Johnny Depp v Amber Heard: Most viral moments from the media circus defamation trial

Acrimonious court case between divorced Hollywood actors captured nationwide attention with six weeks of accusations, revelations, and extraordinary testimony

Joe Sommerlad
Sunday 21 May 2023 20:26 BST
Johnny Depp’s career was damaged by his own lawsuits, expert says

Former husband and wife Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s bitter defamation trial in Virginia attracted headlines across the world over eight weeks, as well as a feverish international audience online.

Fans of the Hollywood actors closely followed proceedings from the Fairfax County courthouse on TikTok and Instagram, obsessing over the testimonies offered, cutting clips of their favourite exchanges, making unlikely stars of the attorneys involved and cheerleading for their preferred side.

Depp, 58, sued Heard, 35, for $50m (£40m) over an opinion piece she wrote for The Washington Post in December 2018 in which she discussed domestic abuse and experiencing “the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out”.

Although Heard did not name Depp – to whom she was married between 2015 and 2017 – his legal team argued that readers of the newspaper were likely to assume he was the person responsible for the ordeal she alluded to and claimed that the article caused their client to lose out on lucrative movie roles.

On 1 June 2022, the jury returned a verdict in favour of Depp and ordered Heard to pay him $10m in compensatory damages and $5m in punitive damages.

Ms Heard countersued Depp, whom she met when they starred together as lovers in The Rum Diary in 2011, for $100m (£80m), arguing that it is she who has been defamed by his lawyers arguing that her claims to victimhood amount to a “hoax”.

She won a single part out of three listed in her counterclaim and Depp was in turn ordered to pay her $2m.

While the manner in which the trial has been carved up as mass entertainment raised eyebrows in some quarters, particularly given the seriousness of the domestic violence claims at its heart and the risk of deterring others from coming forward to report abuse, it is undeniable that Depp v Heard was packed with memorable moments.

Here is an overview of some of the many viral episodes from the marathon trial:

Depp pre-empts ‘hearsay’ objection

Depp, an experienced leading man best known for his string of starring roles in fantasy films directed by his friend Tim Burton and as Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, knows how to deliver a line and amused spectators on 21 April 2022 when he anticipated an objection to his own remark in the witness box.

“That’s hearsay, I guess,” he said. “I’m learning.”

Johnny Depp draws a laugh in court by predicting ‘hearsay’ objection

Depp shown ‘assaulting cabinets’ in rage

That same day, the court was shown disturbing footage, filmed clandestinely by Heard, in which an angry and possibly inebriated Depp was seen slamming cabinet doors in the kitchen of his home in West Hollywood, California, refusing to respond to expressions of concern for his well being.

“I did assault a couple of cabinets but didn’t assault Ms Heard,” the actor said of the episode. “I did not try to intimidate Ms Heard... If she was intimidated, why was she filming? If she was scared to death, why didn’t she leave?”

Amber Heard says she filmed Johnny Depp smashing cabinets as she was 'scared'

The ‘mega-pint’

While that clip was nothing to laugh about, Depp’s wry incredulity when his ex-wife’s attorney asked him afterwards whether he had poured himself a “mega-pint of red wine” during the episode immediately inspired an explosion of memes.

‘Isn’t Happy Hour any time?’

Mr Depp faced further questions on the stand about his alleged appetite for drink and drugs during the same cross-examination, responding memorably to a question from Heard attorney Ben Rottenborn about whether he was inclined to drink whisky in the morning and joking about taking recreational narcotics with goth rocker Marilyn Manson, to whom he claimed to have once given a pill “just to get him to stop talking”.

Heard booed outside court

Depp’s undeniably charismatic performance under questioning won him new supporters online but he already had plenty of admirers turning up in person at the courthouse every day to cheer his arrival.

On Monday 25 April, the crowd booed Heard, whistling, shouting insults and calling her a “witch”, an ugly encounter that coincided with the sale of bad-taste merchandise online related to the trial, much of which attacked her and championed the plaintiff.

Johnny Depp fans boo Amber Heard outside court

Heard attorney objects to his own question

That same day, Heard’s co-counsel Adam Nadelhaft inadvertently drew a laugh in the courtroom when he raised a “hearsay objection” during his own questioning of Ben King, his client’s house manager.

“But you asked the question,” a perplexed Judge Penney Azcarate responded, bringing stutters of embarrassment from Mr Nadelhaft and giggles from the opposition bench.

