Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial: Opening arguments to begin in defamation case

Both stars are expected to testify along with actors James Franco and Paul Bettany, and billionaire Elon Musk

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Opening arguments are to begin on Tuesday in the defamation case on allegations of spousal abuse between Pirates of the Caribbean star Johnny Depp and his former wife, actress Amber Heard.

A jury was picked on Monday to hear the suit brought by Depp, 58, against Heard, 35, in Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia.

Depp, who was married to Heard from 2015 to 2017, filed the defamation complaint against her in the US after losing a high-profile libel case in London in November 2020.

About a dozen Depp fans holding small black pirate flags gathered outside the Fairfax County courthouse as jury selection began.

One held a sign reading "Justice for Johnny".

Depp, wearing a grey, three-piece suit and sporting shoulder-length hair and sunglasses, arrived in court through a back door. Heard arrived for the opening day of the trial in a black pinstripe pants suit.

Jury selection was not televised but the judge hearing the case has said there would be a live broadcast starting with opening arguments on Tuesday.

Depp and Heard are expected to testify along with actors James Franco and Paul Bettany, and billionaire Tesla and SpaceX chief Elon Musk.

The case centres on a column written by Heard and printed in The Washington Post in December 2018 in which she describes herself as a "public figure representing domestic abuse" who was pilloried online after her assault claims.

The column was entitled: "I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture's wrath. That has to change."

The actress did not name Depp, who she met on the set of the 2011 film The Rum Diary, but he sued her for defamation for implying he was an abuser, seeking $50 million in damages.

"The op-ed's clear implication that Mr Depp is a domestic abuser is categorically and demonstrably false. Mr Depp never abused Ms Heard," the complaint says.

He accuses her of seeking to "generate positive publicity for herself" before the release of the film Aquaman, in which she had a starring role.

Heard countersued, asking for $100m and saying she suffered "rampant physical violence and abuse" at his hands.

"The frivolous lawsuit Mr Depp has filed against Ms Heard continues that abuse and harassment," her counterclaim says.

Depp filed his case in Virginia because the Post is printed there, but he is not taking action against the newspaper.

Virginia has defamation laws considered to be more favourable to plaintiffs than those in California, where the two actors live.

The trial, presided over by Judge Penney Azcarate, is expected to last several weeks.

Depp and Heard are expected to testify in person, while some witnesses may be heard over video link.

More details about the private lives of the two actors are expected to emerge.

In 2016, Heard sought a restraining order against Depp amid abuse allegations. Their divorce was finalised in 2017.

Depp lost the London case, which he brought against The Sun for calling him a "wife beater". His attempt to appeal against the verdict was rejected in March last year.

That trial laid bare details of the couple's volatile relationship, including Depp's battle with drugs and alcohol.

Heard testified that she loved the sober Depp, but that he became a "monster" after days-long binges on powerful prescription and other drugs.

Depp's career has suffered after the case. He left his role as Capt Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

He also said he was asked to step down from the Fantastic Beasts series. He has been replaced by Mads Mikkelsen.

In a quirk of timing, the next movie in that series opens in US theatres on April 15.

Updated: April 12, 2022, 5:04 PM