Johnny Depp’s agent testified Monday that his ex-wife’s 2018 op-ed piece in The Washington Post describing herself as a victim of domestic abuse was “catastrophic” to his career and coincided with the loss of a US$23-million deal for a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel.
Amber Heard’s lawyers pushed back aggressively against the agent’s assertion on cross-examination, suggesting that the article was inconsequential amid a stream of bad publicity for Depp brought on by his own bad behaviour.
Depp is suing Heard for libel in Fairfax County Circuit Court, saying her article defamed him when she described herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse.” The article never mentions Depp by name, but Depp’s lawyers say he was defamed nevertheless because it’s a clear reference to abuse allegations Heard levied in 2016.
In testimony Monday, agent Jack Whigham said Depp was still able to work after the initial allegations made against him in 2016. He was paid $8 million for City Of Lies, $10 million for Murder on the Orient Express and $13.5 million for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, all of which were shot in 2017, albeit under contracts reached prior to the allegations made against him.
But he said The Washington Post piece was uniquely damaging to Depp’s career.
“It was a first-person account, extremely impactful,” Whigham said of the op-ed.
After that, he said Depp struggled to get any kind of work. He had to take a pay cut — down to $3 million — to do the independent film Minimata, and a $22.5-million verbal deal he had with Disney for a sixth Pirates film was scuttled, Whigham said.
On cross-examination, though, Heard’s lawyers asked whether the Pirates deal had already gone south by the time Heard’s article was published. Whigham acknowledged he never had a written deal for Depp to appear in a sixth Pirates film. And while he said Pirates producer Jerry Bruckheimer talked favourably throughout 2018 about Depp coming back to the franchise, Disney executives were noncommittal at best.
By early 2019 — weeks after Heard’s op-ed — Whigham said it was clear that Depp’s role in any Pirates film was scuttled and that producers were instead looking to move ahead with Margot Robbie in a lead role.
Heard’s lawyers have cited a variety of factors — including reports of heavy drug and alcohol use, a lawsuit by a crew member in July 2018 who says he was punched on set by Depp, and a separate libel lawsuit Depp filed against a British newspaper in 2018 — as things that damaged Depp’s image more than the Post article.
For Depp’s Virginia lawsuit to be successful, he not only needs to show that he was falsely accused, but he also needs to show that it’s the op-ed piece — not Heard’s abuse allegations in 2016 when she filed for divorce and obtained a temporary restraining order — that caused the damage.
Depp’s lawyers also presented testimony from an intellectual property expert who testified about the negative turn in Depp’s reputation. But his own data, showing trend lines from Google searches, showed negative spikes occurring after the 2016 abuse allegations, but negligible or nonexistent changes after the Post article.
The trial has now entered its fourth week. Much of the testimony during the first three weeks centred on the volatile relationship between Depp and Heard. Depp says he has never struck Heard. Her lawyers said during the trial’s opening statements that she was physically and sexually abused by Depp on multiple occasions.
Heard is expected to testify later this week.
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