• Interviews

Author Nick Wallis Relives Grueling Legal Battles in “Depp v Heard: The Unreal Story”

It happened by sheer coincidence. As Johnny Depp was walking up the steps at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes on the night of May 16, truckloads of Nick Wallis’ book “Depp v Heard” were being shipped, unpacked and put in the windows at the stores in the United Kingdom. Neither Wallis nor his publisher had planned the book’s May 17 release to upstage the Cannes premiere of Depp’s film, Jeanne du Barry, Wallis says. “We had the date decided in February or March, and Johnny Depp’s film opening the Cannes Film Festival was announced a few weeks after that,” he notes. “I couldn’t quite believe that it happened, but obviously it created a lot of attention on him, and obviously it reflected on the book. It was quite extraordinary.”

Wallis is an award-winning freelance journalist and broadcaster who has worked with the BBC, Private Eye and ITN. His Radio 4 series on the British Post Office scandal has won several national and international awards. He recently submitted to an interview via Zoom.

Have you ever met Johnny Depp and/or Amber Heard?

No. He (Depp) brushed past me once at the UK trial when I was waiting outside of the courtroom making an application for the transcripts, and that’s the closest I’ve ever been to him. Same with Amber Heard. I did ask if either Johnny Depp or Amber Heard would want to be interviewed for the book, but that didn’t happen. I think it’s quite useful not knowing them personally, because I could build the story without being influenced by any personal contact or relationship.

The news media covered these trials exhaustively. What did you feel you had to add to the story with your book?

The trial (in Virginia) was going on live. You could see everything in real time as it was happening. But even documentaries – and certainly news reports – can only really scratch at the surface. And a book gives you an opportunity to go into this subject matter in some detail, a lot of exploration of the evidence, which allows for analysis as well. That’s what I committed the last nine months of my life to.

We are talking about high profile celebrities who are experts in handling themselves, giving different versions of the truth, dealing with what is expected of them in public, and the media. What was your impression of them during the two trials in the UK and Virginia?

That these are people who’re used to the attention – the camera pointed at them, being written about and talked about, having their lives dissected by other people and being challenged on occasion. They were under pressure in the courtroom environment but they knew what was required of them and they delivered it to the best of their ability.

Johnny Depp has had several famous women in his life, including Kate Moss, Winona Ryder and Vanessa Paradis, with whom he has two kids. According to their testimonies he has never been violent with any of them.

That’s what they say. Winona and Vanessa are absolutely explicit that they felt perfectly safe in his company and he never even threatened to lay a finger on them. There’s absolutely no reason to disbelieve them. And the same for Kate Moss who gave unequivocal evidence that Johnny Depp had never been violent towards her in any way.

So what happened to Johnny Depp after these women and before Amber Heard?

That depends whether or not you believe Amber Heard. Johnny Depp’s argument is that he never laid a finger on her either. And as Johnny’s lawyer, Ben Chew, said, and I think it was a potent argument in the courtroom: this is #MeToo without the “me too.” Where are the other women claiming that Johnny Depp’s a monster? Only Amber Heard claimed that Johnny Depp was a monster. And it doesn’t mean what she’s saying is a lie, and it doesn’t mean what she’s saying is true. But she’s the only person to date in Johnny Depp’s life who has ever claimed that he’s been violent. 

Given the evidence to the contrary by all the women in his life, why do you think Amber Heard is so adamant that Johnny Depp was violent with her? 

Domestic abuse experts will tell you that sometimes there’s something within a relationship that triggers people to behave in ways that they haven’t behaved before. I think there’s evidence to suggest that she didn’t make these accusations for financial reasons. And if you look at the career arcs of women who have alleged violence or sexual assault against people in the movie world, their careers tend not to do that well. It’s possible to see that Amber Heard was positioning herself as a representative of the #MeToo movement after she made her allegations. But she insists that what she said in the UK court and in the Virginia court is her truth. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the truth. But it’s her truth.

Do you have any question for either of them that was not asked in court?

Why did Amber Heard fly all the way to the UK to give evidence for a newspaper that she did not have previously much contact with? I’d be really interested in her answer to that.

How difficult was it for you not to be judgmental when you wrote this book?

I found it very easy not to judge them. They are who they are. They had troubled childhoods and they’ve had extraordinary lives. That those lives will affect their behavior in ways that sometimes they can’t control, I’m not judging them. In the book I’m more judgmental of the legal processes and the behavior of public officials than of Johnny Depp or Amber Heard. These people and the lives they live is a reflection of our society, and you could be judgmental of our society but I don’t think you could be judgmental of them.

Why do you call it an unreal story? What’s so unreal about it?

It’s real and unreal, because it was happening, and yet it was such a dissociative experience to witness it happening, and to have that ringside seat where there was a process that was going on both sides of the Atlantic. But the narratives, the realities that the witnesses on both sides were describing were completely at odds with one another. And that added to the sense of dislocation which is when something that is real becomes unreal.


Let’s leave the writer behind. You’re a guy from the street, an average spectator. And this is a “he said, she said” story. Which of them do you ultimately believe?

I’ve made it my business from day one not to even think about that. I come from a broadcast tradition in this country, where when we do the news we don’t offer personal opinions unless it’s massively backed up by years of experience and judgement. I walked into the UK trial in July 2020 and my job as a reporter from that moment was to report, not to believe one side or another. Obviously, it’s a hugely contentious case and I realized that I would probably best serve the people that I was reporting for by not thinking about who I believed or who I didn’t believe, but simply laying everything out, so that other people can make up their minds who they want to believe.

Have you heard from Johnny or Amber regarding the book?

No. But this morning Johnny’s lawyer, Ben Chew, on Court TV, said it was a great book. He’s read it.

Do you think Johnny Depp’s big Hollywood career is over now, and that he’ll be left to make small independent movies?

No. I think Johnny Depp will have one more crack. We do know that Jerry Bruckheimer would love to have Johnny Depp back in Pirates of the Caribbean, and I would imagine, were he to return to Pirates, even in a cameo role, just for a couple of scenes, he would be paid zillions of dollars and the great American public would flock to the movie. So for financial calculations, I believe people in Hollywood and Johnny’s representatives are already having these discussions, and that might lead to more Hollywood studio movies, or it might not. But I suspect he’s got at least one Hollywood movie in him.

As a reporter and as a guy, what did you learn from this story?

I don’t think anyone has a monopoly on truth. I don’t think the judge in the UK does, or Amber Heard does or Johnny Depp does and I don’t think seven jurors in Virginia do. The legal process is about getting a result. And if the result aligns with the truth then that’s great. But we know, in this case, on at least one occasion it didn’t. But… nobody knows which one.