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The $100m Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial

Inside the $100m Johnny Depp trial - Johnny Depp Amber Heard trial

Two years after facing off in a British court, actor Johnny Depp and ex-wife Amber Heard meet again, this time in a courthouse in Virginia. 

How did we get here? 

Johnny Depp lost the libel trial in the UK and following that he sued Heard for $50 million over an op-ed she wrote in The Washington Post in which she discussed being a victim of domestic abuse. Amber Heard has a $100 million counterclaim against Johnny Depp. 


The defamation trial has already bought up painful accusations of domestic abuse, it is being broadcast live and is set to involve several high-profile witnesses such as Elon Musk, Paul Bettany and James Franco. 

We’re only a few days into the trial – but we’re reexamining how we go here and what could come next. 

Inside the $100m Johnny Depp trial - Johnny Depp Amber Heard trial
Inside the $100m Johnny Depp trial - Johnny Depp Amber Heard trial

“Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.”

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard's timeline

The Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial is the trial of the century – and we’ve sort of been here before. We’re recapping the timeline of actor Johnny Depp and his ex-wife. 

2012: Johnny Depp and Amber Heard start dating

It is believed that Johnny Depp and Amber Heard started dating in 2012 after Depp split from French actor Vanessa Paradis. Depp and Paradis have two children, Lily-Rose Depp and Jack Depp. 

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard met on the set of the film The Rum Diary in 2011. 

March 2014: Johnny Depp and Amber Heard get engaged

Johnny Depp confirms his engagement to Amber Heard whilst promoting the film Transcendence. 

February 2015: Johnny Depp and Amber Heard get married

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard get married. It is reported they married at Depp’s Los Angeles home and had a second ceremony on Depp’s private island in the Bahamas. 

May 2016: Amber Heard files for divorce 

Amber Heard files for divorce from Johnny Depp, citing irreconcilable difference. A judge granted Heard a restraining order against Depp over allegations of domestic violence on his part.

In a sworn declaration, Heard alleges that Depp threw a mobile phone at her during a fight, which struck her in the eye and the cheek, and that he screamed at her, hit her and violently grabbed her face and pulled her hair. According to The Associated Press, she submits to the court a photo of her bruised face when requesting the restraining order. 

Heard is seen with “a bruise on her right cheek below the eye,” per the AP, during a court appearance.

Inside the $100m Johnny Depp trial - Johnny Depp Amber Heard trial

“During the entirety of our relationship, Johnny has been verbally and physically abusive to me,” Heard writes in the filing. “I endured excessive emotional, verbal and physical abuse from Johnny, which has included angry, hostile, humiliating and threatening assaults to me whenever I questioned his authority or disagreed with him.”

She also writes: “I live in fear that Johnny will return to (our house) unannounced to terrorize me, physically and emotionally.”

Johnny Depp has repeatedly denied the allegations of domestic abuse. His lawyers alleged in a court document in 2016 that Heard was “attempting to secure a premature financial resolution by alleging abuse.”

The LAPD said in May 2016 that police who responded to a domestic call on 21 May 2016 found “no evidence of any crime.” Heard’s legal team has since subpoenaed the LAPD in connection to that same call as part of the ongoing defamation court case opposing Heard and Depp. 

August 2016: Divorce is settled

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard settle their divorce. “Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love,” the pair say in a joint statement at the time. “Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.”

Amber Heard pledges to donate the $7m from Depp to the American Civil Liberties Union and the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. (In August 2021, a New York judge partially granted a petition from Depp to determine whether donations had been made.)

January 2017: The divorce is official 

Depp and Heard formally finalise their divorce. 

“We are all pleased to put this unpleasant chapter in Mr Depp and his family’s lives behind them,” Depp’s attorney Laura Wasser writes in a statement. “Having his request for entry of the dissolution judgment granted today made it a particularly lucky Friday the 13th.”

