By Mike Bedigan, PA Los Angeles Correspondent
Amber Heard’s lawyers said Johnny Depp was an “obsessed ex-husband hell-bent on revenge” as they set out their defence in his multimillion-dollar US defamation lawsuit.
The actor, 58, is suing actress Ms Heard, his former partner, for libel over a 2018 article she wrote in The Washington Post in which she discussed her experiences of domestic abuse.
Mr Depp’s lawyers say the article falsely implies Ms Heard, 35, was physically and sexually abused by him when they were married.
The article does not mention Mr Depp by name and, according to Ms Heard’s lawyers, is covered by the first amendment of the US constitution which protects freedom of speech.
Benjamin Rottenborn, representing Ms Heard, said the actress had also suffered “sexual violence at the hands of Depp”.
“You are being asked to decide a very simple question: were the words used by Amber in the 2018 opinion piece that was published in The Washington Post protected free speech under the first amendment or not?” he said in his opening remarks.
“The question is whether the words were protected by the first amendment, and the answer is very clearly yes.”
He continued: “The evidence for Mr Depp isn’t pretty… you’re going to see who the real Johnny Depp is behind the fame, behind the pirate costumes.
“We’re going to focus on those words… whether you look at them individually or in the context of the piece doesn’t really matter, because they’re true.
“Tragically it’s true. Amber did suffer sexual violence at the hands of Depp.”
Mr Rottenborn added that the actor had brought the suit “rather than take responsibility for his own actions” and planned to turn the trial into a “soap opera”.
“Amber Heard never wanted to offer up to the public who Johnny Depp was, but that is going to come out,” he said.
“He wanted to make her life hard, he wanted to ruin her life. He wanted to destroy her. And that is what he did.
“I wish I could say that it’s surprising. It’s disturbing but not surprising.”
Elaine Bredehoft, also representing Ms Heard, detailed a number of alleged abusive incidents triggered by “crushing” drug and alcohol problems.
These included a “drug binge” with his “good friend” Marilyn Manson and a “blackout” in Australia, which the court was told Ms Heard had previously described as a “three-day hostage situation”.
But Mr Depp’s lawyers argued that the allegations by Ms Heard were false and the actress was “preparing to give the performance of a lifetime” during the proceedings.
Camille Vasquez, representing Mr Depp, said the actor would “go to his grave knowing that whatever he does there will always be people who believe he abused a woman”.
“Ms Heard took on the role of a lifetime, she couldn’t back down,” she said.
“She has been living and breathing this lie for years now.
“She is preparing to give the performance of a lifetime in this trial.”
Scores of people, mostly fans of Mr Depp, crowded into the courtroom on Tuesday as the case was officially opened, where both actors are attending the trial in person and are due to give evidence.
Mr Depp wore a dark blue suit and black shirt with a cream tie, while Ms Heard wore a grey blazer and wore her hair in a low bun.
Ms Heard’s Washington Post article was titled “I spoke up against sexual violence – and faced our culture’s wrath.”
The case is being brought in Virginia rather than in California, where the actors live, because The Washington Post’s online editions are published through servers located in Fairfax County.
Other high-profile celebrities are listed as witnesses in the trial, including actors James Franco and Paul Bettany, and Tesla founder Elon Musk.