The script for the latest installment of this saga has yet to be written.
With their bitter, contentious and often graphic six-week defamation trial behind them, fans are wondering what’s next for former Hollywood couple Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.
Gawkers around the world tuned in as Depp and Heard hurled accusations against one another, running the gamut from sexual assault to substance abuse to defecating in bed.
A jury decided in a Virginia court Wednesday that Heard, 36, defamed Depp, 58, and that he should get $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages, which was lowered by the judge to a total of $10.35 million since punitive damages are capped in that state. The suit stemmed from Heard writing a Washington Post opinion piece implicating him as a domestic abuser, but not naming him.
The same seven-member jury awarded Heard $2 million from her countersuit, agreeing that one of Depp’s attorneys defamed her by calling her claims a hoax.
While Heard’s lawyer has said the actress will appeal, the information exchanged in this trial — as well as a 2020 libel suit Depp brought against a British tabloid where jurors sided with Heard — has left a bad taste in the mouths of many.
The two actors’ careers will ultimately be decided in the court of public opinion. Will audiences again flock to theaters to see Depp play the popular kids’ hero Captain Jack Sparrow in the highly lucrative “Pirates of the Caribbean” films? Can Heard return to her role as Queen Mera in the “Aquaman” superhero franchise?
While Depp thanked jurors for giving him “back his life” after the verdict, crisis consultant Ryan McCormick, a partner in the New York based firm Goldman McCormick, said Depp has some work to do if he’s hoping to get back the life he once knew. But according to McCormick, the road ahead for Heard is much tougher.
“The definitive loser in this case is Amber Heard,” he said.
McCormick feels there is no doubt Depp made his point more effectively during the trial and believes Heard came across with “maliciousness” in her claims.
“I think her career is permanently damaged,” he said. “Not to say that Johnny Depp will get to the place he used to be, but he has a chance at least.”
The public relations professional notes that 4.5 million people signed an online petition launched during the trial to stop Heard from being cast in an “Aquaman” sequel. McCormick said he would recommend that Heard start a podcast where she speaks about issues that are important to women and maybe launches a foundation in that vein. One potential pitfall, he said, is that Heard could find herself in legal trouble again if she presents herself as a domestic abuse victim.
Depp, McCormick said, might want to consider doing independent films that show off the acting chops that helped amass a huge fan base over several decades. He believes it’ll be about five years before it’s clear whether the Golden Globe winner can be a superstar again. Bringing forth the lawsuit against his ex-wife appeared to be a strong first step.
“Johnny Depp needed to do this,” he said. “Getting some thread of credibility back was very substantial to him.”
McCormick said that as Depp’s fan base shows and his jury verdict confirmed, people tend to find “The Lone Ranger” actor relatable.
“If Hollywood thinks he’s still bankable, they’ll put him in movies,” he said.
Depp’s agent testified that his client had to work for less money than he’s worth following Heard’s article and that a $22.5 million deal in the works to do a sixth “Pirates of the Caribbean” deal with Disney fell apart in the aftermath of her claims. Heard’s team argued it was Depp’s behavior — not anything their client did — that stopped that deal from moving forward.
Beverly Hills entertainment attorney Mitra Ahouraian thinks Depp came out scathed, but on top, and finds it impressive he triumphed in a court system where libel claims are hard for celebrities to argue successfully. According to Ahouraian, the hearing came down to which actor gave the better performance.
“Depp, on the witness stand, came off as likable, endearing and authentic. He owned up to his flaws and held himself fully accountable, but refused to be accused of something he maintained he did not do, and that won him points, both with the public and with the jury,” Ahouraian told the Daily News. “Heard, on the other hand, came off as unconvincing, and her credibility was challenged on multiple occasions. Simply put, the jury did not believe her.”
Ahouraian believes the “toxic” social media backlash against Heard will not be helpful as she looks to find new roles. That, according to the showbiz lawyer, presents another problem.
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“It’s hard to imagine how Amber Heard, considering the millions of dollars in legal fees she has already paid out, will be able to pay Depp the damages imposed by the jury,” Ahourian said. “She made $1 million from the first ‘Aquaman’ movie, and that was her biggest role to date.”
Ahourian said a Hollywood ending isn’t out of the question for Depp, who CelebrityNetWorth.com estimates to be worth $150 million.
“What would be an interesting plot twist is if he rejected the money, or accepted it and actually donated it to charity,” she said.
Heard pledged to donate the $7 million settlement from Depp following their 2016 divorce to various causes, but claimed Depp’s lawsuit impeded those commitments. CelbrityNetWorth.com now estimates Heard’s value at a negative $6 million.
West Coast publicist Steve Allen acted with Depp in a 1989 episode of the TV cop show “21 Jump Street.” He thinks Heard and Depp, who “won — whatever that means,” will both cash in professionally if they connect with the fan bases that cheered for them during the trial. Allen said Depp’s jury win doesn’t mean 100% of the public sided with him.
“It’s 60-40, maybe 65-35,” he said. “Every one of us is a ‘jury member.’”
He also believes a movie about “the best trial in America” is all but inevitable.