Heard’s lawyer tells Los Angeles Superior Court, Judge Carl H Moor, that his client “would be very happy to move on with her life”.

June 2018: Johnny Depp sues The Sun newspaper over its headline 

On 1 June 2018 Johnny Depp sues News Group Newspapers – the company that publishes the Sun newspaper, for alleged libel over an article published with the headline: “Gone Potty: How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife-beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”

Johnny Depp lost the case. 

December 2018: Amber Heard publishes an op-ed 

On 18 December 2018, Amber Heard published an op-ed in The Washington Post titled: “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”

Depp is never mentioned by name in the op-ed but would later become the basis of the $50m defamation lawsuit filed by Depp naming Heard as a defendant. 

March 2019: Johnny Depp sues Amber Heard

Depp files a $50m lawsuit against Heard, he claims she defamed him in her Washington Post op-ed. 

“The op-ed depended on the central premise that Ms Heard was a domestic abuse victim and that Mr Depp perpetrated domestic violence against her,” the complaint alleges in part, calling the claim of domestic abuse “categorically and demonstrably false”.

July 2020: Johnny Depp’s lawsuit against The Sun goes to trial 

The trial started in July 2020 in London with Heard scheduled to testify in support of The Sun. 

The trial lasted three weeks, with explosive allegations coming to light as part of the evidence and testimony. The proceedings came to an end at the end of the month. 

August 2020: Amber Heard countersues

Heard files a $100m countersuit against Depp in response to his libel lawsuit, accusing him of allegedly orchestrating a “smear campaign” against her and describing his lawsuit as a continuation of “abuse and harassment.”

Heard asks the court to grant her immunity from Depp’s complaint and asks for compensatory damages of “not more than $100m”.

Inside the $100m Johnny Depp trial - Johnny Depp Amber Heard trial

November 2020: Johnny Depp loses case against The Sun 

Johnny Depp loses his libel battle against The Sun newspaper. Justice Andrew Nicol said the defendants proved that their allegations against Depp were “substantially true,” The Associated Press reports at the time.

“I have found that the great majority of alleged assaults of Ms Heard by Mr Depp have been proved to the civil standard,” the judge writes in a ruling.

March 2021: Johnny Depp denied permission to appeal the loss

Johnny Depp is denied permission to appeal the judge’s decision in his libel suit against The Sun.

The two judges ruled the original hearing was “full and fair”. 

11 April 2022: Johnny Depp’s defamation case goes to trial in Virginia 

The defamation trial goes ahead against Heard on 11 April 2022 in Fairfax, Virginia. 

It’s believed that James Franco and Elon Musk may appear as witnesses for Heard. 

Heard gained a win when the judge in the case found Heard could argue that her op-ed deals with a matter of public interest. Depp’s team had tried to argue that Heard shouldn’t be able to rely on Virginia’s anti-SLAPP legislation. 

Anti-SLAPP (anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) laws are designed to protect people from being sued when they speak out on matters of public interest.

Week 1

Dembrowski says Amber Heard called Depp “old and fat” and his family was “devastated at his marriage to her.

"Amber did suffer sexual violence at the hands of Depp"

What’s been revealed so far? 

During the first week, witnesses have given an explosive inside look at the couple’s marriage. 

Depp’s sister Christi Dembrowski took the stand to discuss their childhood with their ‘abusive’ mother who taunted Depp with the cruel nickname ‘one eye’ – due to him having to wear an eye patch to correct his sight. Dembrowski says Amber Heard called Depp “old and fat” and his family was “devastated at his marriage to her. 

There was emotional testimony from Depp’s childhood friend Isaac Baruch who called out Amber Heard for her ‘malicious lie’ and vile texts between Depp and Baruch in which they discuss Heard’s ‘rotting corpse’ were revealed in court. 

Heard’s former PA Kate James and the couple’s former therapist Laurel Anderson gave fairly pointed evidence.

