Entertainment What happens next for Johnny Depp and Amber Heard as celebrity trial of the century ends?
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What happens next for Johnny Depp and Amber Heard as celebrity trial of the century ends?

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Some would say this was a very Hollywood moment.

As a jury delivered its verdict and awarded more than $US10 million ($14 million) in damages to Hollywood actor Johnny Depp – a near-total victory in a defamation suit against ex-wife Amber Heard – he was in a Newcastle pub on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Eating fish and chips and sipping on a soft drink on an outside terrace at the Bridge Tavern, the 58-year-old Pirates of the Caribbean star hugged and high-fived patrons, asked about the history of the local Tyne Bridge and met English singer Sam Fender as he prepared to continue his rock star life abroad performing with guitar legend Jeff Beck.

For the time being.

In Fairfax, Virginia, Heard, 36, briefly embraced her two lawyers and left the courthouse, and most likely returned to her isolated, off-grid luxury home in the Mojave Desert in California to reunite with her one-year-old daughter and contemplate her small victory.

The jury awarded her $US2 million ($2.8 million), finding she was defamed when Depp’s lawyer called her accusations a “hoax”.

But what does she do now, and what does this verdict mean for both their careers?

Will Depp’s enduring popularity throughout the trial, and his historic four-decade career in the movie business, be enough to get him back in the good books in Hollywood?

And will Heard’s acting career take a nose dive, forcing her into advocacy work for domestic violence organisations?

US attorney and TV talk show host Megyn Kelly told Law & Crime Network she believes Heard is “unemployable”.

Heard testified that Depp physically or sexually assaulted her more than a dozen times.

During his testimony, Depp testified that he never struck Heard, that she concocted the abuse allegations, and that she was the one who physically attacked him, multiple times.

The jury found Heard lied, and the televised trial that has captivated audiences around the world ended.

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“I think she’s professionally ruined for the time being,” Kelly said on Wednesday evening local time.

“I’m not sure whether she comes back from this, even in a town that’s very liberal, which is much more in the knee-jerk ‘I believe all women’ camp.

“The problem for her in Hollywood is not that a jury has said what they said. The problem for her in Hollywood is the nation watched this trial and they decided she was a liar, and he was a truth-teller.

“The public watched this thing gavel-to-gavel. They got to make up their own minds. And yes, they were manipulated by the press and yes, they saw YouTube mash-ups the jury didn’t see, but they had the opportunity to side with her in the court of public opinion if that’s how they were feeling and watching her testimonial.

“They didn’t,” Kelly concluded.

“So Hollywood, before it’s woke, these days, has got to be somewhat business-minded and capitalist, and there was already a petition [change.org] to get her booted out of the next Aquaman sequel. They don’t want to see her.

“She has come to represent more than a woman who falsely accused a beloved actor.

“She’s come to represent all women, who … women and men feel have made false accusations. Now, that’s unfair. That’s where we are. That’s why I say she’s probably unemployable.”

Speculation is rising Johnny Depp could be cast in Beetlejuice 2, directed by his old friend, mentor and director Tim Burton. Photo: TND/Getty 

Lights, camera … and some action for Depp?

By all accounts, as soon as the verdict was read out, Depp’s credibility was on the rise.

Critics wonder whether two of the biggest Hollywood studios were hasty in cutting ties with him – Disney for the next Pirates of the Caribbean instalment, and Warner Bros for Fantastic Beasts.

He may have to continue doing independent films for the time being –  Minamata (2021) is a good example – but his list of friends in Hollywood is long and distinguished.

Social media reacted immediately to growing speculation Depp was on the cast list for another Tim Burton classic – Beetlejuice 2.

Depp and director Burton go back decades. They are close friends on and off sets, having made eight films together including Edward Scissorhands (1990), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) and  Alice in Wonderland (2010).

Winona Ryder, 50, is listed to reprise her character, as is Michael Keaton, 70, in his starring role from the 1988 classic.

In a 2021 cover story on Depp’s career in film website looper.com, Burton was working on a TV project about the Addams Family and was reportedly fighting to get Depp to play Gomez Addams.

“Hollywood has shown time and again that it loves a comeback – and it seems safe to say that if and when Johnny Depp is ready to mount one (and if the aforementioned Addams Family series isn’t already it), Tim Burton will have a script waiting for him,” it wrote.

Entertainment website IMDb notes Depp is scheduled to continue doing voice-overs for his character Johnny Puff in animated short TV series Puffins, which follows the adventures of a bunch of funny little birds.

He’s also in pre-production on feature film Jeanne du Barry, based on the story of Jeanne Bécu, who was born as the illegitimate daughter of an impoverished seamstress in 1743.

She went on to rise through the court of Louis XV to become his last official mistress.

Depp plays Louis XV.

“The best is yet to come and a new chapter has finally begun,” he said in a typewritten statement on Wednesday, ending with the Latin phrase “Veritas numquam perit. Truth never perishes”.

What the verdict means for Heard, and her career

At the centre of the legal case was a December 2018 opinion piece by Heard in the Washington Post.

The article did not mention Depp by name, but his lawyer told jurors it was clear that Heard was referring to him.

The seven-member jury then had to make a ruling on passages in the article and headline that read: “I spoke up against sexual violence – and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”

Because Depp is a public figure, to find that she committed libel, the jury needed to conclude that Heard acted with “actual malice”, meaning that she either knew what she wrote was false or that she acted with reckless disregard for the truth.

After a six-week trial and deliberating for 12 hours over three days, the jury ruled in favour of Depp on all three counts, finding that she had indeed acted with actual malice.

So what does she do now?

There were reports late Wednesday, local time, that Heard was planning to appeal against the verdict.

US legal analyst Neama Rahmani told the ABC:  “Amber Heard can certainly appeal, but there’s not a very good basis for appeal, and if she does, interest will start to accrue on the judgment,” Mr Rahmani said.

“The other issue is you can’t appeal a factual finding – the jurors finding that she acted maliciously, that she lied, that she defamed it.

“You can only appeal a legal error. And I don’t see a clear legal error made by the judge in this case. She called it pretty fairly, in my opinion.”

As for her future career in the movie business, she’s largely had a string of supporting roles, her biggest to date include Justice League and then playing Mera in Aquaman (2018), which grossed more than $US1.14 billion ($1.59 billion) in global box office receipts and for which she earned $US1 million ($1.4 million).

Her ‘pared down’ role in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is in post-production and will be released in 2023.

She’s also just finished filming In the Fire in Guatemala and is in pre-production for Run Away with Me, a romance thriller about an American in Paris who falls for a model.

Given her statement moments after the jury’s unanimous decision, Heard said it was a “setback” for other women.

“I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women,” she said. “It is a setback.

“It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke up could be publicly shamed and humiliated. It sets back the idea that violence against women should be taken seriously.”

As The Guardian noted on June 2, her “long-running outspoken defence of domestic abuse victims is more likely the key to her future activities”.

“For example, like the actor and campaigner Rose McGowan, she now has a considerably higher profile as an activist than an actor and may well wish to concentrate her efforts in that sphere.”