doors. Sometimes the same disagreements are shown twice, from each perspective. Some of the scenes from Heard's point of view depict Depp slapping her and throwing her on a table covered in broken glass, among other acts of violence. (Depp has strenuously denied hitting Heard or any woman.) From Depp's side, we see Heard doing the slapping and physical instigating, as well as throwing the bottle that Depp has claimed sliced off his finger. (Heard has said he cut it himself.)
Those scenes can be difficult to watch, and Davis says she can understand why people who have experienced domestic abuse might object to the dramatization. "I think those people are very nervous about this film and very nervous that anything would make light of something as serious as domestic violence," she says. "I think those people have been very vocally upset on social media because their experience is something that deserves to be respected," she says. "To those people, what I'd want them to know is, I believe, based on all of my conversations with producers and directors and the studios involved in this project, that no one would come into this wanting anything other than to try and portray the truth as best as possible from two sides where we still aren't even really sure what happened."
Tubi Megan Davis as Amber Heard in 'Hot Take: The Depp/Heard Trial'
More than anything, both actors hope the film serves to humanize two real people whose trauma and humiliation were consumed as entertainment for millions of people around the world — a fact the movie attempts to satirize with scenes of fictionalized TikTok videos mocking the trial.
"I think it's horrible that they've had to have their entire experience completely broadcasted and brought into everyone's opinion," says Hapka. "But I think if we're to find a silver lining in all of it, it's the moments where things are relatable for people, and I just hope that the way that we've portrayed it in the movie was able to bring actual humanity to the situation, versus just words on the stand."
He adds, "It really brought a lot more compassion towards both of them, for me… A really major part of the movie that's important to acknowledge too is the sensationalism of it all. This doesn't get to where it is without so many factors, so many people involved, social media, people at home, all of that combined has made it what it is, and that's what we're bringing attention to."
For her part, Davis says, "I think for me, what I hoped would come out of this is that, whether people were on her side or his side, whether people agreed or disagreed with their actions, whether people felt one way or the other based on their own experiences, all I really hoped would come out of this was that people could see Amber as a human being who was probably doing the best she could, and I see myself in that, and I understand and I have compassion."
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