Director James Wan said 'Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom' was always pitched as a "bromance action-adventure movie" with Mera taking a backseat
The actress, 37, reprises her role as the sea princess in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, but during her Virginia defamation trial with ex-husband Johnny Depp last year, Heard testified that her role became "very pared down" amid negative attention on her personal life.
In a new interview with Entertainment Weekly, Wan, 46, said Mera was never intended to be a main character in the second installment. Instead, the new story focuses on Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) and half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson).
"I always pitched this to everyone from the get-go. The first Aquaman was Arthur and Mera's journey. The second movie was always going to be Arthur and Orm," he said.
"So, the first was a romance action-adventure movie, the second one is a bromance action-adventure movie," added Wan. "We'll leave it at that."
Depp, 60, sued Heard for defamation over a 2018 op-ed she wrote about coming forward with abuse allegations, though she did not mention him by name. He won all three claims, and she won one of her three counterclaims. They've since reached a settlement, and she paid him $1 million.
During the trial, Heard (who had filmed her Aquaman sequel scenes prior to the trial) argued that her reputation and career "took a hit" due to Depp's public attacks on her character.
"I fought really hard to stay in the movie. They didn't want to include me in the film," Heard said on the stand about the sequel.
"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," she added at the time.
Her talent agent Jessica Kovacevic testified that she was told Heard's Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom role was reduced due to chemistry issues with Momoa — but the agent believed behind the scenes, negative press relating to Depp affected her career.
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Walter Hamada, former president of DC Films, testified during the trial that no comments from Depp or his attorneys affected 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," Hamada said at the time of Mera's part in the "buddy-comedy" sequel, which follows "co-leads" Momoa and Wilson.
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."
In June 2022, after the verdict that sided mostly with Depp, Heard's rep responded to a report that she was being cut from the sequel altogether: "The rumor mill continues as it has from day one — inaccurate, insensitive and slightly insane."
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," she said at the time.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is in theaters Dec. 20.
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