During a six-week defamation trial in Fairfax, Virginia, Johnny Depp and ex-wife Amber Heard have found themselves the star attractions in a real-life soap opera where neither is expected to walk away with their reputations intact.
In opening remarks on April 13, Depp’s lawyer Camille Vasquez said Heard, 35, was “preparing to give the performance of a lifetime”.
Meanwhile Heard’s lawyer Benjamin Rottenborn said the 58-year-old Depp had brought the lawsuit “rather than take responsibility for his own actions” and planned to turn the trial into a “soap opera”.
The Pirates of the Caribbean actor is suing Heard (Aquaman) in a $US50 million ($68 million) defamation case over a 2018 article she wrote in The Washington Post in which she discussed her experiences of domestic abuse.
With the headline, “I spoke up against sexual violence – and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change”, the article does not mention Depp by name.
Benjamin Chew, another lawyer representing Depp, said the article falsely implied that Heard was physically and sexually abused by Depp when they were married.
In it, Heard wrote that “two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out”.
The Associated Press reported that Mr Chew told the court that was “a clear reference to a restraining order Heard sought in May 2016 – right after Depp told her he wanted a divorce – in which she claimed she’d been physically abused”.
Now, in the second week of the trial, a worldwide audience is tuning in to shocking allegations and revelations about both high-profile celebrities, who have submitted long lists of potential witnesses they may call, including Heard’s ex-boyfriend and Tesla chief executive Elon Musk and actor James Franco.
Heard has brought her own libel claim against Depp, saying he smeared her by calling her a liar, and this will also be decided as part of the trial.
Heard is seeking $US100 million ($136 million) in damages from Depp, according to court papers.
We’ve already heard from neighbours, former personal assistants, friends and immediate family members who have taken the stand or had video depositions played to the court.
Sporting slicked-back hair and a fist full of jewellery, Depp, who has now waited six years to testify, spent three hours in the witness box giving his version of events.
“I am obsessed with the truth. So, today is actually my first opportunity that I’ve been able to speak about this case,” he said.
He’s expected to return on Thursday (AEST) while Heard is yet to take the stand.
Here are the top takeaways from the explosive trial so far.
1. Depp testifies he never struck ex-wife Amber Heard
Speaking softly and slowly for nearly three hours on Wednesday (AEST), Depp said it was a “complete shock” about six years ago when Heard “made some quite heinous and disturbing” allegations that he became violent during their relationship.
“Never did I myself reach the point of striking Ms Heard in any way, nor have I ever struck any woman in my life,” he said.
“I felt it my responsibility to stand up not only for myself in that instance but stand up for my children.”
Depp’s two children from a previous relationship were in high school at the time.
“It’s very strange when one day you’re Cinderella, so to speak, and then in 0.6 seconds you’re Quasimodo.”
2. Depp experimented with drugs early and said his mother was abusive
Depp revealed his parents frequently argued and his mother physically abused her children.
Depp said his father never fought physically with his mother but punched a wall as many as three times, once breaking his hand.
When his father left the family, Depp was 15 years old and had “done all the drugs I was aware of,” he said.
The actor said he became addicted to opiates after he was injured on the set of the fourth Pirates Of The Caribbean film but later recovered from that dependency.
Depp said Heard, who he met while making 2011 film The Rum Diary, “grossly embellished” his substance use.
“A lot of it is just plainly false,” he said.
3. Sister, neighbour testify on pills and domestic violence
Depp’s older sister, Christi Dembrowski, 61, was the first witness called to the stand and faced a barrage of questions from Heard’s lawyers about Depp’s alcohol and drug use.
Ms Dembrowski struggled when asked why she sent texts to Depp in February 2014 that said, “Stop drinking. Stop coke. Stop pills”.
The second witness in the trial was next-door neighbour, painter and friend of Depp’s since 1980, Isaac Baruch.
He testified that Heard had told him the movie star threw a phone at her and hit her inside the couple’s Los Angeles penthouse.
