FAIRFAX, Va. (CN) — Disney executives didn't scrap Johnny Depp from "Pirates of the Caribbean" because of a 2018 op-ed in which Amber Heard, his ex-wife, described herself as a public figure representing domestic abuse, according to a corporate spokeswoman.
That article, and Disney’s response to it, is at the heart of a defamation trial that has lingered at the Fairfax Judicial Center for the past five weeks. Specifically, Depp contends his career tanked after The Washington Post published Heard's op-ed. In the piece, the first draft of which was written by an ACLU staffer, Heard noted that two years earlier she had become a public figure representing abuse. At that time Heard had been married to Depp, who was not mentioned in the article. Within days, he lost his role in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise. And three months later, he sued Heard, demanding $50 million in damages.
But the matter-of-fact testimony of Tina Newman, production executive for Disney, may have punctured Depp's claim that Heard's op-ed torpedoed him financially.
“Are you aware of any decisionmaker within Disney who has ever said they are not casting Johnny Depp in 'Pirates 6' or any other role because of Amber Heard’s op-ed?” asked Elaine Bredehoft, one of Heard’s attorneys.
“No,” Newman said, in a video-recorded deposition shown to jurors Thursday.
“Are you aware of any decisionmaker outside of Disney, and by this, I’m including producers, directors, people of that ilk, who have ever said they were not considering Mr. Depp for “Pirates 6” or any other movie because of Amber Heard’s op-ed from 2018?” Bredehoft pressed.
“No,” Newman said again.
The subject of Depp's role in "Pirates" surfaced again during questioning of another witness, Tracey Jacobs, a talent agent.
At one point, Depp became the “biggest movie star in the world,” said Jacobs, who represented the actor for 30 years until he fired her in 2016. Early on, he was well liked by film crews. That began to change when he started showing up consistently late, she said.
“I was very honest with him and said you’ve got to stop doing this,” she recalled. “This is hurting you."
Despite paychecks that amount to more than most people make over a lifetime — $25 million for "Pirates 5," — Depp has had financial issues, she said.
"He met with us (the talent agency) and asked for $20 million," she said, adding that Depp didn't explain why he needed the money. "Actually, it was, I want you to give me $20 million. The question was not asked as a loan."
Agency officials told Depp no.
The jury also saw the video recorded deposition of Adam Waldman, one of Depp’s attorneys, who reportedly made statements that are at the heart of a counterclaim filed by Heard that asks for $100 million in damages. In one such statement, published in April 2020, Waldman is quoted as saying: “Amber Heard and her friends in the media use fake sexual violence allegations as both a sword and shield depending on their needs. They have selected some of her sexual violence hoax ‘facts’ as the sword, inflicting them on the public and Mr. Depp.”
Waldman admitted making the statement. But he didn’t answer questions about whether he did so at Depp’s instructions. Depp’s primary attorney, Benjamin Chew of Brown Rudnick, interrupted frequently, instructing Waldman not to answer questions that could violate attorney-client privacy. Negative tweets about Heard were also the focus of an expert witness, who analyzed hash tags.
A number of West Coast witnesses' testimonies were presented via video-recorded deposition. Depp's former business manager, Joel Mandel, testified about Depp's spending. The actor paid a doctor $100,000 a month. Mandel estimated that the actor's two assistants are paid about $125,000 a year each, and another employee probably makes $250,000. A belated employee who led Depp's security made $10,000 a day, he recalled.
"His financial circumstances in 2015 had reached a point where I was extremely concerned," Mandel said.
Another witness, actress Ellen Barkin, testified about her personal relationship with Depp in the 1990s. She described the actor as drunk "a lot of the time." Once, Depp threw a wine bottle across the room in the direction of Barkin and others. The bottle missed her, and Depp was actually arguing with someone else.
"He's just a jealous man — controlling," she said. "Where are you going? Who are you going with? What did you do last night? I had a scratch on my back once that got him very, very angry because he insisted it came from me having sex with a person who wasn't him."