Aquaman actress Amber Heard choked back tears on Wednesday as she told a Virginia jury that her ex-husband Johnny Depp physically abused her multiple times, starting when he slapped her after she laughed at the writing on one of his tattoos.

Heard took the witness stand for the first time in a widely followed U.S. defamation case brought by Depp, saying the actors had a "magical" relationship until it turned violent.

Depp's first physical outburst, Heard said, came after she asked what was written on one of his faded tattoos. She said he replied "wino," and she laughed, thinking it was a joke.

"He slapped me across the face," Heard said. "I didn't know what was going on. I just stared at him."

Heard said he slapped her twice more and said "you think it's funny, b****?"

Depp, 58, testified earlier in the trial that he never hit Heard and that she was the one who was the abuser in their relationship.

Amber Heard alleges Johnny Depp hit her after she laughed about one of his tattoos

The star of the Pirates of the Caribbean films and others is suing Heard, 36, for $50 million, saying she defamed him when she claimed she was a victim of domestic abuse. Heard has counter-sued for $100 million, saying Depp smeared her by calling her a liar.

Heard said she stayed with Depp after the tattoo incident because he apologized and promised not to behave that way again.

"I didn't want to leave him. I didn't want this to be the reality," she said.

But, Heard said, Depp became violent at other times, usually when he was drinking or using drugs. He would hurl insults or accuse her of cheating, she said, and "it would escalate to the point where he would push me or shove me down."

"This happened several times," she said.

At the start of her testimony, Heard said it had been hard to relive their relationship in the courtroom.

"This has been the most painful and difficult thing I've ever gone through," she said.

Amber Heard says it has been hard to relive their relationship in the courtroom

The case hinges on a December 2018 opinion piece she authored in The Washington Post. The article never mentioned Depp by name, but his lawyer told jurors it was clear Heard was referencing him. The couple's divorce was finalized in 2017 after less than two years of marriage.

Depp, once among the biggest stars in Hollywood, said he never struck Heard or any woman and that Heard's allegations cost him "everything." A new Pirates movie was put on hold, and Depp was replaced in the Fantastic Beasts film franchise, a Harry Potter spinoff.

Heard's attorneys have argued that she told the truth and that her opinion was protected free speech under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

A state court judge in Virginia's Fairfax County, outside the nation's capital, is overseeing the trial, which is expected to last until late May.

Less than two years ago, Depp lost a libel case against The Sun, a British tabloid that labeled him a "wife beater." A London High Court judge ruled he had repeatedly assaulted Heard.

Depp's lawyers have said they filed the U.S. case in Fairfax County because The Washington Post is printed there. The newspaper is not a defendant.

Source: Reuters