Amber Heard's lawyer objects to his own question during Johnny Depp trial

Depp admits he does not watch his own films

There was more amusement in the court on 26 April when the actor struggled to reel off a list of his own movies beyond Mr Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010) and duly confessed: “I don’t watch them. I feel better not watching them. What was the question again?”

As laughter erupted, Judge Azcarate called for: “Order in the court, or I will have you removed. Understood? Thank you.”

Johnny Depp trial: Laughter erupts in court as actor admits he doesn't watch his own films

The vaping concierge

On 28 April, the court watched a bizarre pre-recorded deposition from one Alejandro Romero, who mans the front desk of the Eastern Columbia Building in downtown Los Angeles, where Depp owned five penthouses and lived with Heard for three years.

Mr Romero – filming from behind the wheel of his car, sipping soda and smoking impatiently – cut an exasperated figure and was clearly uninterested in answering questions from Heard counsel Elaine Bredehoft about an incident from May 2016 when police were called to the complex to respond to a heated dispute between the couple.

Witness vapes in car as he gives testimony in Johnny Depp trial

“You sent me the papers to review, and I didn’t even want to review it because it’s been so long. It’s like I just don’t want to deal with this anymore,” he complained. “I’m so stressed out because of this, I just don’t want to deal with this anymore. I’m tired, I don’t want to deal with this court case, everybody’s got problems and I don’t want to deal with this anymore.”

Incredibly, he would not be the last person to vape while giving their deposition: Depp’s friend Bruce Witkin was seen doing the same on 19 May.

Security guard grilled over whether he saw Depp’s penis

Another memorable witness was grizzled Scotsman Malcolm Connolly, a bodyguard who had worked for Mr Depp when he was in Australia in 2015 shooting Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Mr Connolly was asked on 2 May about an incident in which he was forced to intervene in another domestic argument between the couple but was baffled by Heard’s attorneys insisting that Depp had been urinating in the foyer as he entered the apartment house in question.

The security guard denied this detail but his interrogators persisted: “Mr Depp had his penis out, didn’t he?”

Perplexed, Mr Connolly delivered the immortal answer, “I think I would remember if I’d seen Mr Depp’s penis,” prompting a roar of laughter from the actor.

Court laughs as bodyguard Malcolm Connolly insists he ‘would remember’ seeing Johnny Depp’s penis

Bizarrely, this was not the first time the star’s genitals had come up for discussion.

The Franco video

One of the most dramatic moments of the trial so far came on 17 May when Depp’s lawyers screened CCTV footage showing fellow Hollywood actor James Franco visiting Ms Heard at the aforementioned Eastern Columbia Building the day after the fight Mr Romero was asked about and the day before Heard filed for divorce.

Video shows James Franco visiting Amber Heard at penthouse

Depp had allegedly previously accused his wife of having an affair with Franco, with whom she starred in the films Pineapple Express (2008) and The Adderall Diaries (2015), and the footage at least appeared to suggest an intimacy between them.

Cocaine revelation

During the same intense cross-examination of Heard by Depp advocate Camille Vasquez, the actress alleged that her sister, Whitney Henriquez, had taught her former husband to snort cocaine with the aid of a tampon applicator, hence its surprise appearance in a photograph of four lines of coke on a bedside table.

Heard’s counsel impersonates Depp

Ms Bredehoft drew a grin from the plaintiff on the same day when she gamely dropped her voice to impersonate him, reading out a transcript of a tape in which he had declared: “You will not see my eyes again.”

More seriously, the attorney asked Heard why Depp cannot look her in the eye and she answered: “Because he’s guilty. He knows he’s lying. Why can’t he look at me? I survived that man and I’m here and I’m able to look at him.”

Depp and Vasquez hug

The star’s glamorous counsel has become an unlikely social media favourite throughout the trial, inspiring several fan accounts, memes likening her to the Marvel heroes Thor and She-Hulk and even rumours that she is dating Depp, prompting her to politely laugh off the suggestion when asked about it directly on the courthouse steps by a TMZ reporter.

Camille Vasquez embraces her client (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

An affectionate embrace between the pair on 17 May only encouraged the TikTok crowd to imagine a romance between them but Judi James, a more cynical body language expert, told The Daily Mail it could all be part of their strategy: “For Depp’s loyal fans these dramatic rituals will seem like validation… ‘If this smart, beautiful woman thinks he is OK then maybe he is’ will be the implied message.”

