‘Aquaman 2’ Flooded With Drama: Jason Momoa Allegedly Drunk on Set, Amber Heard Scenes Cut, Elon Musk’s Letter to WB and More

These waters are getting choppy.

On the same day in mid-September that Warner Bros. dropped the trailer for its $215 million “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” embarrassing documents from the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard defamation trial surfaced on Reddit, creating a new headache for the studio behind the film.

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Depp fans paid the court fees for the release of documents from Heard’s therapist, Dr. Dawn Hughes. The raw notes, scribbled on a legal pad, were part of last year’s high-profile trial in which Depp largely prevailed. They describe a hostile “Aquaman” set where an allegedly intoxicated Jason Momoa dressed like Depp and pushed to have Heard booted from the role of aquatic superhero Mera.

“Jason said he wanted me fired,” the notes say. “Jason drunk — late on set. Dressing like Johnny. Has all the rings too.”

A rep for Momoa declined comment, but a DC spokesperson pushed back on Heard’s characterization, saying, “Jason Momoa conducted himself in a professional manner at all times on the set of ‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.’” Others echoed that sentiment. “Jason works his ass off, likes to have a beer once in a while like everyone, but doesn’t show up drunk to set,” says an insider who was on the London set in 2021, adding that the two stars got along and were seen joking together. “And he isn’t dressing like Johnny Depp. He has always dressed in that bohemian style.”

Heard declined comment, but a source close to the actress confirmed that the notes refer to the “Aquaman 2” set and reflect a session from Dec. 27, 2021. Another source close to the actress says her lawyers fought the release of the therapy notes, which had been subpoenaed by Depp’s attorneys during discovery.

Momoa wasn’t the only “Aquaman” principal to land in the crosshairs. The therapy session also painted a picture of Heard feeling unsupported by the film’s director, James Wan, and treated like a pariah because of her high-profile legal battle with her ex-husband.

“He raised his voice @ me — ‘I can’t even post about Aquaman’ — made it like it was my fault – I said ‘I’m sorry,’” say Hughes’ notes in reference to Wan. “Nobody could take selfies with me on set given blackout.”

Wan declined comment. The DC spokesperson says, “James is known for treating members of his cast and crew with the utmost respect and for fostering a positive, collaborative environment on set — the ‘Aquaman’ films were no exception.”

And yet Heard was nearly fired, sources on both sides tell Variety. Following “Aquaman’s” release in 2018, the studio and Wan decided to drop the actress from the sequel due to her lack of chemistry with Momoa and sent a letter to her attorney, Karl Austen, informing him of its decision. (Former DC Films boss Walter Hamada testified in the defamation trial about the “issue of chemistry.”) Those sources underscore that the move to bounce Heard was unrelated to Depp and took place before he filed suit against the actress in 2019. Likewise, Momoa was not involved in the decision-making. But another source pushed back on the lack-of-chemistry narrative, noting that Heard did a chemistry test with Momoa before landing the role of Mera and beat out two other actresses who did a similar chemistry test, including Abbey Lee.

Ultimately, the studio never pulled the trigger on firing Heard because her former boyfriend, Elon Musk, had one of his litigators send a “scorched-earth letter to Warner Bros. threatening to burn the house down” if the actress wasn’t brought back for a sequel, says a source familiar with the behind-the-scenes battle. Warner Bros. caved and moved forward with Heard. (Musk did not respond to a request for comment.)

The drama is being rehashed at a time when DC Entertainment toppers James Gunn and Peter Safran are poised to close the book on the previous regime’s superhero slate with the Dec. 20 release of “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.” Since Warner Bros. chiefs Pam Abdy and Mike De Luca joined the studio in June 2022, followed by Gunn and Safran’s entrance four months later, the four have been saddled with DC duds they inherited, including this year’s “The Flash” ($271 million worldwide) and “Blue Beetle” ($128 million worldwide).

Still, the “Aquaman” sequel held promise considering that the character’s first outing earned $1.15 billion worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing DC movie ever. But sources say the sequel has endured challenges outside of the Heard saga and was testing in the 60s before being recut in the summer of 2022. Despite the overhaul, the film continued to test in the 60s, prompting a new cut. “The movie is like this echo of regimes,” says one insider. “It’s the last remnant of the Snyderverse, and no one really wants to take ownership of it.” Reshoots took place right up until this year’s WGA strike in May. The on-set source disputes the idea that “Aquaman 2” is troubled, noting that the film was on time, under budget and needed only about a week of reshoots.

Like “Flash,” “Aquaman” can’t shake its lame duck trappings, with the DC universe getting overhauled under new leadership, marking Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s top priority.

In fact, none of the stars cast by Zack Snyder for 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and 2017’s “Justice League” — including Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller and Momoa — will reprise their roles in the new DC universe in character. Momoa may return, just not as Aquaman. Sources say the actor has engaged in talks to play Lobo, either in the 2025 reboot “Superman: Legacy,” written and directed by Gunn, or in a standalone film. In a confusing twist, Viola Davis, who played Amanda Waller in both of the recent “Suicide Squad” movies, will remain as that character in the Gunn-Safran DC universe in next year’s Max series “Waller” and possibly in the new “Superman” tentpole. Another outlier is Gunn’s Max series “Peacemaker,” which will be back for a second season with John Cena in the lead.

Meanwhile, there has been some confusion on the series front about who is the ultimate gatekeeper. Unlike the Marvel-Disney relationship in which Marvel controls the creative process and Disney+ merely releases the content, Max is creatively involved with the DC slate. Gunn and Safran don’t enjoy the same autonomy as Marvel’s Kevin Feige. (A Max source says the collaboration between the DC team and Max executives Sarah Aubrey and Casey Bloys has been seamless, including on the upcoming series “The Penguin,” which was forced to shut down production after the WGA strike began but is expected resume shooting as soon as the SAG-AFTRA strike ends.)

Regardless, some on the lot are convinced that another company, most likely Universal, will buy Warner Bros. within two years, making recent DC subplots and upheavals feel quaint.

“The bottom line is they need to get DC to work whether Zaslav owns it, whether Brian Roberts owns it, whether somebody else owns it,” says LightShed’s Rich Greenfield, a Wall Street analyst and venture capitalist.

In the runup to the “Aquaman” sequel, Warner Bros. will outwardly back the film and hope for a China release like its “Barbie,” “The Flash” and “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” received. After all, the first “Aquaman” earned nearly $300 million in China alone. But those types of China numbers are a thing of the past. Neither “Barbie” nor “The Flash” landed anything close to “Aquaman’s” Middle Kingdom haul from 2018, earning $35.1 million and $25.9 million there, respectively.

For now, neither Momoa nor Heard will be promoting the film given the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike. But if the strike ends soon, now that the WGA has come to terms, the stars will be junketing, making it difficult for Warner Bros. and Wan to avoid Heard’s accusations that her role was significantly cut. At least two Heard scenes were cut from “Aquaman 2” — an action sequence that found Mera fighting Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and a love scene with Momoa — according to individuals familiar with the production. Other evidence of friction is hiding in plain sight. This summer, Momoa unfollowed Heard on Instagram. One source says he even blocked Heard from following him.

Turmoil aside, the sequel might just work at the box office. The first “Aquaman” also was ho-hum in early testing and found its footing in postproduction. A studio source says “Aquaman 2” is following a similar trajectory. Early tracking shows strong interest and puts the film’s opening on par with the first “Aquaman.”

“Everybody’s down on DC, but there is a chance, especially with the limited competition during the holiday season, that ‘Aquaman’ could still play like gangbusters because of lack of product,” says Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “Sometimes the right film at the right time is all you need.”

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