During Johnny Depp’s first day testimony in his defamation trial against Amber Heard, the veteran actor spoke in a slow, halting way, inflected with a vague British accent and a powerful and even convincing sense of vulnerability.
To a legal expert, the disgraced, 58-year-old star came across Tuesday as “being pretty blunt and truthful” about his abusive childhood, struggles with drug abuse and desire for “the truth.”
Definitely, Depp’s soft-spoken delivery and deferential demeanor worked to draw people in “100%” to everything he said, whether they were the jury in the Virginia courtroom or watching the trial live on their phones and TV screens, said Holly Davis, an Austin, Texas-based attorney who has expertise in high-profile divorce cases.
Davis said that Depp’s attorneys, through direct examination, “are helping him paint a story about a turbulent childhood” created by his unstable mother, Betty Sue Depp, whom the actor described as “quite violent” and “quite cruel.” Depp also presented himself as a loving father, who was determined to raise his two now-adult children with ex-partner Vanessa Paradis “in the exact opposite of the way he was raised.”
“The details of his mother’s physical abuse of him and his brothers and sisters was very sad,” Davis said, adding that armchair psychologists could be made to wonder if the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star subconsciously chose Heard as his girlfriend and wife because of similarities to his mother.
With his testimony thus far, Depp has introduced himself to the court as a “sympathetic image” and “the victim of a controlling, angry, and manipulative wife,” Davis said.
The trial centers on a $50 million defamation lawsuit Depp filed against Heard for a 2018 Washington Post op-ed she wrote in she said she suffered professional consequences and online abuse because she came forward about being a victim of domestic violence. Heard never identified her pain abuser her, but the op-ed ‘s timing suggested she was referring to Depp. When Heard filed for divorce from Depp in 2016, she claimed he had been abusive before and during their marriage her.
Depp testified Tuesday that Heard’s allegations are “heinous,” “disturbing” and false. He also said the allegations damaged his career his and were hurtful to his children his, Lily-Rose and Jack, who were teenagers at the time. The once-beloved actor insisted that he never in his life hit a woman.
“My goal is the truth. My goal is the truth,” Depp said at the beginning of his testimony. “Truth is the only thing I’m interested in.”
Davis said that Depp’s testimony was effective. She said, “For him to bare his soul and admit all of his feelings about his celebrity and his drug use in front of the entire world, along with the introduction of damning and bizarre texts between him and others in his life, means that he must have nothing left to lose.”
During this testimony, Depp also laid out how he came under Heard’s spell. He said they met while working together on the 2009 film “The Rum Diary.” They married in 2015.
Depp said he fell for Heard quite hard and likened their May-December romance to an older Humphrey Bogart falling in love with a 19-year-old Lauren Bacall on the set of the 1944 film, “To Have and Have Not.” That romantic war adventure was based on a novel by Ernest Hemingway.
“I called her Slim, because of the film, ‘To Have and Have Not,’ and that was Bogart’s nickname for Lauren Bacall’s character,” Depp said. “She called me Steve (the nickname for Bogart’s character.) It wasn’t lost on me that there was an age difference. … That was the joke: I was the old craggy Bogey and she was this beautiful creature, this just stunning creature.”
Depp also said Heard seemed like “a perfect partner” at first: loving, devoted and “sweet, funny, nice, all those things.”
“From the beginning of our relationship, for a good year and a half, she was wonderful,” Depp testified. “And then, things started to change. Things started to reveal themselves is a better way to put it.”
Depp said she started to become controlling, as in not liking it when he sometimes wanted to stay up later and watch TV when she was ready to go to bed.
During Depp’s first day of testimony, the actor’s attorneys helped him get ahead of the “bad evidence against him and convince the jurors that he is the victim of trauma, both from his mother and ex-wife,” agreed Los Angeles-based former federal federal Prosecutor, Neama Rahmani.
“It’s too early to tell whether his strategy will work,” said Rahmani, president of West Coast Trial Lawyers.
Both Davis and Rahmani said Depp should expect intense questioning by Heard’s attorneys, who are likely to press him on details of his substance abuse and specific allegations that he was violent and out-of-control with Heard and out-of-control and unprofessional on film sets, which they can say was the real reason he was edged out of lucrative film projects, such as Warner Bros’ “Fantastic Beasts” franchise.
Legal experts have also said it is difficult to win a defamation lawsuit in the United States, especially when the plaintiff is a public figure. In 2020, Depp lost his libel case in the UK against a tabloid that labeled him “a wife beater.” It’s well known that the laws in the UK make it much easier for plaintiffs to win libel and defamation cases.
“Depp is probably going to lose this trial and do more damage to his career than if he had just stayed quiet,” Rahmani said last week. “He was n’t the first and he wo n’t be the last actor in Hollywood accused of violence. He could have bounced back, maybe not with Disney but with other big studio projects. But if he loses here, this may be the nail in the coffin for him.”
Davis, however, also said last week that Depp could have a shot of winning the case if the jury “becomes star-struck by his fame and agrees with him that Amber Heard’s comments were false and made with actual malice.”