Amber Heard's Makeup Artist Fighting Live Testimony in Johnny Depp's U.K. Libel Trial

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp-Getty-H 2019
John Phillips/Getty Images for BFI

Amber Heard's makeup artist is fighting an order compelling her to give live remote testimony in a U.K. legal fight between Johnny Depp and News Group Newspapers in an increasingly toxic legal battle in which each of the actors alleges they were abused by the other during their relationship — because she's concerned about the health risks amid the COVID-19 pandemic and says she's been receiving death threats.

Depp sued the publisher for defamation claiming an April 2018 article in The Sun unfairly portrayed him as a "wife beater." Separately, the actor is suing his ex-wife in Virginia state court over an op-ed she penned for The Washington Post in December 2018. Both suits hinge on whether either of the ex-spouses can prove the other was abusive.

The Sun trial, which was delayed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, is currently set to begin July 7 with several witnesses tapped to testify remotely from Beverly Hills.

News Group is trying to compel the testimony of makeup artist Mélanie Inglessis, who, in a 2019 declaration, said she witnessed Heard's bruised face and cut lip and helped to hide the injuries for an appearance on The Late Show With James Corden. She recalls, "Amber repeatedly told me that she did not want to expose this part of her life to the public, and that she was considering canceling the appearance altogether." Inglessis said she and Heard became close friends after she began working with her in 2015 and that she remembers "numerous" times Heard told her she had been abused.

On May 16, Inglessis filed a motion in California federal court asking Magistrate Judge Patrick J. Walsh to quash his order compelling her give live testimony via a video feed. She also informed the court that she's received "death threats and faced online harassment" despite not making any public comments on the matter. 

"This case, and the related U.S. case, are high-profile matters involving international celebrities and are receiving intense media scrutiny," writes her attorney Anya Goldstein. "Ms. Inglessis genuinely fears for her safety as it is. If she is forced to testify for NGN, and, by extension, for its controversial tabloid, The Sun, the threats and harassment she faces will undoubtedly escalate." 

Inglessis also says her career as a celebrity makeup artist will suffer if she's forced to testify publicly about things she saw in Heard's home while working because her clients expect privacy. 

News Group wants to take her testimony during the trial sometime between July 17 and July 28 in Beverly Hills "even if stay-at-home orders remain in effect," according to her motion. Inglessis says News Group has known since December that she didn't intend to voluntarily participate but waited until the last minute and sought emergency relief.

Further, the makeup artist says she offered to testify in Depp's Virginia suit against Heard as a compromise. "Ms. Inglessis has offered to provide deposition testimony in a related U.S. case — with identical issues — to satisfy NGN’s perceived need for her testimony while giving her some measure of protection," writes Goldstein. "Despite offering the same accommodation to other U.S. witnesses, NGN has inexplicably rejected her offer."

News Group isn't backing down.

"As evidenced by a declaration that she signed in 2019, Ms. Inglessis’ testimony is of critical importance at the trial," writes attorney Alexander Rufus-Isaacs in an opposition filed Friday. "The alternative proposed by Ms. Inglessis (taking her deposition) is not acceptable because it would place Respondents at a significant disadvantage at trial."

News Group maintains that her deposition testimony would be treated as hearsay evidence in an English court and "there is more focus on the weight that a judge will give to a piece of evidence, rather than on whether that evidence is admissible or inadmissible."

The publisher also argues that it will take "all reasonable steps" to protect her health, including disinfecting the conference room and having no one in the office other than her, counsel and an IT technician.

With regard to her safety and business concerns, the publisher argues, "[W]hile it is perhaps understandable that for professional reasons, Ms. Inglessis would prefer not to give evidence in the English Action, she voluntarily signed a declaration about events which are of great importance in both actions, and therefore has no basis to complain that it is unfair to require her to testify."

A hearing is set for June 10. Previously, U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II ordered Heard's friend Laura Divenere and LAPD officers Melissa Saenz and Tyler Hadden (who responded to a 911 call at Heard and Depp's home in 2016) to give live testimony via video. 

Meanwhile, the English court also recently made decisions regarding a handful of Depp's potential witnesses.

Kate James, who was Heard’s assistant from 2012 to 2015, will be allowed to provide testimony — but Justice Andrew Nicol narrowed the scope. She can’t talk about Heard allegedly being mentally and verbally abusive to her, which Nicol found to be "irrelevant or disproportionate," or Heard’s alleged drug use. She can talk about Heard’s alcohol consumption, testify that she didn’t see any physical signs of violence on either Depp or Heard and address several tangential issues that the court found could be relevant to Heard's credibility. James is expected to testify that Heard allegedly altered vaccination certificates for her dogs and told the Department of Homeland Security that one of her employees was just a friend visiting the US on a tourist visa. The court has not yet decided to what degree James can discuss her claim that Heard asked her to lie to an Australian court in connection with a widely-publicized scandal involving bringing her dogs into the country illegally. 

Vanessa Paradis and Winona Ryder, both of whom had romantic relationships with the actor and have spoken out in his defense, are also expected to provide testimony. David Killackey, a mechanic who updated Heard’s vintage Mustang for a TV series called Overhauled, won’t be allowed to testify. (Read the full decision here.)

June 1 5:35 p.m. This story has been updated to correct a statement that was erroneously attributed to Justice Nicol and add detail about Kate James' potential testimony.