It was opening day for what may be the pettiest lawsuit in a generation. On Tuesday, actor Johnny Depp appeared in a British courtroom for the beginning of a libel trial he has waged against The Star, one of Britain’s most infamous tabloids. And while the accusation at the center of the suit is that The Star falsely identified Depp as a “wife beater” in a 2018 article, the trial soon proved to be an opportunity for Depp and ex-wife Amber Heard to air grievances against one another in a public forum.
In 2018, The Star published a think piece about Depp’s casting in the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Controversial author J.K. Rowling, who wrote the film, had defended including Depp in the movie despite allegations that he had abused his ex-wife, the much-younger actress Amber Heard. The Sun article referred to Depp as a “wife beater,” based on allegations that Heard made about their tumultuous marriage between 2015 and 2017.
But for Depp to prove that The Sun had committed libel, he has to prove that he was not a domestic abuser. Still, his defense is more an effort to redirect blame. It was Heard, the 57-year-old actor insists, who was the abusive one in the relationship. Day one of proceedings was full of salacious anecdotes from both the plaintiff and the defense, detailing patterns of abuse by both Depp and Heard.
Depp released a statement before the trial detailing a troubled upbringing. By age 14, he claims, he had already taken “every drug known to man.” But he says he’s not a “monster,” as his ex-wife seems to think. His drug use was meant to “numb the pain” of his sudden fame as a young man. When confronted about his alleged temper, like a hotel room he trashed in 1994 in a cocaine-fueled fury, he said that the instance was an anomaly, and not part of a pattern. “I was angry,” he said. “That didn’t mean I had an anger problem.”
As for whether he ever hit Heard, Depp insisted it would be “inconceivable.” His “Southern upbringing” taught him that it was “very important” to respect all women. A rock-solid defense if there ever was one.
As for Heard, Depp’s legal team did not hold back in a series of accusations against the 34-year-old actress. Lawyers played an audio recording in which Heard supposedly admits to Depp that she had punched him, though the context is yet unclear. Additionally, Depp’s team claimed, with gory photos, that Heard had cut off the tip of Depp’s middle finger in a rage. But Heard has long maintained that the former Edward Scissorhands star had self-inflicted the cut while he was drunk.
Still, the most personal dirty laundry of the case were revived accusations of Heard’s infidelity. Depp’s team claims that Heard had extra-marital affairs with Tesla CEO Elon Musk and actor James Franco. Both men have denied the rumors, which had previously emerged in a separate lawsuit that Depp has brought against Heard herself. In that case, Depp is suing his ex-wife for $50 million for defaming him in an op-ed piece in which she describes his abuse.
No Winners in this Case
Heard will likely take the stand later this week to detail further accusations of abuse by her ex-husband. But even as the trial continues, it’s already clear that the case is about more than just a libel charge against a tabloid. Both former spouses will walk away with their personal reputations tarnished. Even a decision that favors Depp will do little to repair his image or marriage. At the end of the day, the case seems more like a chance for two hostile exes to publicly excoriate each other, showing the whole world what a nightmare their relationship was.