Johnny Depp had polished off three-quarters of a bottle of wine by 1:30 in the afternoon, and now he wanted more. Something bad happened that morning in early 2016. What it was remains unknown but he was as infuriated as he was frustrated. He took his rage into the kitchen of the castle-like estate above the Sunset Strip. His wife, Amber Heard, had only just come downstairs, but he ignored her as he banged around the kitchen, shouting curses.
Amber surreptitiously turned on her phone’s video recorder, propped it on the counter and stepped aside. The camera caught Depp, one of the most famous and well-paid actors in the world, kicking counters and slamming glass-front cabinet doors.
“What happened?” she asked. He continued to ignore her and grabbed a large goblet made to look like a Bell jar from a cabinet. He slammed the glass door so hard it appeared to crack. “We’re not even fighting this morning,” she said. “All I did was say, ‘sorry.’”
“Did something happen to you this morning?” he said. “I don’t think so!”
“Nothing happened this morning,” Heard said, “you know that?” Depp moved out of frame but the sound of smashing and crashing continued. He came back into view carrying the goblet toward the camera. He grabbed a bottle of red wine next to Amber’s phone and filled his glass to the top.
“You want to see crazy?” he said, “I’ll give you fucking crazy.” It was then that he noticed Amber’s phone. “You got this going?” Johnny yelled. “You sic that shit on me, motherfucker?” And with that, Amber’s phone went dark.
Their divorce later that year was amicable at first, but by May 2022, Johnny and Amber were back in court. They had sued each other, both claiming defamation. During the trial, Heard’s attorney played the video, which immediately went viral. For gossips and movie fans, it provided a titillating few seconds of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars behaving badly. For the few who are more interested in the historic castle than its owner, it offered a rare glimpse of one its rooms.
The mansion’s interior has rarely been photographed. In fact, the scene captured by Amber’s phone may be the first video of the interior the public has ever seen. And it doesn’t reveal much, just a corner of the kitchen, soft green walls, glass-front cabinetry framed in dark wood, a chef’s oven and stovetop and a light fixture with a beaded shade hanging from the low, beamed ceiling. There were two interior doors with unusual rounded tops and porthole windows at eye level, as well a couple of French doors that likely led outside.
There are few more private places in Hollywood than Johnny Depp’s castle, a fortress-like mansion just a stone’s throw from the Strip, the busy conduit connecting Hollywood and Beverly Hills. And yet the estate is so well hidden from the street that it might as well be invisible.
The Chateau Marmont Hotel two blocks east of Depp’s house was inspired by the design of a chateau on the Loire River. It was an apartment house when it opened in 1929. Johnny Depp’s castle, which was built around that same time, was also designed to look medieval. Most sources say the design is Norman, but it vaguely resembles Burghausen Castle in Germany, an ancient, Gothic pile built in 1164 that is said to be the largest castle in the world. Like Burghausen, Depp’s house is a jumble of turrets and towers of various sizes, all clad in white-washed stone.
Except for a few years when it was used as a boarding house, this castle has always been a private home. It is larger than other houses in the area, having 7,430 square feet of interior space set on 2.5 hillside acres. It stands 90 feet above the Strip, but is hidden from the street behind a double blind: a five-story office building stands between Sunset and the foot of the property; behind it, a ten-foot tall stand of bamboo screens the view of the house from the building’s rear windows. The house is barely viewable from above, partially hidden from helicopters and drones under a thick canopy of trees.
It hasn’t always been so. In its early days, the castle was clearly visible from the Strip – as it was intended to be. It loomed above the boulevard, ominous and pale by day, spectral and gloomy at night. The creepy effect inspired Hollywood tour guides to tell hapless tourists that the castle was owned by a vampire, the actor Bela Lugosi, a Romanian immigrant who was famous as the star of the 1931 horror hit, “Dracula.”
Sixty years after “Dracula” was released, and nearly four decades after Bela Lugosi died, Martin Landau played Lugosi in “Ed Wood,” a biopic about the quirky director of “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” one of the worst movies ever made. Directed by Tim Burton, the “Ed Wood” plot revolves around the making of “Plan 9,” which happened to be Lugosi’s last film. Landau won a Supporting Oscar for his portrayal of Lugosi who was at the end of a long personal and professional slide. In fact, Bela Lugosi died before filming “Plan 9” was complete, and in a move that was both tragic and tawdry, Wood replaced him with his dentist. Seeing the dentist hiding his face behind Dracula’s outstretched cape is just one reason “Plan 9” is so horribly watchable.
Completing the circle from Hollywood myth to present-day reality, the actor who played Ed Wood was Johnny Depp. A year or two after the release of “Ed Wood,” Depp bought the Sunset Strip estate once thought to have been Bela Lugosi’s home, Dracula’s Castle.