Johnny Depp trial: Who is actor Johnny Depp, ex-wife Amber Heard, what is defamation lawsuit about, what has been said in court – plus timeline of the tumultuous Hollywood romance
Johnny Depp is facing ex-wife Amber Heard in a US court again to battle a multimillion-dollar defamation lawsuit – here’s everything you need to know about the trial.
Who is Johnny Depp?
Nominated for the Best Actor award on three occasions, Kentucky-born Depp is one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation.
After appearing in the 1984 horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street, his first big role was in the Fox TV series 21 Jump Street.
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In 1990, famous director Tim Burton cast him in the cult film Edward Scissorhands.
Depp went on to star in a succession of Hollywood blockbusters such as Benny and Joon, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Don Juan DeMarco, Donnie Brasco, Sleepy Hollow and Chocolate, but his biggest commercial success was achieved playing the role of Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise in a total of five films.
The actor has played his good friend and literary idol, the late US gonzo writer Hunter S Thompson, in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, as well as starring in The Rum Diary, based on the 1998 novel of the same name by Thompson.
In addtion to playing with the band Hollywood Vampires alongside Alice Cooper and Joe Perry, Depp also appeared Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Murder on the Orient Express, among other films.
Who is Amber Heard?
Heard is an American actress who is best known as the Atlantean queen Mera in the DC Extended Universe.
She was born in Austin, Texas, on 22 April 1986, to mother Patricia Paige (née Parsons) and David Clinton Heard (born 1950).
As a teenager, Heard dropped out of high school to instead move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting.
Outside of acting, Heard became a mother on 8 April 2021 when her daughter, Oonagh Paige Heard, was born via a surrogate.
On 1 July 2021, Heard shared the news on Instagram with a photo of herself and her sleeping daughter.
Heard’s first role that gained her mainstream recognition was as a supporting character in the comedy Pineapple Express with Seth Rogen (Pam & Tommy, Superbad) and James Franco (The Disaster Artist, 127 Hours) in 2008.
From there, she went on to star in The Informers, an adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name, The Joneses opposite Demi Moore (G.I. Jane, Ghost) and David Duchovny (The X-Files, Californication), and appeared briefly in the Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Now You See Me) zombie comedy Zombieland.
She joined the DC Extended Universe in the 2017 superhero film Justice League as Mera, a role which she reprised in 2018 in Aquaman, which starred Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones, Dune), Nicole Kidman (Roar, Nine Perfect Strangers) and Willem Dafeo (The Northman, The Lighthouse)
What is the defamation lawsuit about?
Depp is suing his former partner for libel over a 2018 article she wrote in the Washington Post in which she discussed her experiences of domestic abuse.
Mr Depp’s lawyers say the article falsely implies Ms Heard, 35, was physically and sexually abused by him when they were married.
He says the accusations have made it difficult for him to get the sorts of roles he used to, and launched the 50 million dollar (£38.2 million) lawsuit in 2019.
It comes after the actor lost a similar defamation case in the UK, which he brought against the publishers of The Sun, News Group Newspapers (NGN) for publishing an article that referred to him as a “wife-beater” in the headline.
Following a 16-day trial in July 2020, a judge found the content of the article to be “substantially true” and Mr Depp was later refused permission to appeal against the decision at the Court of Appeal.
What has been said in court already?
Depp says he was “probably the closest I’ve ever been” to having a nervous breakdown after his finger was sliced off by a vodka bottle during an argument with former wife.
The actor recounted in graphic detail an alleged incident which took place in Australia in March 2015, which left his finger looking “like Vesuvius”, as he gave evidence at the US defamation trial on Wednesday.
He said that in his state of shock he had written “little reminders” of Ms Heard’s “lies” in blood on the walls of the property they were staying at.
Giving evidence on Wednesday, Mr Depp was asked about the incident in Australia in which he claimed his former partner had thrown two vodka bottles at him
“She threw the large bottle and it made contact and shattered everywhere,” he told the court.
“I honestly didn’t feel the pain at all at first, I felt no pain whatsoever. What I felt was heat and I felt as if something was dripping down my hand.
“I looked down and realised that the tip of my finger had been severed and I was looking directly at my bone sticking out, and the meaty portion of the inside of your finger.
“Blood was just pouring out and…I don’t know what a nervous breakdown feels like, but that’s probably the closest I’ve ever been. Nothing made sense.
“I knew in my mind and in my heart, this is not life. No-one should have to go through this.
He continued: “I started to write in my own blood on the walls little reminders from our past that essentially represented lies that she had told me, lies that I had caught her in.”
Mr Depp said that “amongst the madness” he had sought refuge in the bathroom and called his doctor and asked him to come immediately.
He added that he had later lied about the cause of the injury, telling hospital staff he had “smashed it in these large accordion doors”.
“I lied because I did not want to disclose… that it had been Ms Heard that had thrown a vodka bottle at me and then took my finger off,” he said.
“I didn’t want to get her in trouble.
“I tried to keep things as easy as possible for everyone, I did not want to put her name in the mix.”
Ms Heard has previously claimed that she was the victim of abuse during the Australia trip, and described the incident as a “three-day hostage situation”.
Much of the evidence heard so far at the trial, taking place in Virginia, has made reference to Mr Depp’s use of substances while the two were together, which Ms Heard’s lawyers said have triggered violent episodes.
The actor said he had been “more inspired” to turn to drugs and alcohol because of the “constant clashes” between himself and Ms Heard.
