FAIRFAX, Va. — A jury’s finding that both Johnny Depp and Amber Heard were defamed during their long-running public dispute capped a lurid six-week trial that also raised questions about whether the two actors can overcome tarnished reputations.
Depp was found to have been falsely accused by Depp’s ex-wife Heard in an op essay. Heard stated that Depp was his victim of abuse. He was awarded more than $10million by the jury. Jurors concluded also that Heard was defamed by Depp’s attorney who said she had created a elaborate hoax around the abuse claims. The jury awarded her $2 million.
Depp had expected that the libel suit would bring back his image. However, legal and entertainment experts said both actors’ reputations have been damaged by ugly details about their brief marriage that came out during the televised trial watched by millions.
“Both of them will work again, but I think it will be a while before a major studio will consider them ‘safe’ enough to bet on,” said former entertainment lawyer Matthew Belloni, who writes about the business of Hollywood for the newsletter Puck. “The personal baggage that was revealed in this trial was just too icky for a studio to want to deal with.”
The case captivated viewers who watched gavel-to-gavel television coverage, including impassioned followers on social media who dissected the actors’ mannerisms, their wardrobe choices and their use of alcohol and drugs.
Each performer emerges with unclear prospects. Depp, who was nominated for the Oscars as best actor, has been a star bankable until recently, having credits that include Capt. Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. However, he lost that role and was replaced in a “Fantastic Beasts” spinoff.
Heard’s acting career has been more modest, and her only two upcoming roles are in a small film and the upcoming “Aquaman” sequel due out next year.
Eric Rose, a crisis management and communications expert in Los Angeles, called the trial a “classic murder-suicide” in terms of damage to both careers.
“From a reputation-management perspective, there can be no winners,” he said. “They’ve bloodied each other up. It becomes more difficult now for studios to hire either actor because you’re potentially alienating a large segment of your audience who may not like the fact that you have retained either Johnny or Amber for a specific project because feelings are so strong now.”
Heard, who attended court Wednesday and was stoic while the verdict was read, said she’s heartbroken by what she described as a setback for women in general.
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“I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women. It’s a setback. This sets back the time to when women who speak out and are publicly shamed could. It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously,’’ she said in a statement posted on her Twitter account.
Heard’s lawyer Elaine Bredehoft said on CBS Mornings that her client plans to file an appeal.
Depp, who was not in court Wednesday, said “the jury gave me my life back. I am truly humbled.”
“I hope that my quest to have the truth be told will have helped others, men or women, who have found themselves in my situation, and that those supporting them never give up,” he said in a statement posted to Instagram.
Depp sued Heard for libel in Fairfax County Circuit Court over a December 2018 op-ed she wrote in The Washington Post describing herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse.” The essay never mentioned his name.
The jury found in Depp’s favor on all three of his claims relating to specific statements in the piece.
In evaluating Heard’s counterclaims, jurors considered three statements by a lawyer for Depp who called her allegations a hoax. They found she was defamed by one of them, in which the lawyer claimed that she and friends “spilled a little wine and roughed the place up, got their stories straight,” and called police.
Although the case was supposed to be about libel but most of the evidence focused on Heard’s claims that she had been sexually and physically abused. Heard enumerated more than a dozen alleged assaults, including a fight in Australia — where Depp was shooting a “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel — in which Depp lost the tip of his middle finger and Heard said she was sexually assaulted with a liquor bottle.
Depp said he never hit Heard and that she was the abuser, though Heard’s attorneys highlighted years-old text messages Depp sent apologizing to Heard for his behavior as well as profane texts he sent to a friend in which Depp said he wanted to kill Heard and defile her dead body.
Brett Ward is a New York family lawyer who said that Depp was more credible by confessing to alcohol and drug use. He also admitted that Depp could be difficult. He said that Depp ran the risk of making these moments more famous than his films.
“He says he did this for his children. Having watched the whole trial, I don’t think that he did any service to his children by airing all of this dirty laundry,” Ward said in an interview.
“Whether this was worthwhile for Johnny Depp, we will know in five years if he reestablishes himself as an A-list Hollywood actor. And if he doesn’t? I think he’s made a terrible mistake because most people aren’t going to remember his rather distinguished Hollywood career. They’re going to remember this trial.”
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