Inside the $100m Johnny Depp trial - Johnny Depp Amber Heard trial

The anger from Kate James as she gave her testimony could be felt through the screen. The former PA had less than nice things to say about Amber Heard, who she accused of spitting in her face when the assistant discussed her salary and claims she never saw bruises or cuts on Heard during the three years she was employed.

James recalled one time where Heardwent absolutely ballistic. Screaming, yelling abuse. Blind range’. She also recalled how Heard would ‘scream over the phone’ at her and subjected her to ‘barrages of abusive text messages day and night.’  

Depp and Heard’s marriage counsellor recalled ‘mutual abuse’ between the pair over the course of their marriage. When asked if there was “violence from Mr Depp toward Amber,” Anderson replied, “Yes, you’re right. He had been well controlled, I think, for almost, I don’t know, 20, 30 years. Both were victims of abuse in their homes, but I thought he had been well controlled for decades. And then with Ms Heard, he was triggered, and they engaged in what I saw as mutual abuse.”

Perhaps the biggest accusation in week 1 was during opening statements in which Heard’s lawyers accused Depp of sexual violence.

“Amber did suffer sexual violence at the hands of Depp. … You will hear in the most graphic and horrifying terms about the violence that she suffered. You’ll hear that straight from her. She will get on the stand and she will tell you that. It happened,” said Heard’s attorney Ben Rottenborn. 

Amber Heard’s attorney Elaine Bredehoft went on to claim that Johnny Depp sexually assaulted Heard with a liquor bottle. “Some pretty horrendous things happened to [Heard]… he rips off her nightgown, he has her jammed up against a bar… he penetrates her with a liquor bottle,” Bredehoft said.

Addressing this new allegation, Depp’s spokesperson said, “These fictitious claims were never made at the onset of Amber’s allegations in 2016, and only advantageously surfaced years later once she was sued for defamation after noting in her op-ed that she was a victim of ‘sexual violence.'”

The trial of the century

"This trial and Depp’s treatment in the media over the past few years fits neatly into a tapestry of claims that men are under attack"

Men, media and manosphere

The trial goes well beyond just a fascinating look into the complicated nature of domestic violence and volatile relationships or even the messiness of celebrity breakups. Instead, the Depp-Heard case has been taken over by large swaths of the manosphere who are obsessed with blaming feminism for worsening their lives and the idea of the loss of ‘men’s rights’. These guys see Depp’s fight as “an existential moment for men as a whole.” They believe Depp isn’t just a target of assumptions and false narratives – he is the vanguard in the war against women who hate men and pretend to be victims. 

Much of the strong online criticism towards Heard – from both men and women – come from the audio which has been leaked where Heard admits to being physically abusive towards Depp and mocking him when he refers to himself as a victim. For many, the accusations Heard made against Depp were enough to damage his reputation and career. But actual evidence of domestic violence on Heard’s part hasn’t led to any serious career consequences for Heard (despite Depp fans trying to get her fired). 

The lack of equal punishment is in many ways the reason why Depp has been weaponised by the manosphere, most notably “men’s rights activists,” in order to paint a picture of how American society chooses to “believe women” without evidence or even when they are proved to be liars.

Inside the $100m Johnny Depp trial - Johnny Depp Amber Heard trial

This trial and Depp’s treatment in the media over the past few years fits neatly into a tapestry of claims that men are under attack, women alongside clumsy narratives about false rape accusations and mothers lying to keep their children from their fathers. “No wonder there’s an energized web of right-wing YouTubers, influencers and social media posters who are following the trial live, leveraging the drama for clout while proselytizing on the injustice of mass misandry in the post-#MeToo age.” 

The trial is a win for classic conservative talking points – ‘cancel culture’, Hollywood elitism, harms of feminism and ‘wokeness’. 

The narrative that blames cancel culture and feminism is a rhetoric that has been gaining support for years on sites such as Reddit but it’s also incredibly popular on incel and MRA hubs. 