“There wasn’t a day that she would wake up and you’d expect something would hit the fan, and pretty much like clockwork it did,” he said.
“I had to have something to distance me and distance my heart from those verbal attacks, I had to have something to be able to maintain me.”
Mr Depp said that over time his marriage to Ms Heard had begun to feel like he was “in a relationship” with his mother.
“Things started coming up and I was suddenly just wrong about everything,” he said.
“If you tried to explain yourself and correct the problem, the misunderstanding, it would then begin to heighten as Ms Heard was unable to be wrong.
“It just didn’t happen, she couldn’t be wrong.”
The actress is also due to give evidence during the trial at Fairfax County District Court, which is set to last a total of seven weeks.
A Hollywood love story that ended in acrimony
The love story of Depp and Heard is one that began with an actress “captivated” by a Hollywood king, but it ended in acrimony with conflicting accounts of what happened played out in a bitter court battle for all the world to see.
Mr Depp, 57, adored by fans for his roles as Captain Jack Sparrow and Edward Scissorhands, said he met the “beautiful” Ms Heard when she auditioned for The Rum Diary, a film adaption of a novel by Mr Depp’s friend Hunter S Thompson.
Ms Heard, who is 23 years younger than Mr Depp, said that when they were together “it was like we were the only people in the world”.
But that honeymoon period was not to last, and what ensued was a tempestuous relationship allegedly marred with drink and drug binges and violence, ultimately resulting in much contradiction and legal wrangling.
Ms Heard, 34, said their romantic relationship began in 2011 when they were promoting The Rum Diary, and recalled how later that year Mr Depp invited her to spend a weekend at the Trump SoHo in New York.
She said she booked a room, but that he moved her bags into his room.
“At the time, I thought it was kind of romantic,” she said in a witness statement filed as part of Mr Depp’s libel case against The Sun’s publisher, News Group Newspapers (NGN).
The pair drank red wine together late into that first night, she said, adding: “When Johnny and I were together, it was like we were the only people in the world.
“We loved the same music, and poetry, and art – we would just sit and talk for hours.”
She described Mr Depp as “engaging and intellectual and dark and funny”, adding: “I was captivated. I had never been with someone like him.”
Will Johnny Depp win defamation case?
Depp will need to pull “a rabbit out of a hat” to win his US defamation case against his former wife, and the result of another legal loss could be career-ending, a media lawyer has said.
Alex Wade, legal partner at Wiggin LLP, said the trial in Virginia was the actor’s “last throw of the dice”, but that jury trials came with an “inherent unpredictability.”
Timeline: Johnny Depp and Amber Heard
Here is a timeline of the legal twists and turns of the tumultuous Hollywood romance.
Actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard begin dating after meeting on the set of comedy film The Rum Diary.
– Early 2013
Mr Depp is alleged to have been physically violent to Ms Heard for the first time.
Ms Heard claims the actor slapped her three times after she joked about a tattoo he got on his arm during his relationship with actress Winona Ryder. He denies the allegation.
Mr Depp and Ms Heard marry at a private ceremony in Los Angeles in February.
The couple takes a trip to Australia in March which Ms Heard describes as “a three-day hostage situation,” claiming Mr Depp is abusive while drinking heavily and taking drugs.
Mr Depp again denies the allegations and says Ms Heard lost her temper after a conversation about a post-nuptial agreement.
– April 2016
In May, the pair separate after an incident in which Ms Heard claims Mr Depp became angry at their LA penthouse and destroyed property with a bottle of champagne.
Ms Heard files a petition for the dissolution of their marriage as well as a temporary domestic violence restraining order, which prevents Mr Depp from contacting her.
The estranged couple reach an agreement concerning the dissolution of their marriage. Ms Heard later donates her seven million US dollar (£5.5 million) settlement to charity.
The couple become formally divorced in January.
An article by The Sun newspaper’s executive editor Dan Wootton is published in April, in which he refers to Mr Depp as a “wife-beater” in the headline.
The actor files his libel claim against News Group Newspapers (NGN) – the owner of The Sun.
Ms Heard publishes an op-ed in the Washington Post in December which deals with her personal experiences of domestic violence.
It is titled: “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change”, but does not mention Mr Depp by name.
Mr Depp launches a 50 million dollar (£38 million) defamation lawsuit against Ms Heard, with his lawyers claiming the article falsely implies she was physically and sexually abused by the actor when they were married.
He claims the piece caused him to be dropped from the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise and that Ms Heard was the one who had been abusive towards him.
The pair meet in the Royal Courts Of Justice in London for Mr Depp’s NGN libel suit which was delayed due to the coronavirus crisis.
Following a 16-day trial in July, a judge finds the content of the article proven to be “substantially true”.
Mr Justice Nicol refuses Mr Depp’s application for permission to appeal against his ruling at the Court of Appeal.
Mr Depp’s lawyers file grounds of appeal with the Court of Appeal, arguing the actor “did not receive a fair trial” and that Mr Justice Nicol’s ruling is “plainly wrong” and “manifestly unsafe”.
The UK Court Of Appeal refuses permission for Mr Depp to appeal against the High Court ruling.
Mr Depp’s 2019 defamation case against Ms Heard, also delayed due to the pandemic, is set to begin on April 11.
Witness lists reveal that several high-profile celebrities are due to give testimony including, actors James Franco and Paul Bettany and Tesla founder Elon Musk.