But, Mr Baruch said he never noticed any evidence of abuse on Heard’s face – neither when he first saw her in the hallway, nor the next day in the sunlit lobby of their art deco building.
“She’s got her face out like this to show me, and I’m looking, and I inspect her face,” Baruch said of the encounter in May 2016. “And I don’t see anything … I don’t see a cut, a bruise, swelling, redness.”
During cross-examination, Baruch conceded he didn’t know if Heard, who worked with cosmetics giant L’Oreal, had applied any concealer, foundation, powder or tint.
At one point, Mr Baruch got emotional, stating that Heard needs to “take responsibility and move on”.
He said he never saw violence from Depp.
4. Personal assistant brings up Heard’s ‘screaming fits of blind rage’; couple’s therapist describes ‘mutual abuse’
Heard’s former personal assistant from 2012 to 2015, Kate James, told the court she never saw the actor suffer any physical abuse at the hands of then-husband Depp, but said Heard once spat in her face when she asked for a higher salary.
According to AP, Ms James testified that Heard “descended into screaming fits of blind rage, sent incoherent text messages at 4am and was often drunk and high on illegal drugs”.
Depp, on the other hand, was very calm, almost shy, “like a total Southern gentleman,” Ms James said.
The video testimony from Ms James offered an inverse view: Depp was the peaceful one, she said, while Heard was frequently intoxicated and verbally abusive, including to her mother and sister, AP reported.
Ms James said Heard was a “very dramatic person” who was deeply insecure in the relationship.
She said Heard would often call Ms James to cry and complain about Depp, AP reported.
The couple’s therapist, Laurel Anderson, who counselled the couple in 2015, told the court via video that, as a couple, they were engaged in “mutual abuse”.
Nurse Debbie Lloyd, in a videotaped deposition, said “their arguments were a trigger for him emotionally”.
But when asked by one of Depp’s lawyers if she was aware of any of the arguments between Depp and Heard becoming physical, Ms Lloyd replied, “No”.
5. Depp says Heard was violent
Depp says Heard would become violent and would hurling insults that at times escalated into a slap or a shove.
The couple had frequent arguments that included “demeaning name calling” and “bullying” by her, he said.
“It seemed like pure hatred for me,” Depp said.
“If I stayed to argue, eventually, I was sure it was going to escalate into violence, and oftentimes it did.”
Asked to describe the violence, the actor said Heard would “strike out”.
“It could begin with a slap. It could begin with a shove. It could begin with throwing a TV remote at my head. It could be throwing a glass of wine in my face,” Depp said.
“She has a need for conflict. She has a need for violence…it erupts out of nowhere.”
Heard “would tell me what a bad father I was, that I had no idea how to parent,” said Depp, who has two children from a previous relationship.
He said he would remove himself from the situation – sometimes locking himself in a bathroom – as his “main goal was to retreat”.
6. Lawyers’ opening remarks … and the sideshow
In his opening remarks, Mr Rottenborn said Depp had brought the suit “rather than take responsibility for his own actions” and planned to turn the trial into a “soap opera”.
“Amber Heard never wanted to offer up to the public who Johnny Depp was, but that is going to come out,” he said.
“He wanted to make her life hard; he wanted to ruin her life.
“He wanted to destroy her. And that is what he did. I wish I could say that it’s surprising. It’s disturbing, but not surprising.
“He was an obsessed ex-husband, hell-bent on revenge … as his career was in free fall and her career was taking off.”
Ms Vasquez, representing Depp, returned fire.
She said the actor would “go to his grave knowing that whatever he does there will always be people who believe he abused a woman”.
“Ms Heard took on the role of a lifetime – she couldn’t back down,” she said.
“She has been living and breathing this lie for years now.
“She is preparing to give the performance of a lifetime in this trial.”
About 80 Depp fans, many waving placards outside the court with Pirates of the Caribbean references, have crowded into the courtroom throughout the trial.
Many lined up for hours to get a front-row seat.
On his way out of the courtroom, after the jury had left, Depp saluted his fans in the gallery, and received dozens of excited waves in return.
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-with AAP, wires