After a fiery six-week libel trial followed by millions of people, actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard face the same task: rebuilding their images and careers.
Depp won his lawsuit against Heard, his former wife, in a civil claims court in the state of Virginia on Wednesday. He had accused her of defaming him in a piece she wrote published by The Washington Post newspaper. To defame means to harm the public’s opinion of someone, especially by saying things that are false or unfair.
The jury agreed that Heard defamed him by accusing him of abusing her.
“Depp has a hill to climb. Heard has a mountain to climb,” said Eric Dezenhall, a crisis mitigator in Washington, D.C. He had no involvement in the case. Dezenhall added that if Depp “understands that he’s unlikely to hit his former heights, he can have a solid career if he takes things slowly.”
The difficulty for Heard, Dezenhall said, is that some people believe she abused and perhaps even damaged the #MeToo movement.
In her 2018 newspaper piece, Heard identified herself as a domestic abuse victim. She did not directly name Depp in the piece. However, she had already been accusing Depp of abuse for two years when the piece was published. Depp and Heard were married for 15 months between 2015 and 2016.
The jury found that Depp had been defamed by three statements in Heard’s opinion piece. The jury awarded the Pirates of the Caribbean star more than $10 million.
Jurors also found that Heard was defamed by Depp’s lawyer. He had claimed that she created a hoax to support her abuse accusations. She was awarded $2 million.
Some experts believe Depp's decision to sue Heard was an attempt to increase his star power after he lost an earlier connected case in a court in Britain. He had sued British newspaper The Sun for libel after it described him in a story as a “wife beater."
“I think the defamation case was a Hail Mary,” said David Glass, a family law lawyer in Los Angeles. A “Hail Mary” is a decision to do something that has only a small chance of success.
Depp sued Heard for $50 million over the piece in The Washington Post in which she called herself “a public figure representing domestic abuse.”
Heard countersued Depp for $100 million, accusing the star of defaming her through his lawyer Adam Waldman.
Many of the last days of the trial centered on the effects of both claims. Depp said in court: “I lost nothing less than everything" Heard accused him of trying to destroy her ability to work.
“Now as I stand here today, I can’t have a career,” Heard testified at the close of the trial. “I hope to get my voice back. That’s all I want.”
But the images raised by the trial may remain regardless of the court’s decision. Depp was presented as a physically and sexually abusive aging actor dependent on drugs and alcohol. Heard was presented as mentally ill and someone who made marks on her body to look as if she was beaten by Depp.
Throughout the trial, Depp's fan base remained solid. Fans often slept outside the courthouse overnight for the chance to attend the trial. Heard also had fans at the court, but there were far fewer.
Danny Deraney has done crisis public relations for some of Hollywood’s #MeToo accusers. He said men are more likely than women to find new work in the entertainment industry "when it comes to forgiveness and when it comes to the things that they’ve done.”
He added: “I think it’s going to be easier for Johnny. For Amber, whether she’s innocent or guilty or whatever it is, it’s going to be difficult.”
Danielle Lindemann is an assistant professor of sociology at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. She said Depp's ability to earn a lot of money had already been affected, whether due to his own self-destruction or Heard's accusations.
“But I don’t think he’s 'canceled,'” said Lindemann, writer of True Story: What Reality Says About Us.
The damage to Depp’s career is also likely to be a lot less severe in Asian and European markets, where his popularity remains strong. And he is likely to still get work on smaller, independent productions that he has enjoyed throughout his career.
Since the former couple began accusing each other of wrongdoing, Heard has faced intense backlash on social media. She said Depp fueled campaigns to get her fired as an ambassador for the L'Oreal makeup company and cut as the character Mera from Aquaman. However, a movie official testified that Heard will appear in the film, which is set to come out next year.
Depp's future is unclear in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, something he has blamed on Heard's accusations. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer has said that two more Pirates films are in development, but neither will include Depp’s character Captain Jack Sparrow. That part earned the actor an Oscar nomination.
Words in This Story
libel –n. the act of publishing a false statement that causes people to have a bad opinion of someone
defame –v. to cause others to have a bad opinion of a person by saying something that is false or unfair
mitigate –v. to make something less severe or painful
domestic –adj. something taking place or found in the home
hoax –n. an act meant to trick or deceive people
Hail Mary –n. a last minute attempt at something that has little chance of success
backlash –n. a strong public reaction against something
fire –v. to dismiss someone from their job