The contours of the high-stakes legal battle between Johnny Depp and his former wife Amber Heard became clearer on Wednesday, as Depp’s older sister sought to refute Heard’s claims that her brother was a violent, unaccountable, childlike drug addict.
Christi Dembrowski, who is also Depp’s personal manager, said she did not share Heard’s concerns – also advanced by a doctor who was treating Depp’s addiction to pain medication – that the actor was dependent on drugs and that he despaired of ever kicking his habit.
Earlier, she had testified that her brother had sworn to never perpetrate domestic violence after he was a victim of it himself. But under questioning from Heard’s lawyers on Wednesday, Dembrowski conceded she had been concerned about the pain medication he was taking.
Dembrowski also struggled on cross-examination when shown texts she had written to Heard soon after the couple returned from Australia, where Depp has claimed, Heard severed his finger with a vodka bottle.
“I love him so much but he needs help,” Dembrowski wrote. In a second text, she advised Heard to tell her husband de ella: “I’m scared and I ca n’t deal.”
Heard’s attorneys claimed that Depp was routinely late for work, including on one occasion being seven hours late on shoot-day on Disney’s Pirates 5 in Australia. Dembrowski, meanwhile, testified that he was pushed to complete a certain number of movies a year to keep his ex-agent’s income up, hinting that Depp and his ability to earn millions was part of a larger star ecosystem dependent on him.
Dembrowski, 61, had earlier testified that Heard had referred to her husband as “an old, fat man” and was outraged when he, not her, was offered business with the French luxury house Dior. “They’re about class and style and you do n’t have style,” Heard is alleged to have told her husband de ella.
The court in Fairfax, Virginia, also heard from Isaac Baruch, the former manager of Depp’s Viper Room club in Los Angeles, whom Depp set up in a penthouse apartment so he could paint. Depp was doing this as a friend, Baruch said, “as he has done for many other friends.” He testified that he had witnessed Depp and Heard argue twice, but never violently.
Baruch, a scene-stealer in Hollywood terms with a forthright Brooklynese manner, said Heard was never anything but friendly to him. “I fell in love with her, just like Johnny fell in love with her. She was totally gracious, respectful, she had great teeth, and she treated me with great respect, and humor – total locker-room, demented humor. ”
Baruch’s testimony was presented to illustrate Depp’s contention that his part in the marriage to Heard was peaceful and that his wife was the abusive party.
Two years after they broke up, she wrote a 2018 opinion article in the Washington Post that claimed she’d become “a public figure representing domestic abuse” – a libel against him, Depp claims, upon which the lawsuit is based.
In a statement on Tuesday, Depp’s spokesperson said Heard’s account of abuse “follows a pattern of her elaborate, erroneous claims which have continued to change and evolve over time for the purpose of Hollywood shock value”.
In 2016, Heard withdrew a petition for a restraining order against Depp and dismissed the domestic violence case against him. “Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love,” they said in a joint statement following their divorce agreement. “Neither party has made false accusations for financial gains. There was never an attempt of physical or emotional harm. Amber wishes the best for Johnny in the future.”
Efforts by Dembrowski and Baruch to paint Depp as a mild, if troubled, man, are designed to counter devastating claims issued by Heard lawyers who contend that Depp’s career deteriorated as the result of his drinking and abuse of drugs – and that her Washington Post piece was not what had made him an unreliable commodity to the movie business.
The court has been presented with Heard’s claims, part of a $100m counter-suit, that Depp physically and sexually abused his then wife during drug- and alcohol-fueled binges during which he became a “monster”.
Elaine Charlson Bredehoft, one of Heard’s lawyers, told the jury they would be shown graphic photographs. “They show bruises, they show cut lips, they show hair pulled out,” Bredehoft said. “They show two black eyes when he headbutted her.”
“He has an enormous amount of rage,” Bredehoft added. “It’s during these rages that Mr Depp engaged in verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse of Amber.”
Heard’s attorney’s have said the actor and L’Oréal model would always carry a makeup kit around with her to hide bruises. Under cross-examination on Wednesday, her lawyers made little headway with Baruch on whether he had ever witnessed Heard applying foundation, concealer or any other kind of makeup.
Baruch did, however, testify that he had seen the Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, in the couple’s apartment. Musk is scheduled to be called by Heard’s defense team, who have already told the jury that “Johnny Depp is obsessed with Elon Musk”.