For almost three weeks, Johnny Depp has been perched in a chilly Fairfax County, Virginia, courtroom just feet away from his ex-wife Amber Heard as part of a heated $50 million civil defamation suit. But rather than maintaining solemnity in a case that centers at least in part on allegations against him of brutal domestic violence, Depp has descended into downright oddball behavior.
Depp spent four mostly somber days on the stand insisting to jurors that Heard “devastated” his career with a 2018 Washington Post op-ed in which she described herself as a domestic violence survivor. But both on the stand and off, the Pirates of the Caribbean actor has also taken to passing the time in increasingly absurd fashion.
He has drawn sketches of women on Post-it notes. He has colored in what appeared to be a rendering of a Matisse-style painting with pastel highlighters. He has munched on gummy bears. And he has laughed at testimony alongside his sea of lawyers.
Depp has apparently found entertainment in the slew of mostly middle-aged women supporters who have swarmed the courtroom daily, some even arriving at the Virginia courthouse hours before trial began to snag a seat. (He has also enjoyed sometimes ugly shows of support from legions of online fans, Joe Rogan among them.)
Experts suggested that the lackadaisical vibe from Depp—at least some of which has been in view of the jury—may be part of a questionable strategy to win over jurors. Depp’s legal team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Johnny Depp is a good actor and had spent years winning over audiences, and it seems that this is part of his strategy here,” Juda Engelmayer, a crisis communications expert who was the spokesperson for Harvey Weinstein during his New York sex-crimes trial, told The Daily Beast. “The drawings, doodling, eating candy, are methods of showing a very relaxed and comfortable state. Rather than just looking up, looking nervous… he instead is trying to look like he hasn’t a care in the world, and confident.”
But if Depp’s behavior is not technically in violation of courtroom decorum, especially during a trial where the actor is not facing any criminal charges, the conduct is remarkable given the 58-year-old is accused of abuse.
“The jury is watching everyone in the courtroom, so parties need to be careful about their behavior so the jury does not get the impression that a party takes the case lightly,” Christopher Melcher, a celebrity divorce attorney who represented Kayne West in his divorce proceedings with Kim Kardashian, told The Daily Beast.
The crux of the ongoing trial is a defamation claim about Heard’s op-ed, but the actress has long accused Depp of abuse, including one incident where Depp allegedly threw a phone at her that left her with a bruised face. A London judge concluded in November 2020 that there was “overwhelming evidence” that Depp had assaulted Heard repeatedly throughout their marriage, and she was “in fear of her life.”
On the stand as a witness in his own lawsuit, Depp has accused Heard of verbal and physical violence, including an infamous 2015 incident in which he says the actress threw a vodka bottle that severed his fingertip. But Depp may have undercut his own version of events when audio was played in court that appeared to capture him saying he had cut his own finger.
Both Depp and Heard have denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
Jurors have been tasked with deciding whether Heard acted with “actual malice” when she wrote the Post piece—meaning she knew the contents were false—or with “reckless disregard” for the truth. The jury will also be asked to review some issues raised in Heard’s 2020 countersuit against Depp.
The vibe in the courtroom has ranged from staid to unhinged, with Judge Penney Azcarate on Monday warning attendees they must remain quiet or face getting thrown out. The admonishment came after laughter erupted when Depp was on the stand and the actor struggled to recall his own vast collection of starring roles.
“I’m so pathetic when it comes to knowing what movies I’ve done,” Depp said on the stand while smiling, prompting loud laughter in the courtroom. “I’m sorry. I just, I don’t watch them. I feel better not watching them. What was the question again?”
On Tuesday, Depp was caught on the live stream of the trial drawing a portrait of a woman on a Post-it note. While it was not immediately clear who the color sketch was supposed to depict, Depp was caught in a now-viral video passing the impromptu art to his attorney, Benjamin Chew.
Chew was then seen taking off his glasses to get a better look at the sketch as Depp whispered in his ear. The attorney proceeded to nod in approval at the artwork, before holding his hand to his heart and pointing to his high-profile client.
On Wednesday, a sunglasses-clad Depp came armed with distractions as he walked into the courtroom, including a notebook donned with the phrase “Built To Last” alongside a drawing of a green, alien-like face bearing a crown on its head.
Depp has brought a silver tumbler to court daily, and on Wednesday kept a small pile of multi-colored gummy candies and jelly beans.
Depp was also photographed Wednesday coloring in what appeared to be a printed sketch or reproduction of Matisse’s Dancers with purple and pink highlighters. Sitting beside the actor at the time: an opened container of Ice Breaker mints.
This even as video depositions from several LAPD officers offered new details about a 2016 domestic violence call at the Eastern Columbia Building in Los Angeles that centered on Depp and Heard.
Kimberly Lau, a New York attorney who specializes in harassment and assault suits, noted to The Daily Beast that not all Depp’s indulgences occurred while the jury was present.
“This is a tense trial, so it’s entirely possible Depp is trying to find ways to bring some levity to the situation for himself and among his legal team,” Lau said.
For Engelmayer, however, Depp’s courtroom antics represented another indication that the trial was “becoming a bit of a circus.” He said mints and candy were normal for defendants in court—and recalled that Weinstein snacked on Mentos during this 2020 trial. Depp has not been charged with any sex crimes, but he does seem to be doing everything he can to steer a high-stakes legal proceeding into a surreal scene.
“It is narcissistic, but then again, it’s Hollywood,” Engelmayer said.