Allegations of domestic abuse levelled against Johnny Depp by Amber Heard have had a "devastating" impact on his career, his lawyers said Tuesday at the opening of the actor's defamation case against his former wife.
"For nearly 30 years, Mr Depp built a reputation as one of the most talented actors in Hollywood," his lawyer, Benjamin Chew, told the jury.
"Today his name is associated with a lie, a false statement uttered by his former wife the defendant, Amber Heard," Chew said in opening arguments at the trial taking place in Fairfax County Circuit Court.
"And when like Mr Depp, your career depends upon your image and your reputation, or whether movie producers want their films associated with you, that harm can be particularly devastating," Chew said.
"Hollywood studios don't want to deal with the public backlash from hiring someone accused of abuse," he said. "A false allegation can devastate a career."
The 58-year-old Depp filed a defamation suit against the 35-year-old Heard after she wrote a column for The Washington Post in December 2018 in which she describes herself as a "public figure representing domestic abuse."
The actress never named Depp, who she met in 2009 on the set of the film "The Rum Diary," but he sued her for implying he was an abuser, seeking $50 million in damages.
Depp, who was married to Heard from 2015 to 2017, filed the defamation complaint against his former wife in the United States after losing a separate, high-profile libel case in London in November 2020.
Heard has countersued, asking for $100 million, saying she suffered "rampant physical violence and abuse" at Depp's hands.
In 2016, Heard sought a restraining order against Depp amid abuse allegations. Their divorce was finalized in 2017 with Heard receiving a $7 milllion settlement.
Heard's lawyer, Ben Rottenborn, told the jury that they are "going to see who the real Johnny Depp is."
"Behind the red carpets, behind the fame, behind the money, behind the Pirate costumes you're going to see who that man really is."
"The evidence will show that Amber did suffer domestic abuse at the hands of Johnny Depp," Rottenborn said. "And it took many forms, physical, sure, but also emotional, verbal, psychological abuse."
Depp's lawyers denied during opening arguments that the actor had ever struck Heard -- or any other woman.
"No one had ever in five decades accused Johnny Depp of being violent with a woman," Chew said.
Camille Vasquez, another lawyer for Depp, alleged that it was Heard who could be violent, "throwing things at him, hitting him."
"She would tell him he was a coward, tell him he wasn't man enough because he wouldn't stay and fight with her," Vasquez said.
A panel of seven jurors and four alternates is hearing the case between Depp, star of "Edward Scissorhands" and the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, and Heard, who had a starring role in "Aquaman."
Depp was wearing a black three-piece suit with a black shirt and white tie in court and did not appear to look over at Heard, who was wearing a grey pant suit and black shirt.
Both Depp and Heard are expected to testify along with actors James Franco and Paul Bettany, and billionaire Tesla and SpaceX chief Elon Musk.
Depp filed his case in Virginia since the Post is printed there but he is not taking action against the newspaper itself. The state also has defamation laws considered to be more favorable 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 lost the London case, which he brought against The Sun for branding him a "wife beater." His attempt to appeal 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.