A 2019 thread on Reddit claims that “ the Johnny Depp case speaks for thousands and thousands of those who actually ended up in prison for having done nothing but be part of a sexist legal system controlled by feminists” 

The claim doesn’t hold up considering the trends happening inside prisons or the fact the criminal justice system is largely controlled by a disproportionate number of old white men.

Another thread claims that “media bias” turns society against innocent men, many of whom don’t have the resources to fight back

It’s clear Johnny Depp was a victim in this relationship as well as Heard. And following her op-ed in the Washington Post, he was perhaps unfairly, punished by the media and seemingly Hollywood – despite Depp not being named in the article. He disappeared from Hollywood for some time following the piece and claims Hollywood has “blacklisted” him

In the broader sense, we know that men often don’t report domestic violence due to personal shame and fear people will belittle or discredit their experience. “But treating Depp’s case as a smoking gun that modern society hates men isn’t good for nuance, or even rooted in objective consideration of gendered violence. It’s just the next overture in a performative show about male suffering — and the manosphere has proven incredibly adept at using these overtures to build up a conspiratorial ideology about the world around us.” 

This trial fits neatly alongside moral panics about men’s rights, father’s rights, ladies’ nights etc – all are used to argue that society “is irreversibly biased.” These are the siren songs compelling young men to rebuke every privilege they have as men and blame everyone else for being brainwashed. It is the same philosophy that leads young men to believe that inceldom is a “revolutionary force” in the face ofStacys and Chads corrupting the natural balance of things.”

Inside the $100m Johnny Depp trial - Johnny Depp Amber Heard trial

“Amid this tapestry, the anger and joy swallowing, the defence of Depp is predictable, if volatile. Some aggrieved men just need something righteous to believe in – and they’ve chosen the actor’s trial as a fork in the road for the future,” writes melmagazine.com

Hollywood relationship

Their relationship “cycled through some familiar-sounding beats of a Hollywood marriage” - meet on a film set, marriage, decline and eventually divorce. But this long drawn out ending is a little rare in the realm of celebrity mega-couples.

The case is expected to see testimony from celebrities such as Elon Musk, James Franco and Paul Bettany.

The Makings of a “Remarkable” Moment in American Celebrity

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard square off in a Virginia courtroom this week, marking the culmination of a divorce that has been without comparison in the annals of modern American celebrity, writes Vanity Fair. How did it come to this? 

Their relationship “cycled through some familiar-sounding beats of a Hollywood marriage” – meet on a film set, marriage, decline and eventually divorce. But this long drawn out ending is a little rare in the realm of celebrity mega-couples.

Inside the $100m Johnny Depp trial - Johnny Depp Amber Heard trial

The lows of their marriage have been splashed across many headlines around the world and revealed some dark moments between the couple. In short, Heard accuses her ex-husband of abuse, he and his team call the accusations a hoax by Heard in order to profit and further her career. 

So Round 2 of their courtroom showdown (the first in a UK court) is an “essentially unprecedented event in the annals of celebrity divorce.” VF claims the second defamation lawsuit will look a lot like the first one, but with some “important caveats”. 

The trial has both legal and P.R. observers captivated. And although Depp lost his UK trial – he may believe this lawsuit is another chance for redemption in the public eye.

Depp wants to clear his name 

“This case being brought to trial is proof that the court acknowledges the notable amount of preliminary wins, evidence, and witnesses in support of Johnny,” a spokesperson for Depp told Vanity Fair. 

“To decline the opportunity to clear one’s name and allow someone taking advantage of the system to walk away with zero repercussions would be ​careless and set a dangerous precedent for similar situations in the future.”

Heard’s side to provide more evidence in US case

Heard’s side believes the trial will have a lasting legacy but for completely different reasons. “We believe in the end, the jury will view all the evidence—which is even greater than what was presented in the U.K.—and come to the same conclusion the U.K. court did—that Johnny Depp inflicted violence and abuse on Amber, at times causing her to fear for her life,” a source familiar with Heard’s team told Vanity Fair. 

