As stories of excessive drug use, ransacked properties and even a severed finger and bloody messages written on the walls emerged at the High Court in the summer of 2020, it was hard to imagine why Hollywood A-lister Johnny Depp had chosen to stake his reputation through libel suits.
The details revealed in what has been described as the “trial of the century” would no doubt have been very damaging to Depphis career, even if he had won. In the end, he lost; the judge may have sounded the death knell when he concluded that a Sun newspaper headline calling the actor a “wife beater” was “essentially true”.
Despite this, he starts all over again, determined to clear his name. The star has always strenuously denied the abuse allegations and says he was boycotted by Hollywood over the allegations.
In the UK, he continued publishing. In America, he is suing his ex-wife, Amber Heard herself, on a column she wrote in the Washington Post in December 2018. Although the actress didn’t mention her by name in the article, she described herself as a “public figure representing violence domestic”.
Depp launched the $50m (Â£38.2m) libel suit against Heard in 2019, arguing that her article falsely implies that she was abused during their relationship. Heard argued for the case to be thrown out of court and also filed a counterclaim for libel against Depp, accusing him of campaigning for libel.
Following delays during the pandemic, the trial has started at the Fairfax County Courthouse in Virginia – with the two stars set to face off again.
How to follow the case
The trial in the United States is going to be long and is expected to take place over seven weeks with a one-week break in May. Jury selection began on Monday and the trial is expected to begin in full on Tuesday.
While those who followed the UK hearing in 2020 had to rely on the media for information, cameras are allowed in US courts â and the judge allowed this one to be filmed.
This means you will be able to watch Depp and Heard give evidence – and Sky News will cover the case live here online.
Both actors appeared in person for jury selection on Monday – Depp wearing a gray suit and glasses, Heard wearing a black jacket and white blouse.
Around 50 fans gathered outside the court, some from 5am (10am in the UK), saying they hoped to catch a glimpse of Depp and hear him ‘tell his truth’.
Depp, Heard and more stars will testify
Depp and Heard are to appear in person to give evidence at the hearing.
Those who remember the UK trial will know that the names of several other high-profile stars also appeared in court as evidence emerged, and the same is true this time around.
James Franco and Elon Muskfor Heard, and Paul Bettany, for Depp, is on the witness lists for the US case, along with representatives from 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 testify virtually.
Family members, security guards, aides and others who worked around the former couple are also on witness lists.
Why is this happening in Virginia?
It’s fair to say that Fairfax County Court is probably not used to high-profile trials like this one.
Depp is suing in Virginia because the Post’s online editions are published through servers located in Fairfax County. Heard’s lawyers had requested that the case be transferred to California, where the two actors live.
In March, Depp’s lawyers sought a ruling that Heard could not invoke in his defense a Virginia law – known as the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) provision – designed to protect people from being sued for nuisance when they speak out on issues. of public interest.
However, Heard’s lawyers argued that her article dealt with a serious public interest issue â the prevention of domestic violence â and the judge ruled in her favour.
The ruling does not give Heard immunity for what she wrote, but does mean she is allowed to make that argument to a jury as part of her defense.
Depp and Heard: the context
The former couple started dating after meeting on the set of 2011 film The Rum Diary, and married in Los Angeles in February 2015 â although evidence given in the UK trial has revealed that they were having issues long before the nuptials.
Heard obtained a restraining order against Depp in May 2016 after accusing him of abuse, which he denied. The couple settled their divorce out of court in 2017, with Heard saying she donated her $7m (Â£5.5m) settlement to charity (Depp later accused her of lied about it).
Lasting three weeks, Depp’s libel case against the publisher of The Sun took place in the Royal Courts Of Justice in London in the summer of 2020.
In November 2020, the judge issued his ruling, finding the newspaper article to be “substantially true”.
After losing the case, the actor said he was forced out of 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 â who said what at UK trial
Depp asked the Court of Appeals to grant him leave to challenge the decision, seeking to have his findings overturned and order a new trial, but the appeal was dismissed in March 2021.
Since then he has been seen at film industry events and won a lifetime achievement award at a major film festival in Spain – and most recently a Medal of Honor for his contribution to the art in Serbia. He also promotes his work as an artist.
Still, movie roles seem to have dried up for the former Pirates of the Caribbean star, with his latest film Minamata, in which he played war photographer Eugene Smith, released in 2020.
In July 2021, Heard announced that she had welcomed a baby girl 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 latest trial did neither cast any favors, with details of the relationship that would otherwise have been kept behind closed doors for the world to read.
This time, with the case on camera, those watching will be able to hear for themselves exactly what Depp and Heard have to say.