Johnny Depp’s lawyers have called Amber Heard’s testimony “the performance of her life” – but an expert says both actors are carefully playing courthouse characters.
Dr Louise Mahler, a body language and communications expert, spoke to 7NEWS.com.au to break down the signs you may have missed.
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Mahler says there are several things that make this trial unique and that need to be considered when discussing the case.
Firstly, she says, it is taking place during a societal shift in perspective regarding the power dynamics of relationships.
“Men have always had the advantage in these cases over many decades, and now we’re turning it around with the #metoo movement and taking women very seriously,” Mahler said.
Secondly, both the plaintiff and the defendant are Hollywood actors.
“They’re both actors and Johnny Depp has chosen a simpler act. So his act is just consistent and slow. And he’s able to hold that for week after week after week.
“Whereas her emotive act is harder to maintain. Who knows if she’s just exhausted, bored, whatever, but it does not come across well. ”
Thirdly, Mahler says that in these kinds of cases, “people do weird things under stress”.
“Who can forget Lindy Chamberlain …. you know, we respond in a way that is very difficult.”
To further complicate things, Mahler says there are “more skeletons in the closet than a haunted house”.
“We have to remember there was clearly some violence there.”
Amber Heard under the magnifying glass
From Heard’s breathing and muscular tensing to the way she uses her hankie and crinkles her nose, “every single thing that Amber Heard does to me lacks credibility,” Mahler said.
“Spending my life doing this and talking to people who are detectives … people often will go into vast detail about things that are not quite relevant, and she definitely is doing that.”
In terms of body language, Mahler first points to jaw tension.
While tension itself is not a sign of incredibility, Mahler claims that the timing of Heard’s jaw muscles tensing does not always match her speech.
“She gets that right from the beginning. It’s when she tries to recall the emotional situations, it seems very manufactured. ”
Another behavior of note is Heard’s out-of-sync breathing, Mahler said.
“Something nobody has mentioned, that I can see, is the breathing,” she said.
Mahler says Heard’s hyperventilating does not seem to originate from an emotional thought: “It’s more coming from the body. It’s trying to create emotional thought.
“It’s the wrong way around. If it is genuine emotion, what happens is you almost see the trigger in the mind and then the breath follows. But with Amber Heard, it’s a calculated strategy.
“Her high breath is trying to bring her to tears, and I have to say she does not achieve it.
“People who perform, if they do breathe high, they’ll actually turn to crying after a while because it puts pressure on the throat.
“This is what you’d see Pauline Hanson do in the early days, she’d actually end up crying because she was breathing too high.”
Odd use of her hankie
Mahler says another “incongruence” appears when Heard uses her hankie.
“One would normally blow one’s nose because there’s moisture,” Mahler said, “but she actually puts the hankie up and breathes in.”
“Some people have said she’s breathing in a substance or something.
“I do not know about that, but that would be a very odd thing to do.”
Crinkling nose and monotone
Images captured from the court case often depict Heard with a crinkled nose, which Mahler said is not inherently problematic, “but it comes and goes and comes and goes. Not in a natural progression ”.
“The other thing is the voice is monotonous for a very difficult situation.
“No real emotion comes into that. It just stays monotonous. ”
Mahler notes that when emotion does come into Heard’s speech, it “recovers too quickly.”
“If it does get out of hand, there are no actual tears. So when the crying’s there, there are no actual tears. ”
Johnny Depp’s courthouse ‘character’
“Depp is an actor and he’s got his character down pat,” Mahler said.
“His character is ‘I can hardly believe this is happening’, which means he’s taken a strategy of closing his eyes, breathing and speaking slowly, looking down.
“He has gaps in his speech. He speaks slowly. He has a sense of lack of belief, which then brings about a bit of humor. ”
The consistency of Depp’s act is why Mahler says it comes across as credible.
“He has stuck to that act throughout, which makes it credible because consistency builds credibility.
“It’s one of the keys to trust. It has unconscious messages to the listener, which says this man is consistent. He is consistently smooth in his behavior.
Another aspect of Depp’s testimony that Mahler says makes it so convincing, is his straightforward responses to important questions.
“When it comes to, ‘have you ever been hit a woman?’ … You know, his straightforwardness, it’s a credible performance.
“Is it a true performance? Who knows. But that’s certainly the way their acts are coming across. ”
The trial is on hiatus this week. Heard will return to the witness stand on May 16.
She’ll next face cross-examination from Depp’s lawyers, which Heard will not be able to prepare for.
Because the case is taking place in the state of Virginia, and not a federal court, cameras are permitted – which is why the whole world is watching.
Depp is suing Heard for libel and $ US50 million ($ A70 million) after she wrote an op-ed piece in The Washington Post referring to herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse”.
The 2018 article does not mention Depp by name but his lawyers say the article contains “defamation by implication” because it clearly refers to allegations of domestic abuse made by Heard when she filed for divorce in 2016.
Heard has counter-sued for $ US100 million ($ A141 million), arguing Depp smeared her by calling her a liar.
For more information on Dr Mahler, head to her website or follow her on Facebook.