Depp Vs. Heard / Pt .1
The Phone Call
It’s Tuesday. I’m laying in a plush hotel bed in Virginia watching the storm move in. Dark clouds blooming over a grey tinged city from a view, 15 floors up. It’s well past noon and I’ve been crying on and off all morning. Surrounded by the aftermath of room service trays that crowd the cart parked at the end of our bed. Plates full of picked apart waffles and half eaten fruit bowls alongside untouched cups of green tea and tiny jars of flavored jam.
My best friend, working from a desk in the same room, is on call with a co-worker in another state. She’s driven out to share half the week’s hotel stay with me and celebrate the million follower mark I’m set to hit during this trip. A milestone we plan on toasting with champagne and a spa day. “Something simple” we had agreed, on her way out.
Between meetings she makes us fresh coffee and tells me everything is going to be ok. Even if, by the look in her eyes (a concern that matches my own) she doesn’t actually believe it. She wants me to go home and give up and let go of this story because we’ve both reached a point of mild paranoia inside this hotel room over the course of three days where everything around us feels like it’s falling apart in front of us.
This morning began with a grim notice on my phone informing me that my instagram account had been “permanently disabled,” while I slept. “Violating community guidelines” is the generic wording used to defend the erasing of an entire online identity, and the decade of memories housed inside of it. I knew immediately that it was different - more dire - than the typical suspension warnings I’ve received in the past. And nearly impossible to reverse, an infringement of this severity.
I’m sick to my stomach over the loss. Losing all of the videos of the boys throughout the years feels like a punch in the gut. And the attack is further evidence of how high the stakes have been raised in this media war I didn’t sign up for when I set out to frame a salacious celebrity divorce trial with equal parts fact and humor. Part of me wants to blame the disabling on some accidental mistake. But the PR guy working for Heard, that I exposed for sexual assault incidents the week prior, is obviously amped up and in pure revenge mode. And the timing, hardly coincidental.
I decide against plans to leave the hotel early to film the line up that forms every morning on the corner of the courthouse in anticipation of the SUV drive-by that parades Depp in front of a hundred hardcore fans lining the wall to catch a glimpse of him waving through the window as he pulls into the side entrance of the courthouse. At this point I’m bitter and starting to resent everything that’s led up to this hotel room, booked to cover the tail end of the trial after five weeks of documenting it compulsively in real time from my bed at home.
In a few days this fate will twist into something spectacular, with a remarkable turn of events I will delight in retelling weeks later. But on this hour, I’m homesick, mad and tired. Emotions that get washed by guilt when a text comes through later that day, showing my youngest boy being awarded “wave of the year” on the last day of second grade, in a ceremony I should have been part of.
Frustration turns to aching remorse. I hate myself for missing it.
In a parking lot across town I’m sitting watching a group of boys kick a ball around a soccer field at 4pm. Late to practice because I was pulling slivers of information from corners of the internet to organize for upcoming story slides to track a trial that hasn’t kicked off yet. One that has yet to gain any real traction. When I announce plans to cover it, it generates moderate interest online. Nobody knows what’s about to claim their lives and TV sets for the next six weeks.
When I open up my DM’s to anonymous sources, inviting anyone wiling to expand on their experiences with Amber or Johnny, I’m flooded by the response. Conversations, messages, and emails pour in, all of them in solid defense of Johnny.
I keep digging, eventually stumbling upon recordings posted by “That Umbrella Guy” on his YouTube channel that highlight obvious patterns of abuse with Amber as the triggering force behind the majority of these recorded conflicts. She’s insufferable on these tapes. Belligerent, taunting, mocking and berating Depp for walking away from escalating arguments. The evidence I find online, organized by civic journalists, have been laid out with the kind of precision you’d hope from a high powered attorney dedicated to the case. Their efforts convince me that my intuition is supported by an avalanche of evidence the public will soon have wider access to. To judge for themselves with cameras on hand to capture it all.
By day one all jurors have been selected. The trial is set to begin the following day so I’ve only unrolled a day’s worth of slides to get people aquatinted with this new saga, with a series of videos showing the photogenic couple in happier times. Set to Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love.” A theme song picked after listening to it repeatedly during carpool drop offs. As I do.
The images I share come abruptly interrupted by flashes of accusatory tabloid headlines calling Depp a “wife beater” and bruising photos of Heard posted by People Magazine. Hunter S. Thompson quotes are included to secure his presence in the story because I think he deserves it. But any excuse to revisit Hunter’s wisdom and tweak the story with an edge of artful inspiration is more to amuse myself. I also figure the Tik Tok generation could use some new (old) heroes to embrace. Hunter is a great revival.
When a phone call comes in I hesitate to pick up. It’s a number I don’t recognize but thanks to better judgment I answer to find the voice on the other line greet me with the familiarity of an old friend. It’s the person I’ve been communicating with via text for the past few days, an old friend of Johnny’s who’s wife directed him to me after seeing that I was going to be documenting the trial in depth. We haven’t spoke on the phone before but he’s proven a valuable resource already, helping me access documents and find the people I need to connect with who are far more informed than me.
This, the beginning of the social media army that would collectively highjack the narrative painted by mainstream, and amplify the one shared by the general public. The common goal being: truth exposed. Powered by the unpaid and passionate. Common folk reporting, snagging the trust of the people with style and ease.
On the phone I’m met with casual complements about the content posted earlier that day, an anonymous source he says, would like to join the call. On the other end of the line the greeting that booms through the phone is a vibration that needs no introduction.
Johnny Depp, voice bathed in slow southern charm, greets me with “hello.”