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Johnny Depp's libel case begins today. Marechal Aurore/ABACA
High Court

Johnny Depp quizzed on ‘violence’ and drugs on first day of libel trial

The 57-year-old actor is suing the tabloid’s publisher News Group Newspapers.

LAST UPDATE | 7 Jul 2020

ACTOR JOHNNY DEPP has been quizzed about his Hollywood lifestyle, his use of drink and drugs and his attitudes towards women on the first day of a trial of his libel claim against The Sun.

The 57-year-old is suing the tabloid’s publisher, News Group Newspapers (NGN), and its executive editor Dan Wootton over an article which called him a “wife beater” and referred to “overwhelming evidence” that he attacked ex-wife Amber Heard, 34, during their relationship – which he strenuously denies.

In a written outline of the actor’s case, his barrister, David Sherborne, said the article made “defamatory allegations of the utmost seriousness” against Depp, accusing him of committing serious assaults on Heard and “inflicting such serious injuries that she feared for her life”.

Sherborne said: “The articles amount to a full-scale attack on the claimant as a ‘wife beater’, guilty of the most horrendous physical abuse.”

“The claimant’s position is clear – Ms Heard’s allegations are complete lies,” Sherborne said.

“The claimant was not violent towards Ms Heard, it was she who was violent to him.”

He added: “The marriage was at times physical, at her instigation, and on occasions he found it necessary to defend himself from her violence.

“He is not a wife beater and never has been.”

During a day of cross-examination from NGN’s lead counsel Sasha Wass QC which covered a wide-ranging series of topics, the star was asked while on the witness stand about his friendships and associations with a raft of famous names, including Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, writer Hunter S Thompson and musician Sir Elton John.

Depp was also questioned at some length about his drug taking and a number of violent outbursts in his past.

At one point Wass said: “We see you now, very charming and polite and very softly-spoken, but there is another side of you, isn’t there, that is less charming.”

Depp said: “I’m afraid that would not be for me to judge.”

He added: “Your statement is quite blanket and it would apply to every single human being.”

Wass suggested that there was a “nasty” side to Depp’s character

She later suggested Depp “regularly engaged in destructive and violent behaviour”, which he denied.

Depp was asked about meeting Heard on the 2011 film The Rum Diary, on which he had casting approval, and said she was one of three “ingenues” who were in line for the lead female role.

johnny-depp-court-case Actress Amber Heard leaves the High Court Aaron Chown Aaron Chown

The court was also played a video clip, recorded by Heard without Depp’s knowledge, which Depp said “sounds like an illegal wiretap”.

In the recording, Depp, wearing a large cowboy hat and denim shirt, appeared to be drunk and agitated, swore repeatedly and slammed glass-fronted cabinet doors.

Wass asked him: “Would you agree that you were violent in that clip?”

He replied, “I was violent with some cupboards”, before adding: “Clearly, I wasn’t in the best state of mind.”

Wass then asked if Depp was drunk at the time of the video and referred to a “mega pint of red wine” which he appeared to pour during the footage, which the barrister said “is not everybody’s choice for breakfast”.

The actor told the court that “the monster”, which Heard claims the actor turned into when he “snaps”, was something his ex-wife “became obsessed with”.

Wass responded: “It was your name for your alter ego, the bad side of your character, the person who used to lose control, used to smash up hotel rooms, used to assault camera crew men or paparazzi, that bad boy image… when you lose control and become violent thug, that’s ‘the monster’, isn’t it?”

Depp replied: “No. ‘The monster’ in situations with Ms Heard was when the argument would escalate.”

He claimed it happened when he did not “placate” Heard, adding: “If she was yelling, I would yell back and then it became a screaming match.”

The actor also appeared to admit giving his daughter, Lily-Rose Depp, cannabis when she was 13 years old.

Depp said: “I want her to trust me, so if my daughter says she’s ready… I wanted to make sure that the set and the setting were perfection.

“So you put Family Guy on the television and you fill the refrigerator with ice cream and… you make a situation where the experience will hopefully be as pleasant as possible.”

He added: “You don’t want your 13-year-old going into some paranoid tailspin and I knew that the marijuana I had myself, that I smoke myself, is trustworthy, is a good quality and I was bound and determined not to have her try any drugs out there in there in the world because it’s too dangerous.”

Depp and Heard both arrived on Tuesday at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, where more than 30 photographers were waiting outside the entrance, wearing face coverings.

The actor’s case against NGN and Wootton arises out of the publication of an article on The Sun’s website on 27 April 2018 with the headline “Gone Potty: How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”.

NGN is defending the article as true and says Depp was “controlling and verbally and physically abusive towards Heard, particularly when he was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs” between early 2013 and May 2016, when the couple split.

The trial, due to last three weeks, was originally due to start in March but was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic and is now going to occupy five courtrooms to ensure social distancing.

A separate libel claim brought by Depp against Heard in the US, over a December 2018 column in the Washington Post, which said the actress received “the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out” but did not mention Depp by name, is due to begin next January.

The pair met in 2011 and began living together in 2012 before marrying in Los Angeles in February 2015.

Heard obtained a restraining order against Depp in LA shortly after the couple split in 2016 and donated her seven million US dollars (£5.5 million) divorce settlement to charity.