Johnny Depp said Tuesday that ex-wife Amber Heard had made “sick” claims of abuse and falsely branded him a monster, as the actor testified in a U.K. libel case that hinges on who was the aggressor in the celebrity couple’s violent, toxic relationship.
Depp is suing British tabloid The Sun over an April 2018 story headlined “Gone Potty – How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”
The newspaper’s lawyers plan to use Heard’s allegations of abuse by Depp to defend the “wife beater” claim.
The Pirates of the Caribbean star strongly denies Heard’s claims that he assaulted her during their tempestuous marriage, and is suing The Sun’s publisher, News Group Newspapers, and its executive editor, Dan Wootton.
“These sick claims are totally untrue,” Depp said in a written witness statement, adding that Heard’s allegations hurt his career and had “been a constant issue in my casting.”
A three-week trial over his libel claims opened Tuesday at the High Court in London. It is one of the first major cases to be held in person since Britain began to lift its coronavirus lockdown.
Depp entered the witness box of the wood-panelled courtroom wearing a dark suit and tie, and began by taking the court oath and giving his full name: John Christopher Depp II.
He told the court Heard had “said to the world that she was in fear of her life from me, and I had been this horrible monster, if you will — which was not the case.”
Depp, 57, and Heard, 34, met on the set of the 2011 comedy The Rum Diary and married in Los Angeles in February 2015. They divorced in 2017, and now bitterly accuse one another of abuse.
Depp and Heard arrived at the court building by separate entrances on the opening day of the three-week trial, one of the first to be held in person since Britain began to lift its coronavirus lockdown.
Both wore face coverings. Proceedings have been spread over several courtrooms to allow for social distancing.
Private lives under the microscope
While Heard isn’t on trial, the case is also a showdown between the former spouses, each of whom accuses the other of being controlling, violent and deceitful. It is set to put the two performers’ complex private lives under a microscope.
The Sun’s defence relies on Heard’s allegations of 14 incidents of violence by Depp between 2013 and 2016, in locations including Los Angeles, Australia, Japan, the Bahamas and on a private jet.
Depp denies them all and says Heard attacked him with items including a drink can and a cigarette. He also claims that on one occasion Heard or one of her friends defecated on his bed.
In written witness statements, Depp said that in Australia in 2015 Heard severed the tip of his finger by hurling a vodka bottle at him. A photo of the bloody digit was included with his witness statement.
Depp claimed that on another occasion, Heard repeatedly punched him in the face on a private jet, forcing him to spend the flight locked in the plane’s bathroom.
“Rage-filled violent incidents on planes were common with Amber,” he said in the written statement.
Describing one incident in which Heard claims he hit her, Depp said the opposite was true.
“As things tended to do, [it] escalated and got physical, ending with a bit of assault. Ms. Heard struck me,” he said.
He painted himself as a peacemaker who tried to remove himself from conflicts “before things got out of hand.”
In a written statement, Depp alleged that Heard was “a calculating, diagnosed borderline personality; she is sociopathic; she is a narcissist; and she is completely emotionally dishonest.”
Heard alleges that Depp was prone to drug- and alcohol-fuelled violent rages.
Under cross-examination by the Sun’s lawyer, Sasha Wass, Depp acknowledged taking myriad drugs over the years, including marijuana, cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, magic mushrooms and prescription pharmaceuticals.
He said his drug use began when he was an 11-year-old child with “not a particularly stable or secure or safe home life.” He said it was “the only way that I found to numb the pain.”
Depp acknowledged that he had struggled with fame, saying it meant he was “forced to live the life of a fugitive.”
“Anonymity doesn’t exist anymore … You have become a product,” he said.
Wass depicted Depp as someone with an anger-management problem, bringing up an arrest in 1989 for assault and a later incident in which he damaged a New York hotel room.
“I was angry, but that doesn’t mean I have an anger problem,” Depp said.
Wass played the court a video clip recorded by Heard that shows Depp kicking kitchen cupboards and swearing before pouring red wine from a large bottle.
While saying he “wasn’t particularly proud of myself” over the video, Depp denied that it showed he became a “monster” when he drank and took drugs.
“It’s not Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” he said.
Heard is due to give evidence later in the trial.
Depp’s lawyer, David Sherborne, said Heard had recently asked that one allegation be heard in private “because of its supposedly horrific nature.”
Witnesses for Depp are scheduled to include his former partners, Vanessa Paradis and Winona Ryder.
Depp is also suing Heard for $50 million US for allegedly defaming him in a Washington Post article about domestic abuse. That case is due to be heard next year.
Sherborne said in an opening statement that the actor had sued The Sun to “clear his reputation.”
“This is not a case about money,” he said. “It is about vindication.”