The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Depp takes stand, says Heard’s abuse allegations are untrue, ‘heinous’

Actor Johnny Depp testified April 19 at a defamation trial in Fairfax, Va., that he never physically struck his ex-wife Amber Heard. (Video: AP)

Johnny Depp took the stand Tuesday in his defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife Amber Heard, telling a Fairfax County jury that he was appearing before it because of the actress’s “heinous” and “disturbing” allegations of abuse and that he wanted everyone to know the claims were “not based in any species of truth.”

Though Depp acknowledged there were arguments between them, he said, “Never did I, myself, reach the point of striking Ms. Heard in any way, nor have I ever struck any woman in my life.”

Heard and Depp were married in February 2015 after dating for more than three years. In May 2016, Heard filed for divorce and a restraining order, alleging that Depp had physically abused her. They settled their divorce months later. The actor is suing Heard for $50 million for defamation over a 2018 op-ed she wrote in The Washington Post calling herself a survivor of domestic abuse, which Depp says caused further damage and irreparably destroyed his reputation and career. Heard countersued him for $100 million for defamation after his lawyer called her claims a hoax.

Depp’s attorneys filed the suit in Virginia because The Post’s printing presses and online servers are in Fairfax County. (The Post is not a defendant in the case.) The state is also known for weaker anti-defamation laws.

FAQ: What to know about Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s defamation trial

He spoke in front of the jury and about 100 spectators in the courtroom; the testimony was also streamed online. A murmur rippled through the crowd when his attorney called “John C. Depp” to the stand. Depp said that back in 2016, Heard’s accusations “permeated” the entertainment industry, and, after being picked up in the media and on social media, became assumed as fact.

“Since I knew there was no truth to it whatsoever, I felt it my responsibility to stand up not only for myself . . . but stand up for my children, who at the time were 14 and 16,” Depp said, referring to his children Jack and Lily-Rose, whom he shares with his ex-partner of 14 years, Vanessa Paradis. He spoke about a People magazine cover at the time that showed Heard’s bruised face and said the story kept multiplying from there.

“It was my responsibility, I felt, to not only attempt to clear my name for the sake of — for many reasons, but I wanted to clear my children of this horrid thing that they were having to read about their father, which was untrue,” he said.

Heard’s lawyers have repeatedly pointed to Depp’s history of alcohol and drug use, saying that his substance issues are what ruined his career and that he’s an “obsessed ex-husband hellbent on revenge.” Depp said that Heard has “grossly embellished” his “quote-unquote substance abuse,” and that she’s using the secrets of his past against him. Depp said he first tried “nerve pills” at age 11 when he saw they calmed down his mother, and tried every drug imaginable by age 15.

“It’s never been for the party effect. It’s been for trying to numb the things inside that can plague someone who’s experienced trauma,” Depp said. “I am not some maniac who needs to be high or loaded all the time.” He added that he has gone for long stretches without touching alcohol or drugs and that the only addiction he’s ever had is to opiates, which his doctor detailed in earlier testimony describing the actor’s painful detox.

Depp’s testimony comes after four days of the plaintiff’s witnesses who have delved into some of the most personal aspects of his and Heard’s lives and marriage. Family, friends and medical professionals describe Depp and Heard’s relationship as one that started out loving and turned “toxic” until they decided to divorce in 2016 — with frequent, intense arguments as well as allegations of physical violence from both parties. Heard has also denied allegations of abuse.

In his testimony, Depp said he tried to be a private person and feels very exposed with these intimate details being spilled in public. “It’s unfortunate that it’s not only exposing for myself, it’s exposing for my family, it’s exposing for Ms. Heard. It never had to go in this direction,” he said. “I can’t say that I’m embarrassed because I know that I’m doing the right thing.”

Speaking slowly and delivering lengthy answers at times, Depp delved into his childhood and talked about his mother being physically violent and verbally abusive. (Depp’s lawyers have said that when Heard was angry, the actor automatically retreated and wanted to hide, which is what he did growing up.) He said his upbringing taught him to be calm in front of his kids, and do the opposite of what his mother did.

“I did not raise my children that way, nor did Vanessa. We never raised our voices in front of our children, ever.”

He talked in-depth about the beginnings of his acting career and the role that made him a global superstar — Captain Jack Sparrow in Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies — and how his life changed after he got the role. He suddenly became much more recognizable; fans started trying to trespass onto his property and he had to hire tighter security.

Depp spent about 45 minutes talking about the beginning of his relationship with Heard, whom he met around 2009 while filming “The Rum Diary,” which he produced. They kissed in a scene and felt a spark; later, he said, they kissed again in his trailer. But they were both in relationships (Depp with Paradis, Heard with Tasya van Ree), so Depp said he stopped things from going further. When those relationships ended and they reunited on a “Rum Diary” press tour two years later, they started dating.

He said at first he felt she was the “perfect partner.” They bonded over a love of obscure blues music, Depp said, and the first year to 18 months were wonderful. “Then things just started to change. Or things started to reveal themselves,” he said, pointing to the fact that Heard would have “unusual reaction” over small things, such as if he didn’t go to bed at the same time as her. He also confirmed that he let her friends and sister live in homes he owned, rent-free.

Depp’s doctor, nurse testify about actor's attempt to overcome addiction during relationship issues with Heard

The actor said that when Heard made her allegations, people in the entertainment industry — where he never had problems over a career of 30-plus years — began to think he was a “fraud.” He said it has been “six years of trying times,” and this was the first time he has been able to fully speak about the case. (Depp lost a libel case in the United Kingdom in 2020 against the Sun when a headline called him a “wife beater,” though that has largely not come up during the U.S. trial.)

“Very strange, when one day you’re Cinderella, so to speak, and then 0.6 seconds [later], you’re Quasimodo. I didn’t deserve that, nor did my children, or the people who had believed in me all these years. . . . I pride myself on honesty. I pride myself on truth,” he said. “Truth is the only thing I’m interested in. Lies build upon lies build upon lies. It’s too much to cover. I’m obsessed with the truth.”

Depp was also asked about some of the vulgar text messages that the jury has seen so far in which he’s referencing Heard, such as one in which the actor used a derogatory term to describe Heard and hoped her “rotting corpse is decomposing” in the “trunk of a Honda Civic.” Depp said his language and vocabulary was influenced by authors such as Hunter S. Thompson, Philip K. Dick, J.D. Salinger and James Joyce, and sometimes he had a tendency to exaggerate.

“I am ashamed of some of the references I made. I’m embarrassed that, at the time, the heat of the moment, the heat of the pain that I was feeling, went to dark places,” he said. “I tend to be quite expressive in my writing and after the unfortunate words of Ms. Heard made their way into my heart and my head, those are two very opposing things. You’re trying to find the best way to express something to a friend.”

Depp’s testimony will resume Wednesday morning.