Walter Hamada, president of DC Films at Warner Bros., testified that publicity from the Johnny Depp controversy did not play a factor in Amber Heard's future in the Aquaman franchise. Instead, he said, a lack of chemistry did.
In her testimony at the defamation trial in Fairfax, Virginia, Heard, 36, said she "fought really hard to stay in" Aquaman's sequel when "they didn't want to include me in the film."
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom has since been filmed and is set to be released in March 2023, though Heard said that her part as Mera — love interest to Jason Momoa's title character and the female action lead — was "very pared down."
"I was given a script and then given new versions of the script that had taken away scenes that had action in it, that depicted my character and another character — without giving any spoilers away — two characters fighting with one another, and they basically took a bunch out of my role. They just removed a bunch out," testified Heard.
Additionally, Heard's talent agent Jessica Kovacevic testified that the actress' career didn't take off like expected after starring in the 2018 blockbuster. The agent said she was told Heard received a smaller part in the forthcoming sequel because of her "lack of chemistry" with costar Momoa, 42. Kovacevic, however, said she felt the negative press and online attacks directed at Heard, after Depp's team claimed her domestic abuse allegations were a "hoax," were to blame for the studio distancing itself from her.
On Tuesday, Depp's legal team had Hamada testify, via pre-recorded deposition from March. He said no comments from Depp or his attorneys had an effect on Heard's part in the sequel. He also said there were studio discussions about a "lack of chemistry" between Heard and Momoa.
"The character's involvement in the story was what it was from the beginning," he said of Mera's importance in the "buddy-comedy" sequel, which follows "co-leads" Momoa and Patrick Wilson.
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Hamada added that after production wrapped on the first Aquaman, there were "concerns" about Heard not having a "natural" chemistry with Momoa, and some considered recasting for a different female lead. However, no other actresses were auditioned, said Hamada, who confirmed he'd discussed the chemistry issue with Momoa at the time.
"Editorially, they were able to make that relationship work in the first movie," he said.
"They didn't really have a lot of chemistry together," Hamada said with a laugh during cross-examination. "The reality is it's not uncommon on movies for two leads to not have chemistry. It's sort of movie magic and editorial, the ability to sort of put performances together with the magic of, you know, a great score and how you put the pieces together. You can fabricate that sort of chemistry."
He continued, "At the end of the day, I think if you watch the movie, they look like they had great chemistry. I just know that over the course of post-production, it took a lot of effort to get there. ... You know it when you see it. The chemistry wasn't there."
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When asked what issues were had with Heard in the making of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, Hamada said, "My understanding is actually the production went very smoothly."
On Monday, Kathryn Arnold, an industry analyst, gave expert witness testimony, revealing that Momoa and director James Wan were both "committed to her" and "adamant" that she return for the sequel.
A long-running fan petition to have Heard removed from the upcoming Aquaman movie has surpassed 4.3 million online signatures during the current trial, where Heard has testified about "vitriol from Johnny Depp supporters."
Back in November 2020, Heard told Entertainment Weekly that rumors of her not returning for the next Aquaman were untrue: "I'm super excited about the amount of fan love and the amount of fan appreciation that Aquaman has acquired and that it has garnered so much excitement for Aquaman and Mera that it means we'll be coming back. I'm so excited to film that."
Warner Bros/DC/Kobal/Shutterstock Amber Heard in Aquaman
November 2020 is also when Depp lost his highly publicized U.K. libel lawsuit case against British tabloid The Sun for calling him a "wife-beater." The court upheld the outlet's claims as being "substantially true" and Heard testified to back up the claims. In March 2021, Depp's attempt to overturn the decision was overruled.
After losing that libel case, Depp announced that he had agreed to step down from his role in Warner Bros.'s Fantastic Beasts franchise. He was later replaced by Mads Mikkelsen as Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, which hit theaters last month with the lowest box office performance of the Harry Potter franchise.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom producer Peter Safran told Deadline in July that the production was never "going to react to, honestly, pure fan pressure" to remove Heard altogether. "You gotta do what's best for the movie. We felt that if it's [director] James Wan and Jason Momoa, it should be Amber Heard. That's really what it was," he said.
Safran added, "One is not unaware of what is going on in the Twitter-verse, but that doesn't mean you have to react to it or take it as gospel or accede to their wishes. You have to do what's right for the film, and that's really where we landed on it."