“A jury verdict against Johnny will send a message to the millions of women out there who suffer from intimate partner violence every single day, that they can move safely on with their lives. And it will allow Amber to move on as well.”

Inside the $100m Johnny Depp trial - Johnny Depp Amber Heard trial

Celebrities can often recover from scandal 

Evan Nierman, founder of Red Banyan, which specializes in crisis P.R. believed that Depp’s career could have “weathered the storm” if he hadn’t chosen to take the controversy to court. “Celebrities have a unique ability to recover from embarrassing gaffes or situations that would ruin the careers and potentially the lives of normal day-to-day people, which is all the more reason why I think that he made a colossal error in fighting this in court,” Nierman said. 

“Celebrities can recover in part because they have so many people who want them to succeed.”

“Celebrities can recover in part because they have so many people who want them to succeed. [They can] make a lot of money, not just for themselves, but for the other people in their orbit. It’s the studios, it’s the directors, it’s their advisers. There’s a whole legion of people who benefit if celebrities are able to navigate challenging circumstances and recover their reputations.”

Differences between the UK and US cases 

It’s worth highlighting the differences between the US and UK cases. First Depp is suing Heard herself, not the newspaper that published her op-ed The Washington Post. Judge Penny Azcarate explained when she denied Heard’s motion for dismissal based on the UK court decision, Heard “was not a party in the U.K. action and was not treated as one. Because she was not a named defendant, she was not subject to the same discovery rules applicable to named parties.”

This case will also be a lot harder for Depp to win. The Sun’s legal team had to prove that the term “wife-beater” was basically true in reference to Depp, his US legal team have to prove Heard lied and knew she was lying when alleging domestic abuse. 

“In the U.S., ever since the 1960s, public officials, and then public-figure plaintiffs, have been required to show, first of all, that what was said about them was false,” said Frederick Schauer, professor of law at the University of Virginia, referring to the standards established in the landmark New York Times Co. v. Sullivan and Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts cases.

“Second, that the person who said it knew it was false at the time of saying it. And third, that they have to show all of this with, as the Supreme Court put it, ‘convincing clarity,’ which is a more stringent standard of proof than we normally see in civil cases.”

It’s also important to note that this trial, unlike the UK one will be in front of a jury. Most countries have eliminated juries for civil cases, but libel is a general exception. 

The case is expected to see testimony from celebrities such as Elon Musk, James Franco and Paul Bettany. In the UK courts, disturbing messages between Bettany and Depp regarding Heard were readout. More texts between Depp and his friends have so far been revealed  – including one about her ‘rotting corpse’. These messages have painted Depp in a dark way, but a source close to Depp told VF that up to 30 witnesses are expected to travel to Virginia to testify in support of him.

Inside the $100m Johnny Depp trial - Johnny Depp Amber Heard trial

Lasting legacy of case is reputational not legal

VF says that ultimately, regardless of whether or not Depp succeeds in proving Heard knowingly planned and executed a hoax of domestic violence – the lasting legacy of this case is not legal, its reputational. 

If Heard loses it risks making it more difficult for survivors of domestic violence to come forward. Even if she wins, her experience could still have a negative impact on those wanting to speak out in the future: “Expect to spend years of your life relitigating troubling situations from your past.” 

Some experts believe that for Johnny Depp, his reputation won’t be able to come back from the legal strategy that he’s employed for the last five years or so.

Deep Dive

Deep Dive

Fact-checking & Additional resources:

What is Johnny Depp’s real name?

John Christopher Depp II 

 

Johnny Depp net worth

Johnny Depp’s total net worth is around $210 million.

Amber Heard net worth

Amber Heard is an American actress and model who has a net worth of $8 million. 

Johnny Depp age

Actor Johnny Depp was born 9 June 1963 making him 58 years old in 2022. 

 

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