June 2011 By Philip Berk
What surprises you most about Amber Heard is her intelligence.
Forget that she’s stunningly beautiful and in Johnny Depp’s Rum Diary she makes a knockout entrance emerging from the ocean.
In the flesh she’s not someone out of her depth.
A quick glance at her filmography tells you she’s attended the school of hard knocks.
Rum Diary is the breakthrough role she’s longed for
So how did she get the role?
“It was such a nerve wracking process. I heard they were making this movie, and my heart kind of fluttered because I loved the book and I have been a Hunter S. Thompson fan for a long time. I thought to myself, wouldn’t that be amazing, but I didn’t really think it was in the realm of possibility. And when I got the script and saw how it protected the subject matter of the book, I was blown away by the integrity of the adaptation. I was excited so I auditioned for it over and over again and finally Mr. Depp called me, as he put it, to put me out of my misery by informing me I got the part.”
So what surprised you most about Johnny besides his sweetness and generosity?
“It was an incredibly intimidating prospect but luckily Johnny is the kind of person who makes you feel at home and comfortable within seconds. It was easy after that minute, but leading up to it was tough.”
As a fan of S. Hunter Thompson, what in your opinion is his place in Americana?
“I have a deep seated respect for him as somebody who sought to change things and who did change things. He’s still relevant today. His work still speaks to the rebellious counter culture because he exposed the same struggles that exist in our world today. He had a satirical, intelligent way of poking fun at the system and its injustices, which plague and torment us today. I couldn’t respect him more.”
You started as a model so what made you want to jump from modeling to acting?
“Modeling actually didn’t start my career. I don’t think modeling starts anything. I did earn some money modeling when I needed it, but I’ve been on my own for a long time. I needed to support myself at a young age, and modeling provided me with the means to do it, but it was never a passion nor a pursuit of mine. I’ve always loved acting . I’ve loved the craft, and that’s been my one true love my whole life. I discovered theatre in middle school, and shortly after I discovered independent film and the enormous potential that lies within a good film. I fell in love with that aspect of acting, and shortly after when I was 17 I came here.”
How supportive were your parents?
”Like any other halfway decent parents when their 17 year old daughter tells them she is moving to L.A. by herself to pursue acting, they were not supportive, but I think that’s a tribute to their decency.”
That first year on your own, that must have been scary?
“It was scary, but it was exciting also. I didn’t know anybody here. I didn’t have any contacts. I didn’t have any money. I come from a working class family that couldn’t give me any money as a safety net; so I had to make it on my own, and in many ways that helped me to make it.”
Rum Diary has been a dream of Johnny’s for years. Finally he was able to get it made. Did it feel like a vanity project for him? How was it on the set?
“The opposite. This was truly a passion project if ever there was one. In this business art and commerce don’t usually go together. Johnny made every minute count.”
Were there constraints in term of budget?
“I come from a very low budget world so nothing is low budget for me. Personally I had the best time. We shot in Puerto Rico, which lends itself to relaxation at the end of the day. We all had a great time. The director Bruce Robinson is a kindred spirit to Johnny and in many ways to Hunter also. They just have this connection, this visceral understanding of the material, and the heart to make it so well.”
You embody Chenault so well, what did Bruce see in you that he gave you this important role?
“I think Bruce is a great director, he’s an artist. He truly works well with actors. He’s not the typical director in the sense that he says I want this and I’m looking for that. I didn’t really learn anything about what he wanted or expected of me until after the wrap. He’s not that type of person to articulate those desires because he considers that your territory. However there was a stylized appreciation for Chenault, how she should feel, what she should look like. We did cover that, but beyond that it was my creation. Chenault is loosely based on Sandy, who was Hunter’s real life girl friend when he wrote the book, later his wife, and wife for the majority of his married years, and the mother of his son. She and Hunter had a tumultuous relationship as you can imagine. She was a very complex woman so there was a lot to build from there. You get the feel of who she is in the book, and I took that and married it to the stylization Bruce wanted. I tried to create a character that on the surface embodied the American dream, but I tried to play the opposite in that on the inside I wanted her to be a rebellious independent young woman who was flawed and had a journey to go on like everyone else . I hope that’s what I achieved. “
Rum Diary, by the way, is a terrific film.