As tales of drugs binges, trashed properties, and even a severed finger and bloody messages written on walls came out at the High Court during the summer of 2020, it was hard to imagine why Hollywood A-lister Johnny Depp had chosen to put his reputation through libel proceedings.
The details that came out during what was described as the “trial of the century” would no doubt have been highly damaging to Depp‘s career, even if he had won. As it turned out, he lost; the judge arguably sounding the death knell when he concluded that a Sun newspaper headline calling the actor a “wife-beater” was “substantially true”.
Despite this, he is doing it all again, determined to clear his name. The star has always strenuously denied allegations of abuse and says he has been boycotted by Hollywood because of the claims.
In the UK, he sued the publication. In America, he is suing his ex-wife, Amber Heard herself, over a column she wrote in the Washington Post in December 2018. While the actress did not mention him by name in the article, she described herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse”.
Depp launched the $50m (£38.2m) defamation lawsuit against Heard in 2019, arguing that her article falsely implies she was a victim of abuse during their relationship. Heard has argued for the case to be thrown out of court and has also filed a counterclaim for defamation against Depp, accusing him of a smear campaign.
Following delays during the pandemic, the trial has begun at the Fairfax County courthouse in Virginia – with the two stars set to face each other once again.
How to follow the case
The trial in the US is going to be a lengthy one, set to take place over seven weeks with a week’s break in May. Jury selection started on Monday, with the trial expected to fully get under way on Tuesday.
While those following the UK hearing in 2020 had to rely on media reports for information, cameras are allowed in court in America – and the judge has permitted filming for this one.
It means you will be able to watch as Depp and Heard give evidence – and Sky News will be covering the case live here online.
Both actors appeared in person for jury selection on Monday – Depp wearing a grey suit and glasses, Heard wearing a black jacket and white blouse.
About 50 fans gathered outside the court, some from 5am local time (10am in the UK), saying they hoped to catch a glimpse of Depp and hear him “speak his truth”.
Depp, Heard and more stars to give evidence
Both Depp and Heard are set to appear in person to give their testimonies during the hearing.
Those who remember the UK trial will know that the names of several other high-profile stars also came up in court as evidence was given, and the same is true again this time.
James Franco and Elon Musk, for Heard, andPaul Bettany, for Depp, feature on witness lists for the US case, alongside representatives of the Walt Disney Company, Warner Bros and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
According to court documents filed in March, Bettany, Franco and Musk will give their evidence virtually.
Family members, security guards, assistants, and others who worked around the former couple are also on the witness lists.
Why is this happening in Virginia?
Fairfax County Court, it’s fair to say, is probably not used to trials as high-profile as this.
Depp is suing in Virginia because the Post’s online editions are published through servers located in Fairfax County. Heard’s lawyers had sought to have the case moved to California, where both the actors live.
In March, Depp’s lawyers sought a ruling that Heard could not invoke as part of her defence a Virginia law – known as an anti-SLAPP provision (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) – designed to protect people from nuisance lawsuits when they speak out about matters of public interest.
However, Heard’s lawyers argued that her article addressed a serious issue of public concern – preventing domestic violence – and the judge ruled in her favour.
The ruling does not give Heard immunity for what she wrote, but means she is allowed to make that argument to a jury as part of her defence.
Depp and Heard: The background
The former couple started dating after meeting on the set of 2011 film The Rum Diary, and married in Los Angeles in February 2015 – although evidence given during the UK trial revealed they were having problems long before the nuptials.
Heard obtained a restraining order against Depp in May 2016 after accusing him of abuse, which he denied. The pair settled their divorce out of court in 2017, with Heard saying she had donated her $7m (£5.5m) settlement to charity (Depp later accused her of lying about this).
Lasting for three weeks, Depp’s libel case against the publisher of The Sun took place at the Royal Courts Of Justice in London in the summer of 2020.
In November 2020, the judge handed down his ruling, finding that the newspaper’s article was “substantially true”.
After losing the case, the actor said he was forced to stand down from the Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts 3, with Mads Mikkelsen later replacing him as Gellert Grindelwald.
Read more: Amber Heard – ‘Nothing could have prepared me for 2020’
Read more: Johnny Depp v Amber Heard – who said what during UK trial
Depp asked the Court of Appeal to grant permission for him to challenge the ruling, with the aim of having its findings overturned, and a retrial ordered, but the appeal was denied in March 2021.
Since then, he has been seen at film industry events and picked up a lifetime achievement award from a major film festival in Spain – and more recently a medal of honour for his contributions to art in Serbia. He is also promoting his work as an artist.
However, film roles appear to have dried up for the former Pirates Of The Caribbean star, with his last movie Minamata, in which he played war photographer Eugene Smith, released in 2020.
In July 2021, Heard announced she had welcomed a baby daughter earlier in the year, reportedly via surrogate. She starred in Zack Snyder’s Justice League in 2021 and is set to appear in Aquaman 2 in 2023.
It’s fair to say that the last trial didn’t do either of the actors any favours, with relationship details that would otherwise have been kept behind closed doors laid bare for the world to read about.
This time, with the case on camera, those who watch will be able to hear for themselves exactly what Depp and Heard have to say.