Johnny Depp tells High Court judge he started dabbling with drugs at ‘very young age’

A-list actor says he started popping pills around the age of 11

Hollywood superstar Johnny Depp has told a High Court judge how his drug use started "at a very young age" – beginning when he took one of his mother's "nerve pills" at around the age of 11.

The Oscar-nominated actor, best known for playing Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise, said his mother used to ask him to bring her the pills and he took one after realising they were “calming her nerves”, adding it was “the only way that I found to numb the pain”.

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In cross-examination on the first day of his libel action against The Sun newspaper, Mr Depp, 57, also said that the flip side of wealth and fame means being “forced to live a life of a fugitive”, and that he has no anonymity.

Actor Johnny Depp at the High Court in London.

Mr Depp is suing The Sun's publisher, News Group Newspapers (NGN), and its executive editor Dan Wootton over an article which called him a “wife beater” and referred to “overwhelming evidence” that he attacked his ex-wife Amber Heard, 34, during their relationship – which he strenuously denies.

He has been called as the first witness in the high-profile trial in London, which is being heard by Mr Justice Nicol.

Sasha Wass QC, barrister for NGN, asked Mr Depp if it was true that he “found drugs and alcohol” early in his life, which Mr Depp agreed with.

The actor, who also had lead roles in Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow and What's Eating Gilbert Grape, among others, explained how he began taking drugs in his youth “at a very young age, when it was not a particularly stable or secure or safe home life, and there was quite a lot of unpleasantness in the house”.

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Johnny Depp (right) being cross-examined by Sasha Wass QC (left) before Mr Justice Nicol, at the High Court in London.

He added: “My mother used to ask me to go and get her ‘nerve pills’ and I think I was around the age of 11 that it dawned on me that ‘nerve pills’ were calming her nerves, so I brought her her nerve pills and I took one and that began (my drug use).”

Mr Depp continued that it was “the only way that I found to numb the pain”.

The barrister suggested that Mr Depp's fame and wealth had given him “a lot of freedom”, to which he replied that “the other side of that coin you are, in a way, forced to live a life of a fugitive”.

“Anonymity doesn't exist anymore anywhere,” he explained.

Actress Amber Heard, arriving at the High Court in London.

During the morning cross-examination session, which lasted around two hours, Ms Wass argued that there was a “nasty” side to Mr Depp's character, later suggesting he “regularly engaged in destructive and violent behaviour”, which the actor denied.

He was also asked about a number of incidents in his past, including one in London in 1999 when he “chased off photographers with a piece of wood” outside a restaurant.

Mr Depp said his then-partner, French singer and actress Vanessa Paradis was “very pregnant” at the time and he was concerned about her “being turned into somebody else's circus”, adding: “I thought it was disrespectful.”

Mr Depp and Ms Heard both arrived at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Tuesday wearing face coverings, with more than 30 photographers waiting outside the entrance.

In a written outline of the Hollywood star's case, his barrister David Sherborne said the article made “defamatory allegations of the utmost seriousness” against Mr Depp, accusing him of committing serious assaults on Ms Heard and “inflicting such serious injuries that she feared for her life”.

The actor's case against NGN and Mr Wootton arises out of the publication of an article on The Sun's website on April 27 2018 with the headline "Gone Potty: How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”

The words “wife beater” were removed from the headline the following morning and were not used in the print edition, but Mr Depp says the article still caused “serious harm to his personal and professional reputation” and “significant distress and embarrassment”.

Mr Depp denies ever having been violent to Ms Heard, and claims the article included quotes from alleged victims of disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein in order to “finish his career” by linking the allegations against him to the #MeToo and Time's Up movements.

NGN is defending the article as true and says Mr Depp was “controlling and verbally and physically abusive towards Ms Heard, particularly when he was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs” between early 2013 and May 2016, when the couple split.

Last week, Mr Depp failed in a last-minute bid to stop his ex-wife attending until she is called to give evidence.

The court is expected to hear evidence by video link from Mr Depp's former partners, the aforementioned Ms Paradis and the actress Winona Ryder, who both say he was never violent towards them, as well as Ms Heard's friends, who claim they were present when Mr Depp was abusive.

The trial – due to last three weeks – was originally scheduled to start in March but was delayed by the Covid-19 crisis and is now going to occupy five courtrooms to ensure social distancing.

A separate libel claim brought by Mr Depp against Ms Heard in the US – over a December 2018 column in the Washington Post, which said the actress received "the full force of our culture's wrath for women who speak out" but did not mention Mr Depp by name - is due to begin next January.

The pair met on the set of 2011 film The Rum Diary – based on a novel by Mr Depp's friend, the late writer and gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson, whom he portrayed in the 1998 film Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas – and began living together in 2012 before marrying in Los Angeles in February 2015.

Ms Heard obtained a restraining order against Mr Depp in LA shortly after the couple split in 2016 and donated her seven million US dollar (£5.5 million) divorce settlement to charity.

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