Johnny Depp's Harry Potter role isn't magical news for all fans

Warner Bros won't confirm the actor's exact role in the film series, but the internet thinks it has a pretty good idea. And naturally, there's some controversy.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
2 min read
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Ahoy there, wizards, Johnny Depp is coming aboard the "Fantastic Beasts" franchise.

Screenshot by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper/CNET

"Pirates of the Caribbean" star Johnny Depp will join the world of "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," the next movie set in the Harry Potter universe, Warner Bros confirmed Wednesday. But due to Depp's recent headline-making divorce from Amber Heard, not everyone finds the casting to be magical.

Melissa Anelli, board president of the Harry Potter Alliance fan activism group, thinks the casting news is being revealed now, more than two weeks before the film's premiere, to test fans' reactions to Depp's role in light of Heard's allegations of verbal and physical abuse.

"Maybe they're going to just stick with (Depp's) contract and want to soften ground before making it real; maybe they're testing the waters to see if reaction is bad enough that they should explore whatever it takes to get out of it," Anelli writes on Medium.

Eddie Redmayne is still the "Fantastic Beasts" star, playing magizoologist Newt Scamander, who finds himself in 1920s New York. It's looking as though Depp will only have a cameo in the first "Fantastic Beasts" film, which hits theaters in two weeks, and his role may be expanded in later films. (Five films are planned, author J.K. Rowling has confirmed.)

While Warner Bros wouldn't comment on the role Depp will play, the internet had no such compunction. Consensus is Depp will play dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, considered second only to Voldemort in deadliness.

Casting Depp as Grindelwald might give the "Fantastic Beasts" films a chance to stage the famous and deadly duel between Grindelwald and a younger Albus Dumbledore, who later becomes Harry Potter's beloved Hogwarts headmaster. J.K. Rowling said in a 2007 Carnegie Hall appearance that Dumbledore once had romantic feelings for Grindelwald.

The casting news, first reported by The Hollywood Reporter, lit up Potterhead social media more brightly than a "Lumos!' spell (which isn't easy to cast -- ask any Android phone user).

But it came with controversy, thanks to Depp's messy breakup. In an August divorce settlement, Heard officially withdrew her request for a domestic violence restraining order against Depp despite repeated accusations of verbal and physical abuse, CBS News reported.

"Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love," Depp and Heard said in a joint statement at the time. "Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain."

Despite the peace implied in the joint statement, it's clear from social media many fans still hold strong opinions about Depp's role in the relationship.

Fans will have several weeks to come to grips with their opinion of the casting before deciding whether or not to buy "Fantastic Beasts" tickets. The film opens on November 17 in Australia and on November 18 in the US and UK.