On Tuesday, a week after his defamation trial against ex-wife Amber Heard began in Fairfax, V.A., Johnny Depp took the stand in one of the most anticipated moments of the proceedings. Throughout his hours of testimony, Depp attempted to lay the groundwork for much of his legal team’s argument, which is that Heard was the aggressor in the relationship and Depp was not, by providing a broad-stroke sketch of his biography—that his parents modeled a marriage in which the woman was the abuser; that his fame was enormous after Pirates of the Caribbean. He spoke of how he came by his creative grasp on language to explain his more colorful text messages, and went into depth about his drug use beginning when he was 11 years old.

Depp got off to a slightly rocky start after his counsel asked him the open-ended question, “Can you please tell the jury why you’re here today?” He jumped around from thought to thought to answer, trying to explain that his relationship with Heard and her allegations, made most prominently in a Washington Post op-ed in which she self-identified as a domestic abuse survivor, damaged his reputation and, in turn, his livelihood as a working actor.

“One day you’re Cinderella, so to speak. And then in 0.6 seconds, you’re Quasimodo,” he said, adding, “I’m obsessed with the truth.”

Depp’s testimony found a framework after he was asked to talk about his family. He began with his Southern childhood, describing the dynamic between his hostile mother, Betty Sue, and his father, who attempted to escape her aggressions. He described being “shell-shocked” around his mother. “You’d sort of shield yourself because you didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. The verbal abuse was psychologically much worse, he added.

His father, on the other hand, was an even presence and often the object of Betty Sue’s abuse. “The most that he would do was he would punch a wall” in response to her troubling behavior, shattering his hand one time, Depp said. “But still never touched her, never argued with her. He remained a gentleman.” (He did describe his father using his belt on him at the request of Betty Sue.)

His father eventually left the family when Depp was 15. Depp drove to his dad’s job after discovering his belongings were gone. “I’m done,” Depp recalled his father telling him. “I can’t do it anymore. I can’t live it anymore. You’re the man now.” In the time after his father’s departure, Betty Sue went into a “deep, dark depression,” which landed her in the hospital after a suicide attempt. During his testimony, Depp stood up to demonstrate how he found her in the living room, trying to walk but slumping over before a relative and paramedics rushed in to assist.

As questioning continued, Depp recounted building his career as an actor and being cast in Pirates of the Caribbean.

“I can’t complain about the work that I’ve been given. I can’t complain about any of that,” he said, referring to the sudden lack of anonymity he experienced. “I have no right to.” But taking his children out became “a strategic mission, and that’s what happened after Pirates.” The fame necessitated intense security measures, a life that put some pressure on his relationships, like those with Vanessa Paradis, his partner of 14 years, and their children, Lily-Rose and Jack.

There was a brief detour into how Depp used words, during which he said that the many violent text messages in evidence in the case were more a form of creative writing than a literal threat. He explained that one of his friends and heroes was Hunter S. Thompson, saying Thompson’s embellished style of writing was inspiring for him:

In my texts and in my emails, sometimes just even in my writing, you take the subject and you try to express them in your own vernacular. For example, with the text messages that I apologize that everyone’s had to experience, I am ashamed of some of the references that I made. I’m embarrassed that at the time, the heat of the moment, um, the heat of the pain that I was feeling, went to dark places. If you’re writing, there is no set place that you have to stay in, you can travel. And sometimes pain has to be dealt with with humor—and sometimes dark, very dark humor. I grew up watching Monty Python. So yes, it can tend to get into dark humor.


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