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What to Know About Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s Defamation Trial

A high-profile trial involving actors Johnny Depp, 58, and his ex-wife Amber Heard, 36, began April 12 in Fairfax, Va. The trial revolves around a defamation lawsuit Depp filed against Heard in 2019 about an op-ed she wrote about domestic abuse in 2018. Depp says the article irreparably damaged his career.

The trial, which is set to last six weeks, has already generated headlines about everything from violent text messages sent by Depp to audio recordings of their arguments. This is the second lawsuit involving abuse allegations connected to Depp and Heard’s relationship, following a trial in the U.K. in 2020.
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As the trial enters its third week, here’s what we know so far.

Why is Johnny Depp suing Amber Heard?

Depp brought a $50 million defamation suit against Heard in March 2019 after she published an op-ed in the Washington Post the previous December. In the article, Heard discussed the treatment of women in sexual assault cases and referred to herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse” but did not mention Depp by name. Depp, who said he was dropped from his role in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise just days after the article was published, claims the article caused damage to his career. Depp’s career was already on the rocks following the couple’s publicized breakup and the allegations of abuse that rocketed between them.

The long-postponed trial comes after Depp lost a similar suit accusing News Group Newspapers, the U.K publisher of the tabloid, The Sun of libel in 2020.

Why is Amber Heard suing Johnny Depp?

Heard’s lawyers tried to get Depp’s defamation lawsuit dismissed after he lost the U.K. case, but a judge refused, citing differences in U.K. and U.S. defamation laws and pointing out that Heard was not a defendant in the case against The Sun. Heard then filed a $100 million countersuit against Depp, claiming that he defamed her when his legal team referred to her claims as “fake” and a “sexual violence hoax.” Because Heard’s op-ed was published in the Washington Post, the trial is taking place in Fairfax, Va., where the newspaper is printed.

What did Heard write in the Washington Post op-ed?

In December 2018, Heard published a Washington Post op-ed with the headline “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”

In the article, she discussed the public backlash she had received after she “became a public figure representing domestic abuse” in 2016, then advocated for more support for victims of domestic violence.

Though Heard didn’t mention Depp by name, the timeline she described in the piece matched up with the timeline of the couple’s divorce two years prior, in 2016.

Steve Helber—Getty ImagesActor Amber Heard listens in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, April 25, 2022.

What to know about The Sun lawsuit

Some of the allegations brought forward in the trial have been heard before, during a 16-day trial in the U.K. in the summer of 2020, as Depp sued The Sun’s publisher for libel over a headline calling him a “wife-beater.” Heard testified in the trial, making 14 allegations of abuse against Depp. Depp denied all of them, but a judge ruled that 12 had been “proved to the civil standard and that The Sun’s headline was “substantially true.”

The timeline of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s relationship

Depp met Heard in 2009, on the set of The Rum Diary, where Heard played the love interest to Depp’s character. During his testimony in Fairfax, Depp described the first moment of connection he felt with Heard, as the two filmed a scene that called for their characters to kiss in the shower.

“That moment, was, it was, it felt like something, it felt like something I should not be feeling,” Depp said, adding that they were both in relationships at the time. “I think there was something in the kiss in the shower that was real.”

The two met again two years later to promote the film, but only began dating once Depp split with his longtime partner Vanessa Paradis, with whom he has two children. Depp and Heard married in 2015. Heard filed for divorce 15 months later, receiving a temporary restraining order against Depp, whom she claimed was abusive toward her. Depp denied the allegations, with his legal team accusing Heard of “alleging abuse” to “secure a premature financial resolution.” After Heard rescinded a request for $50,000 a month in spousal support, they settled out of court, with Heard receiving $7 million. Heard has said she donated the money to charity.

The pair released a joint statement when their divorce was finalized saying, “Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love.”

What Johnny Depp said in his testimony

Over days of testimonies, which began on April 19, Depp detailed a childhood filled with verbal and physical abuse, his first encounters with Heard, and how the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise transformed his life.

Both Heard and Depp have accused each other of physical violence, and both have denied the other’s claims. In his testimony, Depp said, “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 claimed that Heard was violent toward him, detailing one instance in which his finger was seriously injured after Heard allegedly threw a vodka bottle at him.

During a cross-examination by Heard’s team, Depp was asked about text messages he sent to friends detailing his drug and alcohol use and discussing potential acts of violence against Heard—in one, he referred to her as a “rotting corpse”,He claimed they were only a reflection of his dark humor. “If you’re writing, there is no set place that you have to stay in, you can travel.” he said. “And sometimes pain has to be dealt with with humor—and sometimes dark, very dark humor.”

The actor also discussed how he was dropped from the sixth Pirates of the Caribbean film after the publication of Heard’s op-ed. “I would be a real simpleton to not think that there was an effect on my career based on Ms. Heard’s words, whether they mentioned my name or not,” Depp said.

Who else has testified and who is expected to?

The first witness was Christi Dembrowski, Depp’s older sister and personal manager, who spoke of the abuse they had faced as children. “I recognized what I felt to be a repeat pattern from his childhood,” Dembrowski said of his relationship with Heard.

The court also Heard from Isaac Baruch, Depp’s childhood friend, who said Depp allowed him to live rent-free in an L.A. penthouse as he focused on his art. He said that, though Depp and Heard lived nearby, he never witnessed any violence between the two, calling Heard’s claims a “malicious lie.”

Depp’s legal team has also called a doctor and nurse who treated him for substance abuse and claim that they witnessed arguments between the couple, but no physical abuse.

Heard is expected to take the stand in coming weeks; Other potential witnesses on Heard’s list include Elon Musk, whom she reportedly dated, and her former co-star James Franco, in whom she allegedly confided. The actor Paul Bettany is also expected to testify on behalf of Depp about a conversation he had with him over text messages condoning violence against Heard.

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