A wild and woolly trial becomes even more so.
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Johnny Depp has arrived to court each day in Fairfax, Va., like it's the red carpet of a Hollywood movie premiere. Looking on from the back seat of an SUV as he exits and enters via a rear gate, he's routinely greeted by hundreds of cheering fans. Some bear gifts, others wave homemade signs of support, and a few… shepherd live alpacas.

That particular species of camelid has been evoked repeatedly during the often bizarre trial, which, in a jarring juxtaposition to the circus-like atmosphere outside the courthouse, has dealt with serious accusations of sexual assault and physical abuse. Depp is suing Amber Heard, his ex-wife, for $50 million over a 2018 Washington Post op-ed she wrote about her experiences as a domestic violence survivor. Though she never mentioned him by name in the piece, Depp's lawyers argue that it clearly refers to him and has damaged his career and reputation. Heard has filed a $100 million countersuit, alleging Depp and his legal team defamed her by calling her allegations false.

So what do alpacas have to do with any of that?

Alpacas outside the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial courthouse
Alpacas outside the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial courthouse
| Credit: Sarah Silbiger/Consolidated News Pictures/Getty

It all goes back to something Depp apparently said about his relationship with Disney and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which came to an abrupt end in 2018. Depp blames Heard's op-ed for that, noting that Disney dropped him just days after the article ran. Heard's team has countered by pointing to a tabloid report published months earlier alleging that Depp was on the outs for several reasons, including his alleged drinking habits and the relatively poor box office performance of Pirates 5.

In a further effort to prove that Depp's relationship with Disney soured before Heard's op-ed, her team has repeatedly referred to a quote he gave in a previous deposition that was never played in court. "The fact is, Mr. Depp, if Disney came to you with $300 million and a million alpacas, nothing on this earth would get you to go back and work with Disney on a Pirates of the Caribbean film? Correct?" Heard's attorney Ben Rottenborn asked Depp during cross-examination last month. Visibly amused, Depp agreed that was true.

The alpacas popped up again Thursday when another of Heard's attorneys, Elaine Bredehoft, asked Disney executive Tina Newman about Depp's potential involvement in Pirates 6. Newman testified that she didn't know if Depp was approached for the film, but that didn't stop Bredehoft from asking about alpacas.

"Is Disney aware that Mr. Depp has testified under oath that he would not take another Pirates of the Caribbean franchise role for $300 million and a million alpacas?" When Newman answered in the negative, Bredehoft raised an alpaca hypothetical, asking if Disney would ever consider "paying Mr. Depp more than $300 million and providing him with more than a million alpacas to be able to obtain his services for any future Pirates of the Caribbean role." Newman didn't seem amused, but the question sent Depp into a fit of giggles.

While it remains unclear what impact, if any, the alpaca testimony will have on the outcome of the trial, Depp's legions of fans have latched onto the South American herd animal as a symbol of their support, as if to say, "If Disney won't bring you alpacas, we will."

The timing could not have been better for Depp superfan Andrea Diaz, who told The Washington Post that she started a business during the COVID-19 pandemic to bring alpacas to kids' houses to raise their spirits. Hoping the alpacas would have a similar healing effect on the 58-year-old actor, she brought two — Dolce and Inti — to the courthouse. "I thought the alpacas might brighten his day," she said in an interview last month. While Diaz conceded that Depp might not see them among the other fans, she said, "I figured I would just give it a shot."

Miraculously, for Diaz at least, Depp did appear to see the emotional support alpacas as he exited the court, quipping to a camera, "It's alpaca day!"

Diaz took a moment to revel in the experience with Angenette Levy, a correspondent for Law & Crime Network, which has been live-streaming the trial. "Well, he looked kind of surprised, and then he smiled and waved, and we all got very excited," she recounted. "He just looked surprised and kind of happy as he was driving by."

In a video clip posted to Law & Crime's YouTube channel on Friday, Depp's lawyers Camille Vasquez and Ben Chew can even be seen posing for pictures with them:

Whether Depp actually likes alpacas, or even his own fans for that matter — a witness for Heard testified that he refers to them as "remoras," a type of small fish that survives by latching onto larger fish and feeding off their feces — remains a mystery. But given the allegations against him, and his track record against Heard in court, Depp might need all the suckerfish he can get.

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