Johnny Depp and Amber Heard face off in court on first day of ‘soap opera’ libel trial

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Johnny Depp and Amber Heard have faced each other in court during the first day of their multimillion-dollar US libel trial – with the actor’s team saying his ex is preparing for “the performance of a lifetime”, and her lawyers warning the case will expose the “real” person behind the “fame” and “pirate costumes”.

Depp, 58, is suing Heard over a column she wrote in The Washington Post in 2018, in which she discussed her experiences of domestic abuse, but did not mention her ex-husband by name.

Lawyers for the actor say the op-ed falsely implies Heard, 35, was physically and sexually abused by him when they were married and that the accusations have made it difficult for his career in Hollywood.

Christi Dembrowski, the older sister of Johnny Depp, testifies during the actor's defamation case against Amber Heard at Fairfax County Circuit Court, Virginia, U.S., April 12, 2022. Brendan Smialowski/Pool via REUTERS
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Depp’s older sister Christi Dembrowski was the first witness to give evidence

During the opening day of the trial at the Fairfax County Courthouse in Virginia on Tuesday, the stars’ legal teams gave their opening statements, and Depp’s sister Christi Dembrowski answered questions from both sides as the first witness to take the stand.

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Here are some of the key points from the first day in court:

  • Lawyers for Depp told the jury the actor will “go to his grave knowing that whatever he does there will always be people who believe he abused a woman”
  • They say Heard is a liar, who “took on the role of a lifetime and couldn’t back down”
  • Heard’s lawyers told the court that Depp has brought the lawsuit “rather than take responsibility for his own actions”, and will turn the trial into a “soap opera”
  • They say the actress never wanted to “offer up to the public who Johnny Depp was – but that is going to come out”
  • Giving evidence, Depp’s sister Ms Dembrowski gave details of their childhood and his “happy” relationship with his ex-partner Vanessa Paradis and their children
  • She was pressed on text messages she sent to Depp in 2014, apparently urging him to stop drinking and taking drugs
  • Catch up on who said what in our coverage of Day 1 as it happened

Scores of people, mostly fans of Depp, crowded into the courtroom as the case – set to take place over six weeks – was officially opened.

The actor wore a dark blue suit and black shirt with a cream tie, while Heard wore a grey blazer and a black shirt, with her hair in a low bun.

Depp’s team’s opening remarks

The actor’s team opened the hearing, saying he had been cast as a “villain” in the story as the six-week trial at Fairfax County Courthouse, Virginia, opened on Tuesday.

Actor Johnny Depp walks into the courtroom during the Depp vs Amber Heard defamation case at Fairfax County Circuit Court, Virginia, U.S., April 12, 2022. Brendan Smialowski/Pool via REUTERS
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Depp’s legal team say Heard is a liar who will play the ‘role of a lifetime’ during the trial
Actor Amber Heard sits in the courtroom during the Johnny Depp vs Heard defamation case at Fairfax County Circuit Court, Virginia, U.S., April 12, 2022. Brendan Smialowski/Pool via REUTERS
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Heard’s lawyers say people are going to see the ‘real’ Johnny Depp over the next few weeks

Ben Chew, representing Depp, addressed the jury by saying: “Some of you might recognise Johnny Depp from his portrayal of such characters as Edward Scissorhands and Captain Jack Sparrow.

“For over 30 years he has built a career as one of the most talented actors in Hollywood. Today his name is associated with a lie. A false statement uttered by his former wife, Amber Heard.”

Mr Chew said the lie had “cast Mr Depp as a villain, a man who would violently abuse a woman”.

He went on to tell the jury about the power of words. “This is a case about how devastating words can be,” he said. “Words matter.”

Johnny Depp (left) and Amber Heard (right) sit in the courtroom during the Depp vs Heard defamation case at Fairfax County Circuit Court, Virginia, U.S., April 12, 2022. Brendan Smialowski/Pool via REUTERS
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Inside the courtroom – facing the judge, Depp is sitting on the left, Heard on the right

Camille Vasquez, also representing Mr Depp, addressed the court, saying: “Mr Depp will go to his grave knowing that whatever he does there will always be people who believe he abused a woman.

“Ms Heard took on the role of a lifetime, she couldn’t back down. She has been living and breathing this lie for years now. She is preparing to give the performance of a lifetime in this trial.”

Heard’s lawyers paint a very different picture

Ben Rottenborn, representing the actress, told the jury in his opening remarks that Depp was suing his ex-wife “rather than take responsibility for his own actions”, and planned to turn the trial into a “soap opera”.

He said the actress never wanted to make their private life public and that people were going to see “who the real Johnny Depp is – behind the fame, behind the pirate costumes”.

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Depp v Heard explained

Heard “never wanted to offer up to the public who Johnny Depp was, but that is going to come out”, he said. “He wanted to make her life hard, he wanted to ruin her life. He wanted to destroy her. And that is what he did.

“I wish I could say that it’s surprising. It’s disturbing but not surprising.”

Mr Rottenborn described Depp as “an obsessed ex-husband, hellbent on revenge” who took this action “as his career was in free-fall” and Heard’s “was taking off”.

Elaine Bredehoft, also representing Ms Heard, detailed a number of alleged abusive incidents triggered by “crushing” drug and alcohol problems.

These included a “drug binge” with Depp’s “good friend” Marilyn Manson and a “black-out” in Australia, which Heard had previously described as a “three-day hostage situation”.

Depp’s sister takes the stand

During questioning, Depp’s sister Ms Dembrowski was asked about their childhood and also her work for her brother running his production company Infinitum Nihil.

She also gave details of their mother’s death in May 2016, and how Heard filed for divorce just a few days later.

Both Depp and Heard are due to give evidence during the trial and other high-profile celebrities including actors James Franco and Paul Bettany, and Tesla founder Elon Musk, are also listed as witnesses.

Depp is suing for $50m (£38.2m), while Heard has issued a counterclaim.

The former couple started dating after meeting on the set of 2011 film The Rum Diary, and married in Los Angeles in February 2015.

Heard obtained a restraining order against Depp in May 2016 after accusing him of abuse, which he denied, and the pair settled their divorce out of court in 2017.

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