Amber Heard may look like the ultimate Hollywood bombshell, but don’t be deceived. Fiery, passionate and opinionated, she’s more about guts than glamour, and life experience over luxury. On the day of release of her new film, 3 Days to Kill, i-D reports…
It’s the morning after Independence Day, and Amber Heard calls i-D from her home in Los Angeles. As we’re talking, a sleepy, familiar voice can be heard, occasionally taking Amber away from the phone. It’s early in the morning on the West Coast; we can only assume the man rudely interrupting is Johnny Depp.
“I have to fight, tooth and nail, everyday, for my private life,” Amber says when the conversation starts veering away from her work. We know she’s with Depp. We know that, before, she was with (female) photographer Tasya van Ree, but what else do we know about the 27-year-old Texan? One of the most visible film stars in the business, who goes to bed with one of the most coveted men on the planet, is actually a bit of a mystery.
“When I arrived in LA, I knew nobody, I had no money, I could carry all my possessions on my back. When I think of it now, it seems scary. But I loved it. I had no responsibilities, and I felt incredibly liberated.”
She’s in the film industry’s “purgatory” right now, with two films in pre-production, two films - Robert Luketic’s Paranoia and Robert Rodriguez’s Machete Kills - released last year and McG’s 3 Days to Kill released today. Google her and you’ll get a thousand paparazzi shots; Amber shopping, Amber in restaurants, Amber emerging from clubs. Perez Hilton and The Daily Mail leech on her, but she has no Twitter feed or Facebook page, just a lot of imposters. In our interview, she talks of “the Barbie box”, of the labels she gets from a presumptuous press, and an over-familiar industry, of having to put up with people who think they know her. “Amber Heard Gay” is one memorable headline from The Huffington Post. “Believe me, I’m more complex than that,” she says.
Amber has always felt like a bit of an outsider. An openly bisexual, drug-curious, fashion-conscious atheist, inspired by Ayn Rand and George Orwell, she did not blend naturally with the “deeply conservative Southern ideals” of rural Texas. “My father didn’t raise me to be a damsel,” she explains. She started “swinging hard” against her youth, and turned against religion after her best friend died in a car crash at 16. “Texas wasn’t the ideal place to express individualism,” she says. “I was always told what a woman should be. I realised I was alone, that I didn’t belong there. I felt like I was dying creatively. I craved a place where I could express myself.”
“I couldn’t stay in Texas, so I took off. I moved to New York, I travelled Europe, I worked with a fake I.D. It was blind bravery and ignorance. I just wanted to hear the word ‘no’.”
She moved to LA a few weeks before her 18th birthday, but had lived nomadically for two years before that. “I just couldn’t stay in Texas, so I took off. I moved to New York, I travelled Europe, I worked with a fake I.D. It was blind bravery and ignorance. I just wanted to hear the word ‘no’.
“By the time I got to LA, I knew nobody, I had no money, I could carry all my possessions on my back. When I think of it now, it seems scary. But I loved it. I had no responsibilities, and I felt incredibly liberated. That was ten years ago,” she says. “I guess that means I’ve been doing this job, and nothing but this job, for a solid ten years.” She pauses. “Wow, where did all that time go?”
It hasn’t all been plain sailing. Amber’s rise has been steady, with credits on more aborted pilots, slasher films and forgotten indies than she’d like to admit - including a single scene as a salesgirl in The O.C. There were good parts along the way: opposite Seth Rogen in Pineapple Express; playing the undead with Jesse Eisenberg in Zombieland; and showing Nic Cage who’s boss in Drive Angry. “There have been hurdles and drama and disappointments, but there’s been bliss and excitement and the whirlwind of success, the freedom of it, the constant moving,” she says.
Then came Rum Diary, Johnny Depp’s passion project adapted from Hunter S. Thompson’s early novel (the manuscript, written in 1959, was discovered by Depp amongst a mound of Thompson’s papers). Amber beat Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley to the role, and met Depp on the first day of shooting.
“When we were casting, I was asked who I wanted for the part,” said Bruce Robinson, the Withnail and I director whom Depp brought to the project. “I said Catherine Deneuve 25 years ago - and I kind of got that.”
Amber was supposed to play a slinky temptress, seducing Depp’s Thompson-inspired reporter into a shady underworld of corruption. It was a classic love-interest role, a glorified plot-point in a male-orientated script. But Amber scratched the spray paint off her part, creating a bewitching, fragile picture of feminine flesh and bone. The film dies when she drops out of view. It may, of course, have something to do with the chemistry between Amber and Depp. It would be difficult to find two cooler performers and, of course, they were acting. But they crackle on screen.
Witness the first time he sees her, emerging “like a mermaid” from the dark water below him. “Why did she have to happen,” Depp says. “Just as I was doing so good without her.” Or the two of them speeding in an open-top car along a coastal path, the ocean below. Her interest in Depp is obvious, but she’s also capable of keeping him at a distance. “The sports car scene with Depp is as good as anything Marilyn Monroe ever did,” Robinson commented. Depp, for his part, constantly spoke of how Amber seems to “come from another era.”
That may be true, but Amber is also a very modern woman, an actress confident enough to not just support easy, bland issues. She’s fiercely pro-gun, and admits to keeping a Magnum .357 “in a safe place” near where she sleeps. She spends time at the Mexico border with Amnesty International, raising awareness on immigration policies. She writes political essays under a pseudonym.
But most importantly, Amber is challenging one of the last taboos in cinema. Years before Jodie Foster’s Golden Globe speech, Amber was confronting Hollywood about its obsession with heterosexuality. She insists she never “came out”, as widely reported, because she’s always been openly bi. She spoke about it for the first time at a Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation event, and she’s remained a brave spokesperson: “I couldn’t sleep at night if I feel I’m part of the problem,” she says.
“I’m attuned to the responsibilities I have to myself. I haven’t always done what’s right, but I’ve tried to do that. I’ve had many relationships throughout my adult life, and I’ve never been ashamed of any of them. I’m not hiding from anyone.”