Johnny Depp's $50 million defamation suit against ex-wife Amber Heard begins; Elon Musk, James Franco may testify

Actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard face off again in their libel trial, which begins on Tuesday. Tesla CEO Elon Musk and actor James Franco are among the high profile names who may testify.
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard in a file photo. (REUTERS)
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard in a file photo. (REUTERS)
Published on Apr 12, 2022 05:13 PM IST
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The latest chapter in Hollywood star Johnny Depp's legal battle with ex-wife Amber Heard kicked off on Monday as a US defamation trial began over allegations Amber made about domestic abuse. Johnny has sued his ex-wife for $50 million, saying she defamed him when she penned a 2018 opinion piece in the Washington Post about being a survivor of domestic abuse. Also read: Johnny Depp loses UK libel case over ‘wife beater’ article, court rules accusations were ‘substantially true’

While the op-ed in question never mentioned the actor by name, Johnny's lawyers claim it was clear Amber was referencing him. They claim that the piece ended up damaging his film career and reputation. Following allegations of domestic abuse, the actor was dropped from the Fantastic Beasts film franchise, where he had a starring role. Johnny had acted in the first two installments of the five-film series but was replaced by Mads Mikkelsen for the third film- Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.

Johnny has denied all allegations of abuse, saying in his lawsuit that his ex-wife's claims were an "elaborate hoax to generate positive publicity for Ms. Amber and advance her career."

Both parties have submitted long lists of potential witnesses they could put on the stand. Amber's list includes her ex-boyfriend and Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk, who she texted about Johnny. Also on the list of potential witnesses is actor James Franco, who Amber testified in the London case inquired about bruises on her face following an alleged abusive incident with Johnny.

Johnny wants the Fairfax County jury to find that Amber knowingly made false claims. Amber, for her part, will argue that she is shielded, or "immune," from liability because her 2018 op-ed on domestic violence dealt with a matter of public concern. "I never named him. Rather, I wrote about the price women pay for speaking out against men in power. I continue to pay the price, but hopefully, when this case concludes, I can move on and so can Johnny," she said in a statement released on social media on Saturday.

The American trial comes less than two years after Johnny lost a libel case against The Sun, a British tabloid that labeled him a “wife beater." A London High Court judge ruled he had repeatedly assaulted Heard and put her in fear for her life.

The two actors met while making The Rum Diary in 2011 and married four years later. Amber accused Johnny of domestic abuse after filing for divorce in 2016. Their divorce was finalised in 2017.

Johnny began acting with minor roles in films like Platoon in the 1980s, before starring in the TV series 21 Jump Street (1987). He rose to fame with films like Edward Scissorhands (1990), What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), and Sleepy Hollow (1999). Eventually, he became a household name with the swashbuckling Disney franchise Pirates of the Caribbean, where he played the fan favourite character Jack Sparrow.

Amber, 35, made her debut in the 2005 slasher film All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, before gaining recognition with Pineapple Express and Never Back Down (both 2008). She is best known for her role as Mera in the DC Extended Universe films Aquaman and Justice League.

Amber has brought her own libel claim against her ex-husband, saying he smeared her by calling her a liar. Her counterclaim will be decided as part of the trial, which could last for six weeks. She is seeking $100 million in damages from Johnny, according to court papers.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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