Fantastic Beasts 3: Why Johnny Depp was replaced by Mads Mikkelsen as Gellert Grindelwald

Mads Mikkelsen and Johnny Depp in Fantastic Beasts
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Why was Johnny Depp replaced by Mads Mikkelsen as Gellert Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts 3, AKA Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore? If you're a casual movie-goer who does not pay too much attention to the scandals around your favorite cinematic adventures, then that's a fair question. Depp played the villain in two previous Fantastic Beasts movies, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald. However, with the third, the Pirates of the Caribbean actor is no longer a part of the franchise, and the split was not an amicable one.

Back in 2020, The Hollywood Reporter published a piece revealing that Depp had been filming the third installment in the Harry Potter prequel series when a decision was made by Warner Bros. chairman Toby Emmerich to remove the actor from the project. The move followed a court ruled that the British tabloid The Sun won a legal battle against Depp after the newspaper labeled him a "wife-beater". 

"The judge’s ruling makes it a lot easier for news outlets to use similar depictions when referring to Depp’s stormy two-year marriage to actress Amber Heard, creating a PR headache for the studio," the report reads.

The studio had allegedly wanted to see the outcome of the court case before making a decision to recast Depp. Following the verdict, Depp released a statement, reading: "I wish to let you know that I have been asked to resign by Warner Bros from my role as Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts and I have respected and agreed to that request."

Though Depp had only filmed one scene for Fantastic Beasts 3, the studio allegedly had to pay out an "eight-figure salary" to the actor, due to his so-called pay-or-play contract. Jude Law, who plays a young Albus Dumbledore in the series, later confirmed that Depp had filmed scenes, saying: “It was unusual for me because, in fact, on this particular role, Johnny had actually only done a day’s filming, I think, on his own.”

Fantastic Beasts fans began petitioning for Colin Farrell to return as Grindelwald, having played the character (in disguise) in the first Fantastic Beasts. However, it was later confirmed that Farrell’s work playing Oswald ‘Penguin’ Cobblepot on The Batman meant a return was not possible. Then, the first reports emerged that Mads Mikkelsen was in discussions to play the character

Mikkelsen was soon officially cast in the role, and told Total Film that making Fantastic Beasts 3 "was a lovely experience." He also compared taking over as Grindelwald from Depp to re-interpreting Hannibal following Anthony Hopkins' iconic portrayal of the character in Silence of the Lambs.

"We have done a few bridges that will allow us to recognize [Grindelwald], but we’ve also said we have to make it our own," he said. "I have been a fan of Johnny Depp since I saw him as a young man, and to try to bring his intensity and his way of doing it into my work is a no-go. I have to find my own, because his is unique, and I just have to let that be, and find a different path."

The Total Film review later stated that "Mads Mikkelsen brings a chilling, understated ruthlessness (and a hint of Hannibal) to Grindelwald, becoming the perfect successor to Johnny Depp’s white-haired whisperer," while critics generally praised Mikkelsen's version of the antagonist.

For more, check out our explainer on all the biggest questions left over from the Fantastic Beasts 3 ending, and here's our guide to when Fantastic Beasts 3 is on HBO Max.

Jack Shepherd
Freelance Journalist

Jack Shepherd is the former Senior Entertainment Editor of GamesRadar. Jack used to work at The Independent as a general culture writer before specializing in TV and film for the likes of GR+, Total Film, SFX, and others. You can now find Jack working as a freelance journalist and editor.