Lost in the mounting anxiety over the U.S. elections was the news that Johnny Depp would be exiting the Fantastic Beasts franchise. A statement was issued on his various social media platforms revealing that he would no longer be playing the dark lord Gellert Grindelwald – the key villain to the struggling Wizarding World film series – after being asked by Warner Bros Pictures to step down.
That means that when filming resumes for the third Fantastic Beasts film, the WB will need a new Grindelwald. A childhood friend of Albus Dumbledore, Grindelwald would go on to lead an army of racist mages. Thankfully, there are many viable choices to replace Depp, one we’ve already met and one who doesn’t even identify as the same gender. Here are our choices for the next Grindelwald.
The first Fantastic Beasts already nailed this bit of casting when they made the Irish-born actor the face of “Percival Graves,” director of Wizarding World’s SHIELD equivalent agency, who later revealed himself to be Grindelwald. There’s no reason Warner Bros. can’t retcon this by dismissing Depp’s appearance as some kind of double alchemy or some other magical nonsense.
And if you’re looking at this from a star power angle, Farrell is no small name. He’s a dependable performer for big studio tentpoles and would-be franchises like Artemis Fowl and Dumbo. The only potential complication is that Farrell is currently filming “The Batman” for Warner Bros.
This extra-terrestrial seraph has played The Ancient One, done photoshoots as David Bowie and played Lucifer in Constantine. She can literally play anything regardless of plane of origin or gender, and that’s why she’d be perfect as the next Grindelwald. The character could be re-interpreted as a gender-ambiguous changeling, so high up their kite on magical juju they are without gender-conventional form.
The youngest actor on this list, Tom Hiddleston is beloved for his portrayal of Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but who knows how much longer he’ll be asked to play that character. His roguish charm and chaotic energy would fit well for the character of Grindenwald, though he’d be ten years younger than Jude Law, who plays would be boyfriend Albus Dumbledore.
If the WB wants to get crazy, then Michael Shannon would be the right kind of crazy. Imagine where the Knives Out actor could take the Grindelwald character. Quiet desperation? Fragile stoicism? Madness that’s just off the freaking chain. Anything is possible with Michael Shannon, who is no stranger to franchise work like Man of Steel and capable of weird roles like his sword-wielding ex-con in the rom-com They Came Together.
Playing a mad magician isn’t exactly off the beaten path for an actor known to English-speaking audiences mostly for his role on NBC’s Hannibal. But as a venerable character actor, the Danish actor is a great fit for Grindelwald, a character that requires surface eccentricity and thoughtful intensity. No sweat for a guy who played a psychokinetic soldier dad in last year’s interactive paranormal thriller Death Stranding. (Rumor has it that Mikkelsen is already in talks to replace Depp, but nothing’s been confirmed yet.)
When you think of Hugh Grant, you probably think of the bumbling lead of a British rom-com, but between his role as a narcissistic acting has-been in Paddington 2 and that hot second when he was in line to play Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, I’d say he’s overdue for a meaty villain role. Grant is almost the same age as Depp and it would be fun to see him take on a darker, more menacing character.
A personal favorite of mine from his time as Leto II Atreides in the TV miniseries Children of Dune, James McAvoy is no stranger to blockbuster work. He’s best known for his gentle but scheming Charles Xavier in the X-Men series, but after a wild turn in M. Night Shyamalan’s Split and Glass, I’d say he could go wild as Grindelwald. And that’s without speaking of the sexual tension that could be built between him and Jude Law.
Robert Downey, Jr.
It is a tad bit improbable for Robert Downey, Jr. to take the leap once more into a big franchise a mere few years after concluding a decade-long run in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But Downey has always been attracted to work people will talk about, whether it’s as Charlie Chaplin in 1992’s Chaplin, or munching over the chewy dialogue given to him by Iron Man 3 collaborator Shane Black in Kiss, Kiss, Bang Bang.
As Grindelwald, RDJ would relish the opportunity to play such a villainous character while also allowing producers to tap into the charisma necessary to build a gathering of followers. All the while RDJ would inject the franchise with a serious boost of star power that could help renew interest. Is it an odd choice? Yeah, but it’s the most exciting one.
Who would you cast to replace Johnny Depp?