How Amber Heard went from a small town in Texas to centre stage in Hollywood’s most explosive trial yet

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The woman at the centre of the decade’s most salacious defamation trial has taken the witness stand — and the world is watching Amber Heard. For the Hollywood actress whose career includes The Danish Girl and box office record-breaker Aquaman, the coming weeks will be her greatest starring role to date.

Over the last few weeks, Heard has been seen smiling but silent as she arrives at the court in Fairfax, Virginia for the latest stage of her five-week, $50m defamation trial brought by ex-husband Johnny Depp. So far the jury has heard a series of explosive details from a string of witnesses including the couple’s former marriage counsellor, friends and Depp himself. Meanwhile Heard has stayed silent, awaiting her turn - though some have accused her of copying Depp’s courtroom outfits and hairstyles in an attempt to “play mind games” (they’ve both been seen in grey suits and wearing ties with bees on).

This week, though, it has been Heard’s chance to speak for herself. The court has heard her side of the case, brought by Depp over a Washington Post article in which his ex-wife claimed she was a victim of domestic violence. Heard has detailed instances of “disgusting” verbal and physical abuse she has allegedly suffered at the hands of Johnny Depp while giving evidence.

So who is the woman at the centre of the storm and how did she get here? From her best friend’s death at 16 to her string of famous exes, this is the story of the Texan wild child who made it to Hollywood.

Wild child

Heard, 34, and her sister Whitney, 31, were raised in Texas, about 40 miles outside of the state capital Austin. It was a conservative area, “a very monotone presentation of society”, and she still recalls the first time she saw a Muslim woman in a hijab. “I was electricified.”

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Their mother Patricia worked in telecommunications for the state and their father David ran a small construction firm. A keen hunter and horse broker, he liked to treat middle daughter Amber as the son he never had. They were fishing, camping and hunting companions (hunting is their bonding activity to this day), and Heard, though a self-described “girly-girl”, was raised to be tenacious. Her father taught her to ride horses “aggressively” and drive pick-up trucks, and scared off potential suitors with his penchant for shotguns. “I was always into older men as a teenager,” Heard once said, before going on to marry Depp, 22 years her senior. “I never dated in my school. That was a ridiculous idea to me.”

At 16, Heard’s best friend died in a car crash, and it had a profound effect. Raised a Roman Catholic, she declared herself an atheist, and began reading books by Ayn Rand, Ray Bradbury and George Orwell. At that time she started sending headshots to modelling agencies (she’d taken part in beauty pageants as a child) and at 17 dropped out of high school to move to New York, which thrilled her from the moment she began visiting the city to meet agents. “I thought I had died and gone to heaven,” she says of the Big Apple.

 (Dave Benett)
(Dave Benett)

Hollywood calling

Heard insists she had no interest in modelling. After completing a home-study diploma in New York she moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting and, despite her lack of contacts and her parents’ scepticism, began to be cast in film and TV roles. Within two years she was in American football drama Friday Night Lights and played the younger version of Charlize Theron’s character in North Country, a film about sexual harassment, discrimination and social justice. Her big break came with two box-office hits in 2008: martial arts drama Never Back Down and stoner comedy Pineapple Express, playing Seth Rogan’s high-school girlfriend. That year, she won a breakthrough award at the Hollywood Film Festival.

Among other 2008 appearances was horror film All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, picked for distribution by Harvey Weinstein but then dropped. Its director Jonathan Levine said he’d chosen Heard for the lead because “there was a certain type of beauty and a certain type of innate intelligence that is not something you find every day. Certainly, not something you would find in somebody her age”.

 (GK Films)
(GK Films)

In 2011 she met Depp on the set of comedy-drama The Rum Diary. Heard reportedly beat Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley to the role of Chenault and was personally selected by Depp. The pair’s “insane chemistry” was spotted from the start, but Depp was with his partner of 14 years, Vanessa Paradis. When they “amicably separated” the following year, he and Heard quietly dated were first seen holding hands at a Rolling Stones concert in April 2013.

Since then, her film credits have also included Magic Mike XXL and “catastrophic” film adaptation London Fields — the producers sued her for £8 million for breach of contract. Heard countersued, accusing them of using a body double to make it appear she’d starred in sex scenes she hadn’t consented to. The case was eventually settled.

Texan-born activism

Heard’s activism stems from an early age. Her father’s company employed mostly Hispanic migrants, which instilled in her a sense of injustice of the plight of those on the Mexican side of the border. At school Heard appealed against the decision to deny a same-sex couple entry to prom, and fought against the uniform policy so she could wear a shorter skirt and remove her jacket. “It seemed inherently unfair to be told I had to dress a certain way,” she later explained. “Why is it my burden what a boy might be distracted?”

She credits her teenage experience working at a soup kitchen for intensifying her altruistic drive, and has undertaken duties for the UN, American Civil Liberties Union, Syrian American Medical Society, Amnesty International and Planned Parenthood. She and girlfriend Bianca Butti were spotted at the Women’s Day march in LA this year. Heard has spoken out about the gender pay gap, victim-blaming, trans rights and abortion. “I would rather go down for being who I am than to be popular for something I am not. Wouldn’t you?” she told young voters at a conference in New York last summer.

