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Johnny Depp and MBS started 'epic bromance' after Khashoggi killing assurances

Hollywood actor reportedly began to feel that they had both been unfairly treated in the West
US actor Johnny Depp arrives for an 'In Conversation' session, at a mall in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on 1 December 2023, as part of the third edition of the Red Sea Film Festival (Ammar Abd Rabbo/Red Sea Film Festival/AFP)

Johnny Depp and Mohammed bin Salman have reportedly sparked an unlikely "epic bromance", with the Hollywood actor apparently wooed by the Saudi crown prince's suggestion that Jamal Khashoggi was only killed because his orders were "misunderstood by overeager underlings".

According to Vanity Fair, the two became friends over the past year after another Saudi royal, Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Farhan Al Saud, visited Depp on the set of a film he was making in 2022. The film, Jeanne du Barry, was partly financed by the royal through Saudi Arabia's Red Sea Film Fund.

Depp's stock in Hollywood plummetted after his ex-wife Amber Heard accused him of abuse, allegations he denied and twice went to trial over, and he reportedly grew close to the Saudi ruler over the perception that he'd been hard done by in the western media.

"Depp, who did not recognise himself in the tabloid coverage of the Heard trial, was beginning to question the Western narrative about Saudi Arabia," Vanity Fair wrote.

"The crown prince said the world had unfairly tarnished him as a bloodthirsty dictator in the vein of Saddam Hussein. This was Saudi Arabia's greatest moment, he told Depp, a major transformation perceptible even on a monthly basis, if people would only bother to visit."

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During one visit to see Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the kingdom, Depp reportedly asked the prince what had "really happened" with dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, who contributed to Middle East Eye and the Washington Post, was killed inside Saudi Arabia's Istanbul consulate on 2 October 2018 after going to get documents for his marriage to Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz. 

Turkish sources told MEE at the time that it took seven minutes for the 59-year-old to die and he was dismembered inside the consulate then disposed of.

'Though I admit I was somewhat naive at first to what was transpiring in the region, I've since experienced firsthand the cultural revolution that is happening there'

- Johnny Depp, actor

The murder sparked an international outcry and tarnished the reputation of the oil-rich kingdom. The CIA previously concluded that Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi's murder. The crown prince has repeatedly denied this.

According to Vanity Fair, the Saudi crown prince told Depp that Khashoggi had "become a rogue operative working with the country's enemies to undermine the crown prince's reform agenda".

"The West saw Khashoggi as a journalist, MBS said, but the royal court viewed him as a corrupt enemy of the state, putting its future at risk for hidden motives," Vanity Fair wrote, using a common nickname for the Saudi leader.

Mohammed bin Salman reportedly told Depp that he had ordered his underlings to arrest Khashoggi on criminal charges if the opportunity arose, but that "the directive had been misunderstood by overeager underlings who believed the prince would be happy if Khashoggi were silenced permanently".

"Consistent with his public statements, MBS told Depp he didn't order the murder but nonetheless took responsibility," read the article.

'Cultural revolution'

Mohammed bin Salman has been keen to push a number of social reforms in the kingdom as part of his much-touted Saudi 2030 Vision.

He overturned a ban on women driving in 2018 and has allowed public concerts and the proliferation of cinemas, even as he imposed a widespread crackdown on both liberal and conservative critics within the kingdom and stifled dissent.

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Vanity Fair said that Depp was initially reluctant to engage with Saudi officials following the detention of his hard-partying friend Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahd in the 2017 Riyadh Ritz Carlton purge. However he was eventually won over by Mohammed bin Salman's stated plans for the kingdom, according to the report.

A friend of Depp's told the magazine that the two "made a genuine connection".

"It's a shock to many of the people who know him, but it's what happened."

Johnny Depp told Vanity Fair: "Though I admit I was somewhat naive at first to what was transpiring in the region, I've since experienced firsthand the cultural revolution that is happening there - from emerging young storytellers radiating fresh ideas and works of art to a blossoming film infrastructure and a newfound curiosity for innovation.

"I've had the opportunity to meet people from various parts of the region who have been most welcoming in sharing with me their culture, their traditions and their stories."

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