Depp revives Captain Jack for his fans

The question of whether or not the actor will make a sixth film appearance as his most popular character has been a regular topic of discussion during the trial given Depp’s claims that he has been frozen out of Hollywood as a result of Ms Heard’s accusations against him.

He was also only too happy to humour his loyal supporters on the subject outside the court on 18 May after one told him: “You’ll always be Captain Jack Sparrow!”

“He’s still around somewhere,” Mr Depp replied, adopting the pirate’s slurred Keith Richards accent. “I see him now and again.”

Johnny Depp says he made waffles for fans waiting outside court

A day later, Depp claimed he had served the same fans waffles for breakfast in thanks for their tireless cheerleading.

Vasquez makes 12 objections in 10 minutes

Back to the plaintiff’s star attorney, who cemented her popularity with the #JusticeForJohnnyDepp die-hards by raising an extraordinary number of quickfire objections to a summary being made by Ms Bredehoft, leaving the latter to comment in exasperation: “I’m trying… I’m trying.”

Executive asked if Disney would pay Depp in alpacas

More levity in court came on 19 May when a pre-recorded deposition by Disney executive Tina Newman was played in which she was asked whether the corporation would really be prepared to pay Depp $300m (£240m) and a million alpacas to reprise his role as Jack Sparrow, as the actor had jokingly proposed.

Ms Newman answered “no”, saying the matter was “above my pay grade”.

‘Isn’t Marlon Brando dead?’

Psychiatrist Dr David Spiegel was cross-examined on 23 May about his earlier contention that Depp’s use of an earpiece on set, to be prompted on key lines, might indicate impairment or mental deterioration as a result of drug and alcohol abuse.

“I don’t believe that actors are routinely given their entire script through earpieces,” Dr Spiegel said. “I find that hard to believe.”

‘I didn’t see Willy Wonka’: Heard’s psychiatrist gives bizarre testimony

This led to a bizarre exchange about whether or not legendary actor Marlon Brando, with whom Depp worked on his directorial debut The Brave in 1997, ever wore one.

“Isn’t he dead? So the answer is no, he does not use one now,” Dr Spiegel responded, baffled, as Depp struggled to hide his chuckling.

He was quite correct though: Brando died in 2004.

Hysterical fan removed from court

That same day, one of Depp’s supporters had to be removed from the Fairfax County courtroom after shouting “Johnny, I love you! Our souls are connected… This baby is yours.”

The target of her appeal simply smiled and waved.

A week earlier, another spectator had to make an early exit from the public gallery after erupting into uncontrollable laughter.

TMZ employee spars with Heard lawyer

Morgan Tremaine, a former TMZ employee testifying for Depp on 25 May, offered a scathing response when Heard’s attorney Elaine Bredehoft suggested he was seeking time in the spotlight.

In an attempt to discredit Mr Tremaine on cross-examination, Ms Bredehoft suggested he would get his “15 minutes of fame” by testifying.

Mr Tremaine responded: “I could say the same thing about taking Amber Heard as a client, for you.”

Johnny Depp witness accuses Heard's legal team of using her for '15 minutes of fame'

Depp mouths ‘wow’ as Heard team questions witness

At one point near the end of proceedings on 25 May, Depp visibly reacted to a question from Heard lawyer Elaine Bredehoft to Beverly Leonard, an airport security officer who testified to a 2009 domestic violence “altercation” involving Heard.

On cross-examination, Ms Bredehoft suggested that Ms Leonard had reached out to Depp’s legal counsel “late last night” so that “you can get on TV”.

Depp responded by mouthing the word “wow”.

Judge and stenographer applauded as jury sent out

The final viral moment from the trial came just after the jury was sent out to deliberate on 27 May.

As Judge Azcarate thanked Mr Depp’s and Ms Heard’s attorneys for their “professionalism”, all the court staff for their work during the high-profile trial and Judy the stenographer — whom she called a “rock star”, a round of applause and laughter erupted in the courtroom.

Heard’s attorney Elaine Bredehoft then responded by thanking the judge for her work on the case.

The court erupted in laughter once again as Depp’s attorney Ben Chew went to agree with Ms Bredehoft but accidentally slipped up, saying we “respectfully disagree”.

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