Amber’s set

Heard’s Instagram grid presents a familiar Hollywood showreel: award ceremony selfies with Elisabeth Moss and Aquaman co-star Nicole Kidman; laughing on the sofa with James Corden; posing on the red carpet with Arianna Huffington, Camilla Cabello and Helen Mirren.

Cara Delevingne appears regularly, as do transgender activists Corey Rae and iO Tillett Wright, who Heard was seen laughing with on a yacht on a recent holiday.

Heard took Rae as her date to the 2019 Golden Globes, and “bestie” Wright, an LGBT rights campaigner and author, recently made the headlines when a 2016 blog resurfaced, describing living with Depp and Heard in their guest house and claiming to have seen Depp’s alleged domestic abuse.

Another witness to Depp and Heard’s relationship was the actress’s “spiritual” BFF Raquel Pennington, a yoga fanatic and jewellery designer who’s been pictured alongside Heard at every stage of her divorce proceedings.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

It was Pennington, as her next-door neighbour and friend of 18-plus years, who reportedly threw herself between the couple in 2016 when Depp was “drunk and high”, and Pennington who was pictured collecting a tearful Heard from an LA courtroom after the actress filed a restraining order.

Front and centre of Heard’s inner circle and High Court support squad back in 2020 was her sister Whitney, who lives with partner Gavin Henriquez in LA. The sisters lost their mother in May 2020 and spent lockdown together in the family home.

Whitney recently spoke out about her early fears over Heard’s marriage to Depp, saying she initially thought the actor was “very sweet” but became worried when her sister told her they had “big fights”. She said she told Heard that “him putting a ring on her finger was not going to stop him hitting her”. Clearly, they didn’t listen.

 (PA)
(PA)

The ex factor

Heard has had quite the range of of famous exes. The Aquaman actress came out as bisexual in 2010, midway through a four-year relationship with female photographer Tasya van Ree, having dated a stream of male actors during her early years in LA. She said: “I don’t label myself one way or another” and has called out publicists who warned her against speaking out. In 2009 she was arrested for domestic violence after allegedly grabbing van Ree and hitting her arm.

The charges were dropped and the photographer has since defended her ex, saying the incident had been “over-sensationalised” and calling the arresting officers “homophobic”. van Ree recently called Heard a “brilliant, honest and beautiful woman and I have the utmost respect for her”.

 (instagram.com)
(instagram.com)

Heard moved in with Depp in LA in 2012 and saw his children Lily-Rose and Jack most weekends, taking Lily-Rose shopping. They married in 2015 at Depp’s home before a small second wedding on a private island in the Bahamas with Depp’s son Jack as best man. After filing for divorce in May 2016, following the domestic abuse allegations - which are now the centre of the legal trial, with Depp insisting the claims are untrue - Heard began dating billionaire SpaceX founder Elon Musk. The pair were together for almost a year (there were hotly denied rumours of a “three-way” with Delevingne) but split in 2017 blaming long-distance pressures. They remain close friends, with Heard saying their “beautiful relationship” is now a “beautiful friendship”.

Heard was first spotted kissing her film-maker ex-girlfriend Bianca Butti in Palm Springs in January 2020 and they spent lockdown together in LA, flower shopping and walking Butti’s dog, Birdie. But the pair reportedly called off their relationship in December last year, months after Heard secretly welcomed her first daughter, Oonagh Paige, via a surrogate and chose to be the girl’s sole legal parent.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Sources say she was busy being a mother and the romance had “fizzled” after months of being apart in separate countries due to conflicing schedules. “With not being in the same country for months at a time and dealing with a new baby, it leaves very little time for romance,” a source added.

Heard is now believed to be single but Depp has claimed in court documents that “several women who have been in a relationship with Ms. Heard [over the years] have come forward to share their personal experiences of brutal violence and other abuse at the hands of Ms Heard”. Heard’s lawyers have denied the allegations, saying Depp’s accusations were “increasingly desperate” and “not fooling anyone”.

Heard by numbers

At the last set of court hearings in 2020, jurors were told how a broke Depp handed his ex-wife a £5.5 million divorce settlement, which she donated to a children’s hospital and domestic abuse charity.

CelebrityNetWorth.com puts her fortune at about £6 million, mostly from acting, modelling, product endorsement and work as an ambassador for L’Oreal. She’s produced two films: And Soon the Darkness in 2010 and Syrup in 2013.

 (AP)
(AP)

She’s also a petrolhead. “I spend all my money on classic cars. I’ve had loads,” she said in 2015, referencing her 1968 red Mustang which she had for 12 years and was stolen three times.

According to divorce settlement expense documents from 2016, Heard also racks up £30,000 a month on “basic expenses”, including holidays in Hawaii and Italy, £1,600 a month on clothing — and pet care for her Yorkshire terriers. No doubt much of that money now goes towards looking after her new daughter, too.

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