Johnny Depp


Johnny Depp takes a stand during his defamation trial against his ex-wife Amber Heard at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse

Johnny Depp has taken to the stand on Tuesday (April 19) in the double defamation trial involving former wife Amber Heard and denied ever hitting her or “anyone in my life”.

The household name, whose roles have included the Pirates Of The Caribbean and Fantastic Beasts franchises, Edward Scissorhands and Donnie Brasco among others said Heard’s accusations of domestic abuse were “heinous and disturbing” and he had chosen the right path in pursuing legal action.

Under questioning by his attorneys Depp and in front of a seven-person jury told the court in Fairfax County, Virginia, that while there were arguments he never hit Heard and was suing to clear his name and end the domestic abuse allegations for the sake of his children.

Depp is suing Heard for $50m in damages and claims her 2018 op-ed in The Washington Post about domestic abuse and ongoing abuse allegations are false, were made to advance her career, and further damaged his reputation and career leading to the loss of roles in the Pirates Of The Caribbean and Fantastic Beasts franchises.

Heard is counter-suing Depp in a $100m filing and argues Depp has tried to smear her and additionally claims her article – in which she never mentins Depp – is fair and is protected under the First Amendment as it in the public interest and addresses legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act to help victims of abuse. She has alleged he has hit her, choked her and once sexually assaulted her while the then couple were in Australia in 2015. Depp and heard were married in 2015 and filed for divorce the following year.

Taking the stand on the fifth day of the trial Depp recalled his abusive childhood in Kentucky when his mother would beat him with a high-heeled shoe and throw things at him. Depp, who moved to Los Angeles as a young adult  in the hopes of making it as a musician, said when he started playing the guitar at the age of 12 it “saved my life” as he would lock himself away in his room. 

Early relationship with Heard

Testifying about the early days of his relationship with Aquaman, Drive Angry and The Rum Diary star Heard, Depp said, “It was as if she was too good to be true. She was attentive, she was loving, she was smart, she was kind, she was funny, she was understanding… we had many things in common… music, literature, thing of that nature.”

The actor, his hair pulled back in a ponytail and dressed in a black suit and yellow tie, spoke softly and often stumbled over his words while Heard, wearing a striped pearl white blouse, watched from across the courtroom.

He explained how he used to call her Slim and Heard would refer to him as Steve – the nicknames Hollywood lovers Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart gave each other. In another reference to Bacall and Bogart, Depp noted the age difference between himself and Heard – he was in his early 50’s and Heard in her 20’s while they were together. ”I was this old craggy Bogie and she was this beautiful creature, this stunning creature.”

Depp painted a picture of their home life and said when he returned from work Heard would remove his shoes and bring him a glass of wine. On one occasion he got home and Heard was busy so he took off his boots and noticed Heard approached “with this look on her face” and said that was her job. Heard, he said, was ”visibly shaken or upset that I had broken her rules of routine”. He added, “Once you notice things like that then other tidbits come out.”

Inventing Jack Sparrow

Asked about his career Depp said he fell into acting after his dream of making it as part of a band floundered. He would fill out job applications and eventually landed roles on A Nightmare On Elm Street and the TV series 21 Jump Street when his friend Nicolas Cage got him a meeting with his agent. Depp said he was in his early 20’s at the time.

Jack Sparrow in Pirates Of The Caribbean has been arguably Depp’s most celebrated role and the actor explained he put his own spin on the character, to the initial chagrin of Disney executives, after watching cartoons for years with his young daughter.

“It’s like making a soup… There’s some Pepé Le Pew, there’s some Keith Richards,” he said of Sparrow. ”I figured this is a guy who’s been on the sea for the majority of his life and quite possibly his brains may have been scrambled a bit because of the sun and quite possibly he had his sea legs but when he got on the land he didn’t have his land legs so he couldn’t stand still.”

The 2003 film became a massive success, earning more than $650m worldwide and spawning four high-grossing sequels that took the franchise past $4.5bn worldwide. “The film did pretty well, apparently they wanted to keep going… I was fine to do that,” Depp said. “Once you know a character better than the writers that’s when you have to be true to the character and add your words at the rewrites. I believed in the character whole-heartedly and initially the Disney folks were somewhat upset.”

Depp said he never watched it, however Pirates was a life-changer and catapaulted him to another level of stardom although the trappings of success brought challenges.

“After Pirates 1 came out it was a completely different way of life my family and I were being plunged into,” he said. ”At our house in Los Angeles you would have people trying to climb the gates to see Captain Jack Sparrow… people trying to bust in the gates dressed as Captain jack Sparrow or follow you or your family. That was the moment… we had to hire more security guards and I was certainly worried for my kids’ safety… After a while you realise anonymity has left the building.”

Drugs and alcohol

Asked by his attorneys about drug-taking Depp said it started when he was 11 and took his mother’s nerve pills as a way of coping with her abusive behaviour. He also spoke of how he became “addicted” to the painkiller Roxicodone, an opioid that he was prescribed after injuring his back on 2011 sequel Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. “Before you know it that monkey is on your back to stay,” he noted, although he said he weened himself off that drug.

Depp said his ”quote, un-quote substance abuse” was “embellished” by Heard and “plainly false”. He said, ”I’m not some maniac who needs to be high or loaded all the time. In fact… before Australia and in Australia I had been off of alcohol for I believe it was about 18 months.”

Depp estimated there have been “quite a number” of periods of sobriety in his adult life and remained sober on 1998 Hunter S Thompson adaptation Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, where the role required his on-screen character and that of his lawyer friend to be “absolutely blotto”. 

”There’s been no abuse of substances on films sets,” he said. ”There’s been no moment where I would have been considered out of control, never.” He continued, ”When I was with Ms. Heard and her friends and we were all drinking wine and I was smoking marijuana they used to tease me for what they said was a ludicrous tolerance because I never appeared bloated or high.”

Depp also addressed texts he sent to friends like British actor Paul Bettany, who has been called to testify at the trial, in which he threatened to kill Heard and perpetrate other acts. “I am ashamed of some of the references made and embarrassed at the tone that in the heat of the moment… went to dark places… Sometimes pain has to be dealt with humour, and sometimes very dark humour.”

Head of security

Earlier on Tuesday Depp’s head of security Sean Bett said there were days when Depp drank and others when he did not, adding that his “likeable” employer would sometimes affect the persona of Jack Sparrow.

Since taking the stand on Monday Bett testified that while he saw the couple argue at their homes in Los Angeles he never observed violence between them and never saw Depp hit Heard, although he did witness Heard throw a plastic item at her then lover.

He added under questioning that he noticed injuries on Depp on several occasions including what appeared to be a swollen cheekbone in March 2015 and scratch marks on the face in December 2015. On those occasions Bett took photographs in case Heard might try to make allegations against Depp.

Depp lost a defamation case against The Sun in the UK’s High Court in 2020 after the newspaper called him a “wife beater”.