The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Heard takes the stand, testifies to physical violence by Depp

Actress Amber Heard took the stand for the first time on May 4 to defend herself against a defamation lawsuit filed by her ex-husband, Johnny Depp. (Video: Reuters)
7 min

Amber Heard took the stand for the first time in her defense Wednesday in Fairfax County during the trial over defamation claims made by her ex-husband, Johnny Depp. Heard testified that Depp was physically violent with her over the course of their relationship and that the abuse was fueled by his alcohol and drug use.

Depp is suing Heard for $50 million over a 2018 op-ed she published in The Washington Post, in which she said she had become a public figure representing domestic abuse. (Two years prior, she had filed for a divorce and restraining order.) Over the course of his seven-hour testimony last month, Depp vehemently denied that he ever physically abused Heard, and said she is a liar who is trying to ruin his life. Heard has countersued him for $100 million after Depp’s attorney called her claims a hoax.

“I struggle to find the words to describe how painful this is,” Heard said at the start of her testimony. “This is horrible for me to sit here for weeks and relive everything. Hear people that I knew — some well, some not — my ex-husband with whom I shared a life, speak about our lives in the way that they have. This is the most painful and difficult thing I’ve ever gone through, for sure.”

In front of a full-capacity courtroom filled mainly with Depp’s loyal fans, Heard told the jury about her upbringing and journey to Hollywood, and how she met Depp in 2008 when he cast her in his movie “The Rum Diary” in a part described as the “dream woman.” She said they had an instant chemistry and a flirtatious friendship on set but knew it couldn’t go further because they were both in relationships.

They reconnected on the movie’s media tour for the movie more than two years later when they were single, Heard said, and had a whirlwind romance as they traveled the world promoting the film; they kept the relationship secret because the media didn’t know that Depp had ended his relationship with the mother of his children, Vanessa Paradis.

“We had to be really under the radar, because as Johnny pointed out, the world would blame me and call me a homewrecker, even though I had nothing to do with it,” Heard said.

She went into detail about how they fell in love and how Depp showered her with affection and gifts. “When I was around Johnny, I felt like the most beautiful person in the whole world. It made me feel seen. Made me feel like a million dollars,” she said, getting choked up. “It felt like a dream. It felt like absolute magic.”

As they kept dating through 2012, Heard testified, things started to change. She said he started drinking again (she said he had stopped for a period because of a health issue) and he started to disappear for days. When she did see him, Heard said, he would criticize her clothing choices, refer to her with explicit names and demean her career. This would lead to “blowup” fights, she said, and he would throw things or shatter glasses. “He loves to smash up a place,” Heard said.

Heard’s attorney, Elaine Bredehoft, asked whether the actress could remember the first time Depp hit her; she said she could, and it changed her life. She described sitting next to Depp on the couch and she laughed after she asked him about one of his tattoos. He suddenly slapped her, Heard said, and she was so startled she started laughing. She said that Depp replied, “You think you’re a funny b----,” and slapped her two more times.

She started crying as she recalled her feelings and thoughts that day: “I didn’t want to leave him. I didn’t want this to be the reality. I know you don’t come back from that,” she said. “I’m not dumb. You can’t hit a woman, you can’t hit a man, you can’t hit anyone. You can’t just hit someone. I knew it was wrong, and I knew that I had to leave it. And that broke my heart because I didn’t want to leave him.”

Heard said Depp started crying afterward, apologized profusely and said it would not happen again, and that he thought he “put the monster away.” She said she believed him and decided to stay. But then the cycle happened again, she said. He would start drinking and punch walls, she said, and pushed and shoved and slapped her. He would also take a variety of drugs including ecstasy and marijuana, she said, but he showed a particular affinity for cocaine, which she said she disapproved of.

Heard said Depp hit her in the face when he accused her of cheating on him — a frequent accusation. She told the jury about two other incidents, in which she said both she and Depp were doing drugs and a woman acted “friendly” toward her. Depp physically threatened the woman, she said, adding that he seemed extra threatened around women because she had previously had a female partner.

Heard recalled that on a vacation, Depp ripped her dress and tore her underwear off and proceeded to do “a cavity search.”

“He said he was looking for his drugs, his cocaine,” she said, growing more emotional as she described it. “I didn’t say, like, stop, or anything.” The next day, when she saw friends who had accompanied the couple on the trip, she pretended as if nothing were wrong. “I just felt so lonely.”

Afterward, she said, Depp would typically disappear but then come back and say he was sober, and be extra loving and apologetic; but then it would happen again. Heard said she confided in both her therapist and her mother, and texted her mother a picture of a bruise that she said Depp left on her arm, which her lawyer displayed for the jury. “I felt safe talking to my mom because I knew that she understood these dynamics and she wouldn’t judge me for staying with him,” Heard said.

Though the courtroom remained calm, the scene outside the courthouse was intense earlier in the day — some fans said they lined up overnight to get spots in line to get one of the 100 spectator wristbands available. As has become standard for the trial, it appeared to be a mostly pro-Depp crowd. There was snickering about Heard going on the stand, as well as one person starting a lewd chant about the actress.

The day started with one of Depp’s lawyers, Wayne Dennison, cross-examining Dawn Hughes, the clinical and forensic psychologist who testified on Tuesday that she had diagnosed Heard with post-traumatic stress disorder due to intimate partner violence from Depp. Dennison took issue with Hughes’s methods, particularly that she diagnosed Heard with PTSD months before the actress took a test that is considered the “gold standard” of PTSD testing.

Hughes replied that she had found enough data in her previous testing and evaluation of Heard that she had already come to the conclusion, and the final test confirmed it. Dennison asked Hughes to confirm that Depp experienced abuse from Heard, and Hughes repeated similar testimony from the day before, saying that Heard had also “perpetrated” acts of violence against Depp as well as psychological aggression.

Dennison also wondered why, if Heard was so afraid of Depp, she once gifted him with a knife that was engraved with the phrase “til death” in Spanish. Hughes said she gathered from her research that it was a intended as a thoughtful gesture, and was in reference to a conversation that the couple had in relation to a prenuptial agreement, in which Depp allegedly said, “The only way out of this relationship is death.”