What happened to $650 million? An explosive legal battle between one of Hollywood’s best-paid actors and the business managers he fired has laid bare tumultuous finances, outrageous spending and troubling behavior on Disney’s new ‘Pirates’ movie in a case that could even change how the industry does business.
Early one afternoon in October 2012, Jake Bloom and Joel Mandel left their respective Beverly Hills offices, slipped into their luxury cars and embarked on the roughly 30-minute journey to the Hollywood Hills compound of their client, Johnny Depp. Bloom was a rumpled and graying lawyer whose disheveled style camouflaged an intellect exercised on behalf of such luminaries as Martin Scorsese and Sylvester Stallone. Mandel, then in his early 50s, was a tall, rather amiable accountant who favored loose-fitting jeans and looser-fitting shirts, sartorial code designed to assure his clients he was just another boy in their band as well as a top-flight business manager steeped in the arcana of arbitrage and amortization.
Both men had been close to Depp for years. Bloom, indeed, was such a confidant to the actor that he had even joined him for an induction ceremony into the Comanche nation when he played Tonto in The Lone Ranger; as for Mandel, he had accompanied Depp to his three-island property in the Bahamas, atolls Mandel had helped his client buy for a total of $5.35 million.
These men were part of Depp’s inner circle, at least as far as any lawyer or accountant could belong to the inner circle of an artist this mercurial, one with a skull-and-crossbones tattoo on his leg and “Death is certain” scrawled beneath it, whose soul mates were such creative titans as Marlon Brando, Keith Richards and Hunter S. Thompson — the journalist whose ashes Depp fired from a cannon hauled to the top of a 153-foot tower, a tribute for which the actor says he paid $5 million.
Leaving their cars that day, the advisers approached one of Depp’s five houses on a dead-end stretch of North Sweetzer Avenue. A modernist affair that was simply referred to as 1480, the building had been converted into a recording studio and was an appendage to an eight-bedroom, castle-like mansion once owned by music producer Berry Gordy. One of the star’s two omnipresent assistants led the men in, past a painting that British artist Banksy had created for Depp, and into a den, where the actor was leaning back in a slightly battered chair, surrounded by dozens upon dozens of classic guitars.
After the obligatory small talk, the visitors got to the point: Depp’s cash flow had reached a crisis point, they declared. Even though the star had become wildly wealthy (later, Mandel would claim Depp earned more than $650 million in the 13-plus years he had been represented by The Management Group, the company Mandel had started in 1987 with his brother Robert), there just wasn’t enough liquid money to cover Depp’s $2 million in monthly bills.
Without a fire sale, Depp — then arguably the biggest star in Hollywood and certainly one of the best paid, thanks to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise — would never be able to meet his obligations. Not the payments on his portfolio of real estate around the world. Not the impulse purchases such as the three Leonor Fini paintings he had bought from a Manhattan gallery (the first two for $320,000, the third as a $245,000 gift for then-girlfriend Amber Heard). Not the $3.6 million he paid annually for his 40-person staff. Not the $350,000 he laid out each month to maintain his 156-foot yacht. And not the hundreds of thousands of dollars he paid to sustain his ex-partner, Vanessa Paradis, and their children, Lily-Rose and Jack.
Mandel dug into his briefcase for a one-page summary he had prepared, but Depp waved it away. Still, after three hours, the actor agreed to a compromise: He would sell his beloved Amphitrite, the yacht he had bought for $10 million and spent $8 million renovating, where he’d hosted such friends as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
With his consent in place, Bloom and Mandel said their goodbyes, stepped out of the house and breathed a sigh of relief. The city stretched before them. The bright light that had bathed it when they arrived was fading and would soon give way to night.
That exchange, the start of an increasingly fraught relationship between the star and his team, would culminate in the 2016 firing of Mandel and Depp’s longtime agent, United Talent Agency’s Tracey Jacobs, along with a $25 million lawsuit filed Jan. 13 by Depp against the Mandels’ TMG, accusing them of fraud and mismanagement, among other things.
TMG has since countersued, alleging that Depp, now 53, failed to pay its commission on his income from the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and painting a portrait of an out-of-control movie star, reeling from a nasty split from Heard and used to spending freely, including $30,000 a month on wine. The Mandels seek a court declaration that “Depp is responsible for his own financial waste”; Depp’s side wants them to pay him millions, claiming they served as lawyers as well as accountants and therefore — if Depp’s interpretation of a California statute is correct — had no right to a percentage of his earnings without a proper contract.
The lawsuits, along with multiple interviews conducted by THR, indicate that Depp’s capricious behavior and poor decision-making placed him in a serious financial bind, which paved the way for the rupture with his closest advisers.
Depp’s current lawyer, hired in October, insists the actor was not properly advised and that Depp’s interest lay in his artistry, rather than his finances. But reps for TMG say Depp repeatedly was told to tighten the reins. The Mandel countersuit alleges that he ladled out $75 million on buying and updating 14 residences; owned more than 200 artworks, including some by Klimt, Warhol and Modigliani; kept a memorabilia collection in 12 storage facilities; and spent another $1 million archiving it.
After he connected with Heard, on one occasion “he walked into a [high-end jewelry] store, sat for a couple of hours,” says an insider. “They showed him a lot of stuff, gave him champagne, and he walked out with a $400,000 diamond cuff. It was a classic sort of moment because it wasn’t worth $400,000.”
When the couple decided to take the Orient Express and travel around Europe, a full security team accompanied them. “There were almost always two [security guards with Depp],” the source says. “He had a crew in L.A., a team of eight or 10 that traded off, with private security at the [Sweetzer] homes and the lofts downtown.”
Those lofts were a collection of penthouses in L.A.’s historic art deco Eastern Columbia Building; Depp has since sold two of the five units, which he bought for $7.2 million in 2007-08 and which were listed early last year at a combined price of $12.78 million.
As the financial strain grew more intense, sources say he pulled further away from Jacobs, Bloom, Mandel and his publicist, Robin Baum. At one point, the Depp lawsuit notes, “Depp’s talent agent [presumably Jacobs] wrote to Mandel: ‘Did you tell [J]ohnny … he needs to make $25 million by the end of the year????? What are you doing?????’ ”
Through all of this, the man behind Captain Jack Sparrow has remained largely silent, giving only one interview to The Wall Street Journal. “It’s my money,” he said on April 25. “If I want to buy 15,000 cotton balls a day, it’s my thing.” As for his former representatives: “I’ve worked very, very hard for a lot of years and trusted a lot of people, some who’ve clearly let me down.”
The Many, Many places Depp calls “Home”
Unlike his collections of classic guitars, fine art and fancy cars, the value of Depp’s real estate holdings is not hard to ballpark. According to legal documents, Depp has purchased 14 residences, but a few have been sold. Today, he owns five houses in the Hollywood Hills; these homes are collectively worth about $19 million. He has sold two of his five penthouse lofts in the Eastern Columbia Building in DTLA for $5.6 million; the other three are worth roughly $6.5 million. He also owns an atoll in the Bahamas and a hamlet in France. All told, his properties are worth $50 million to $60 million.