‘Depp v. Heard’ Netflix Director Did Not Want to Interview Johnny Depp & Amber Heard: ‘I Wanted to Get Away From Any He-Said-She-Said Within the Trial’

‘Depp v. Heard’ Netflix Director Did Not Want to Interview Johnny Depp & Amber Heard: ‘I Wanted to Get Away From Any He-Said-She-Said Within the Trial’

Filmmaker Emma Cooper had to turn her notifications off.

The director of Netflix’s “Depp v. Heard” knew that by diving back into the trial between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, her latest project would attract a lot of commentary online. After all, the six-week defamation case between one of the most famous celebrities on the planet and his rising star ex-wife was televised live with viewers around the world consuming explosive testimony, including from both actors who accused each other of domestic violence. In the end, the jury voted in Depp’s favor with Heard ordered to pay him $10 million in damages, and ultimately settling their long-running legal battle for $1 million.

Given the high-profile and polarizing nature of her doc’s subject matter, Cooper was not entirely surprised that Team Johnny and Team Amber commenters took issue with the mere existence of the docuseries.

“You know, it’s a balanced level of hate,” Cooper says with a laugh. “I pride myself that it tends to be very 50/50,” she says, referring to fans and detractors of both Depp and Heard.

But that’s, pretty much, the point. In creating a three-part series about the globally-dissected court case, Cooper is not dropping any new revelations about the trial or its two subjects. Instead, she’s aiming to make a statement about our role in the sensational, sometimes disturbing conversation around the trial. The quick-to-judge comments the director has been receiving — before her docuseries even began streaming on Aug. 16 — are essentially a microcosm of the bigger, societal picture she’s exploring through the lens of the Depp v. Heard trial.

The docuseries came from Cooper’s own interest in the trial, as a spectator of what happened in the courtroom and on social media.

“I found myself compulsively watching the live feed, and then discussing it with my friends, and looking at what everybody was saying on social. And I wondered what that said about me that I was so interested in what felt like a rather a sad open event of a private relationship,” says Cooper, who directed “The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes” and “The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann,” both for Netflix. “The more I looked into it, I felt like we were in a cultural and social phenomenon. As a documentary maker, I felt there was an opportunity for me to reflect how I was feeling while I was watching it, and I felt that it was a real moment in time.”

She continues, “My intention, right from the start, was to make a cogent and interesting reflection of what happened without using interviews or experts.”

Indeed, unlike most documentaries, “Depp v. Heard” does not feature any interviews with experts or journalists, and does not feature exclusive sit-downs with Depp, Heard or their respective legal teams. The series repurposes the trial live-feed and utilizes a heavy amount of YouTube commentary, TikToks and archival footage from the media who covered the trial.

Cooper says that she reached out to both Depp and Heard’s representatives to make them aware of the docuseries, but not to ask for interviews.

“If the lawyers had really wanted to speak, then of course, I would have interviewed them. But I wouldn’t have done one without the other, by the way, because everything has to be balanced,” the director says.

“Really, my intention,” she continues, “Was always to try and make it about the conversation around the trial. I wanted to get away from any he-said-she-said from within the trial, and I just really wanted to talk about us and the way we communicate, and the way that we look at events that don’t really have anything to do with us. That is actually what the series is about — but I can’t help but look at some of the things that are being said about me, without people having seen the series, and it’s interesting that people are drawing many conclusions, but that very much was not my intention.”

Even though the trial was one of the few #MeToo stories to make its way into a courtroom, in examining the level of interest around the trial, Cooper believes the international obsession with the case can mostly attributed to Depp’s star-power, and does not make a larger statement about the treatment of women by society and in the justice system.

“In an ideal world, women not being treated the same in public would stop very soon. I’m not naive about that. I see it around me,” she says. “But I do think that Johnny Depp is so famous — he’s a megastar. His fans, they think they’re watching the pirate [on the stand], and they absolutely love him. And he’s got like 25 years [in show business] on Amber. So, it’s a very unusual case. Wasn’t it fascinating just to see how people are deeply in love with the man and the character? It’s the power of Hollywood, really, if anything else.”

In the series, media interviews with lawyers from both sides are shown, showcasing different perspectives about the verdict. Heard’s attorney says she does not believe it’s possible for the jury to have avoided social media and vitriol against her client, despite clear direction from the judge to avoid reading, listening and watching any news or social commentary. Depp’s attorneys, on the other hand, say they believe the jury absolutely took their job seriously and avoided outside chatter, even though it was nearly impossible to ignore the outside world.

When asked whether she thinks social media played any part in the trial’s outcome, Cooper deflects, saying the verdict was not a point of exploration in her docuseries.

“I never got to speak to any jurors, so I can’t really answer that apart from guessing, and I don’t want to do that,” she says.

“I don’t think that the Depp v. Heard trial is going to shake the foundation of justice in your country,” says the British filmmaker. “There was an experienced judge, there was a jury being spoken to every day who got to see excellent testimony on both sides, there were amazing lawyers and evidence.”

She adds, “But I find it very interesting that the YouTubers were welcomed after the case, and it certainly felt like they had some kind of meaning. As people, we’re aware of the power of public opinion.”

Editor’s note: This reporter is featured in “Depp v. Heard” via two archival media interviews, and was not aware of the inclusion of these clips prior to agreeing to this interview.

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