CANNES, France — At first, you had to wonder if they were running out the clock.
Twenty minutes after the Cannes Film Festival news conference for “Jeanne du Barry” was supposed to begin on Wednesday, neither the film’s actress-director, Maïwenn, nor her lead actor, Johnny Depp, had actually shown up.
Were they hoping to avoid questions? For Maïwenn, who was accused of spitting on a journalist in February, and Depp, who recently won a defamation suit against his ex-wife Amber Heard after she made allegations of physical and sexual abuse, queries about their personal scandals could overwhelm all talk of the movie they were meant to promote. Both had been in attendance the previous night when “Jeanne du Barry” opened the festival, but Cannes premieres are famously fawning and conclude with a customary standing ovation. Meeting the press would be a whole different matter.
Depp, who has not starred in a major Hollywood film in five years, had already missed the morning photo call for “Jeanne du Barry,” a French-language drama in which he plays Louis XV opposite Maïwenn’s titular courtesan. It fell to Maïwenn to shoulder that appointment alone, and 25 minutes after the “Jeanne du Barry” press conference was meant to start, Maïwenn entered the media room with her leading man still nowhere to be found.
At first, she talked around his absence, revealing that she had originally offered Depp’s role to several French actors who passed. Eventually, she reached out to Depp, reasoning that his nationality was less important than her other concerns: “I wanted to feel strongly about the actor, particularly as I would be hugging and kissing him later on.”
Questions to Maïwenn were mostly kept to a minimum, and none were about her altercation with the French journalist Edwy Plenel, who said Maïwenn spat on him in a Paris restaurant — something she more or less confirmed — because he had been investigating multiple claims of sexual abuse against the director Luc Besson, who had a son with Maïwenn when she was just 16. (Besson denied the accusations, from nine women, and the French authorities said that after an inquiry, the director would face no charges. If nothing else, Cannes is a reminder that nearly every major figure in the French film industry has a sizable “controversy” section on Wikipedia.)
But it was all just a warm-up for Depp, who entered 42 minutes late to extensive muttering from the journalists, then walked over to the dais to kiss Maïwenn on the top of her head.
Depp, who spoke mostly in murmured metaphors, at first discussed the French-language requirements of the role, but he was soon asked whether he felt that Hollywood had boycotted him after he was bounced from the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise in 2020 as his legal battles with Heard began to heat up.
“Of course, if you’re asked to resign from a film you’re doing because of something that is merely a bunch of vowels and consonants floating in the air, yeah, you feel boycotted,” Depp said. “Do I feel boycotted now? No, not at all. But I don’t feel boycotted by Hollywood because I don’t think about it. I don’t have much further need for Hollywood myself.”
The 59-year-old Depp continued, “It’s a very strange, funny time where everybody would love to be able to be themselves but they can’t. They must fall in line with the person in front of them. If you want to live that life, I wish you the best. I’ll be on the other side somewhere.”
Depp’s presence at the festival has caused no shortage of controversy, and though he was cheered at the “Jeanne du Barry” premiere,” an open letter in Liberation, signed by more than 100 actors, criticized the festival for allowing him to attend. That missive followed a blistering open letter published by Adèle Haenel, a star of “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” who announced she would be retiring from the French film industry because of “its generalized complacency toward sexual aggressors.”
Reminded that there are people who think he shouldn’t have come to Cannes, Depp launched into a metaphor about being banned from McDonald’s, then imagined his critics as “39 angry people watching me eat a Big Mac on a loop. Who are they? Why do they care? Some species or tower of mashed potatoes, covered in the light of a computer screen, anonymous, apparently with a lot of spare time. I don’t think I’m the one who should be worried.”
Efforts to steer the conversation back to “Jeanne du Barry” were mostly halfhearted: Depp continued to rail against the media and his critics, insisting, “For the last five or six years in regards to me, the majority of what you’ve read is fantastically, horrifically written fiction.” But when asked whether he felt the film might lead to a career comeback, Depp was blasé.
“I keep wondering about the word ‘comeback,’” he said. “I didn’t go anywhere. As a matter of fact, I live about 45 minutes away. Maybe people stopped calling out of whatever their fear was at the time. But I didn’t go nowhere. I’ve been sitting around.”