FAIRFAX, April 13 — Pirates of the Caribbean star Johnny Depp physically and sexually abused his then-wife Amber Heard during drug — and alcohol-fuelled benders during which he became a “monster,” her lawyers told a court yesterday.
Depp’s attorneys countered on the opening day of his blockbuster defamation case against Heard that the allegations were untrue and have had a “devastating” impact on his Hollywood career.
The 58-year-old Depp filed a defamation suit against 35-year-old Heard after she wrote a column for The Washington Post in December 2018 in which she described herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”
The actress never named Depp, whom she met in 2009 on the set of the film The Rum Diary, but he sued her for implying he was a domestic abuser and is seeking US$50 million in damages.
Heard, who was married to Depp from 2015 to 2017, countersued, asking for US$100 million and claiming she suffered “rampant physical violence and abuse” at his hands.
Elaine Bredehoft, one of Heard’s lawyers, detailed the alleged abuse in her opening statement in Fairfax County Circuit Court.
She told the jury they would be shown graphic photographs. “They show bruises, they show cut lips, they show hair pulled out,” Bredehoft said. “They show two black eyes when he head-butted her.”
“He has an enormous amount of rage,” she said. “It’s during these rages that Mr Depp engaged in verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse of Amber.”
“She loved the side of Johnny that we see in the movies — the charismatic one, the charming one, the generous one,” Bredehoft said. “That’s the man she fell in love with.
“The monster would come out when he was drinking and when he would take drugs.”
Ben Rottenborn, another lawyer for Heard, told the jury that “behind the red carpets, behind the fame, behind the money, behind the pirate costumes, you’re going to see who that man really is.”
‘Tell him he was a coward’
Benjamin Chew, one of Depp’s lawyers, rejected the accusations of abuse and said the actor had never struck Heard — or any other woman.
“No one had ever in five decades accused Johnny Depp of being violent with a woman,” Chew said.
Camille Vasquez, another lawyer for Depp, alleged it was Heard who could be violent, “throwing things at him, hitting him.”
“She would tell him he was a coward, tell him he wasn’t man enough because he wouldn’t stay and fight with her,” Vasquez said.
Christi Dembrowski, Depp’s sister and personal manager, was the first witness to testify, telling the court she was “scared” when he decided to marry Heard because they did not have a prenuptial agreement.
Dembrowski said the couple frequently argued, and she would book an extra room for Depp when he travelled with his wife so he would have somewhere to go and “hide.”
Heard frequently insulted to Depp, calling him an “old fat man” and belittling him, for example, when she was told that Dior planned to use him in an advertising campaign, Dembrowski said.
“She said, ‘Dior, why would Dior want to do business with you? They’re about class and they’re about style and you don’t have style,’” she said.
Dembrowski also testified that Heard had a tendency to “exaggerate” her brother’s issues with drugs and alcohol and she had never seen him go on a “bender.”
‘Devastate a career’
Chew said the allegations of domestic abuse had hurt Depp’s career.
“For nearly 30 years, Mr Depp built a reputation as one of the most talented actors in Hollywood,” Chew said. “Today his name is associated with a lie, a false statement uttered by his former wife.
“Hollywood studios don’t want to deal with the public backlash from hiring someone accused of abuse,” he said. “A false allegation can devastate a career.”
Depp filed the defamation complaint against Heard in the United States after losing a separate, high-profile libel case in London in November 2020 that he brought against The Sun for calling him a “wife-beater.”
In 2016, Heard sought a restraining order against Depp. Their divorce was finalised in 2017, with Heard receiving a US$7 million settlement.
A panel of seven jurors and four alternates is hearing the case between Depp and Heard, who had a starring role in Aquaman.
Both Depp and Heard are expected to testify, along with actors James Franco and Paul Bettany and billionaire Tesla and SpaceX chief Elon Musk, Heard’s former boyfriend.
The trial, presided over by Judge Penney Azcarate, is expected to last several weeks. — AFP