Amber Heard: The Eternal Defiant Woman
An interview by Lizzie Friedman
Photographed by Tierney Gearon
Styled by Danielle King / Assisted by Graham Pizzi
Hair by Jenny Cho / Make up by Mai Quynh
I first met Amber Heard five years ago at a benefit for the LA based children’s charity The Art of Elysium. Beautiful, in an ornate and very large corseted red gown that put the whole room at attention. When I commented on her dress, she smiled wryly, and with a touch of irony said “I am from Texas. I like everything big”. I knew immediately that I liked her. It was a few weeks before we were leaving for Argentina to make a movie together. I was the producer, she was the actress, yet she was trying to put me at ease, placing attention on her accessibility rather than aesthetics. Over the years, we have become close friends and I know Amber as a woman of contradictions. She is as cunning as she is stunning, as intelligent as she is kind, a country girl who thrives in the cities, a woman with the energy of a bomb about to detonate who can just as easily spend solitary days alone reading and creating art. She is an everywoman and an extraordinary woman.
I arrive at her duplex apartment in West Hollywood struggling to come up with questions that will properly illustrate the woman I know, and she does it again. She opens the door with that big Amber energy and asks “whiskey or wine?”. She will put me at ease by getting me drunk.
LF: I want to start with the fact that I’ve read a lot of magazine interviews about you, trying to do research for this article and they don’t get the qualities in you that I believe drive you the most. I find that really interesting.
AH: They miss it?
LF: I don’t know if they miss it or if it’s because you present yourself in an elusive way. I feel like you’re not familiar to me in interviews.
AH: Mmm. Everyone says that.
LF: Why do you think that you come off so differently in print?
AH: I have no idea. It’s not just inner circle or close friends, but everyone says that to me. I notice when I started working with new people on a movie set (makeup, hair, wardrobe stylists, etc) that’s always the first thing they say. They’ve all done their “research” before my arrival and without fail after that first initial span of time together, their comment is ” you are completely different from what I expected ” I don’t really know how to wrap my head around that. I can’t understand how different that presentation of me – that collected accumulative image – could be?
LF: Different. I think that people naturally put an archetype on someone so they can describe them easily and I also think you are really self sufficient and that can come off as distant. If I go through what I see as your dominant qualities, can you can comment on them?
LF: Well to start, you’re a big big caretaker and that seems to drive you. You always take care of the people around you. I love coming to your dinner parties because it’s like a mishmash of –
AH: Hahaha homeless people…
LF: Totally! Like weird amazing outsiders.
AH: Yeah. Always, always the outsiders.
LF: You’re attracted to the fringe?
AH: Well, I like weirdos. People who, on purpose or inadvertently, stand outside of the norms of our society. They are fundamentally just more interesting.
AH: I grew up in Texas where I saw a very monotone presentation of society. I remember the first time I saw a Muslim woman. I was on my way to school and she was wearing a head wrap, a hijab. In Texas it’s a rare thing to see, and when I saw her my whole body felt electrified. I remember I was kinda shaking when I got to school.
LF: How old were you?
AH: Maybe nine.
AH: I had never seen anything like her. Then when I was 12, we went on a field trip to a Hindu temple. Perhaps the only one in the area…Just guessing?? Ironically, it was across the street from this bar-b-q place, which was really where our field trip was headed. But they did this really cultural outside the box thing and stopped at the Hindu temple. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to go back the next day and tried to negotiate a trip from one of my dad’s friends to drive me there on the way to his job site. And then everything I read and checked out from the library was about the Hindu faith and culture. I was obsessed!
LF: And is that because you like learning about things, or because you yourself feel like an outsider?
Amber smiles broadly
AH: Both. Who says I have to pick one?
LF: That’s true.
AH: I have always been really curious. But also the lack of access to variety was a huge driving factor. It’s like, you know they say that necessity is the mother of invention? I think that goes the same for internal qualities. For me, my curiosity was absolutely… It wasn’t created by but it was certainly nurtured by the thirst, the drought I had for variety when I was young.
LF: I remember when we were in Argentina, and the closest town where we could buy anything other than shitty red plastic sunglasses was like five hours away.
AH: Five hours from chocolate!
LF: Exactly! Chocolate was five hours away! You were the only one who looked and then found a tiny orphanage filled with kids and you drove for hours and to buy them toys.
AH: We did that a few times. That was the biggie, one of the highlights of that trip. It was completely selfish. Nothing makes me feel better.
LF: You do it for strangers and you do it for friends. Is that innate?
AH: Yeah, I don’t know I just do it.
LF: I remember when you got your horse, and you gleefully told me you thought it may be a midget horse. What does that mean?
AH: That means she’s got a big heart but has small legs….Big heart.
Amber laughs her big southern laugh
AH: I don’t know—I feel lucky. That’s what it is I feel very lucky and very rich. One of my friends came over to my house and said “It’s nice to see your home because I never had that, I went from being nothing to being something, overnight” And my friend has had a great amount of success, right? Commercial success.
LF: Financial, yeah.
AH: When he said that to me, it was the first time I thought for even a second that I wasn’t rich because he was making a comment on how wonderful it is to be…in between. I’m not living perhaps the way I was raised, which was, you know, with very very very little extra anything but not once, Lizzie did I realize until my friend said that? That I wasn’t…
LF: You always felt rich?
AH: Oh in a lot of ways. I felt rich when I was literally figuring out how much I could spend on food and how much I could spend on gas. And even then, because of the exciting amount of travel I get to do, the people I get to meet, because of the friends I get to make…not once in the entire time I’ve lived in LA have I felt I was…not lucky.
Amber pauses again contemplating
AH: So perhaps feeling undeserved of such luck, because I don’t feel like I own it ya know? I just want to share it with people. And not speaking in metaphors… It doesn’t matter how much success you have, if you celebrate it alone, what’s the point? You can’t! You can’t celebrate it alone.
LF: That’s so true, I learn from you…
LF: When did you know you were gonna leave?
AH: Texas? Oh, maybe two days after I was born! My mom said, ‘If it had wheels, you found a way to abuse it.’
LF: You were always on the go?
AH: Yeah. same with horses. I quickly went from not being able to stay on a horse to riding any horse, even a rodeo horse that grown men were scared to ride. Put me on it and I’d figure out a way to get it over the fence.
LF: And do you remember the specific event where you were like, “I’m out of here”?
AH: Well I got my driver license, I had been driving already anyways. Any country kid knows you don’t wait.
LF: For a License?
LF: Where did you go first?
AH: At 16, I went to NY to see some modeling agents who said they would meet me.
LF: Did you send them pictures from Austin?
AH: Mm hm.
LF: Do you still have those pictures? Are they awesome?
AH: I can guarantee they’re the opposite of awesome!!
LF: When you got to NY and saw that city for the first time, were you terrified or exhilarated?
AH: It was like seeing the woman in the hijab all over again times a thousand.
LF: Were you by yourself?
AH: Yeah, I got lost. I stayed in a cheap midtown motel and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Every moment from that moment on I was different. I had no interest in modeling, in fact I hated it. And the only work that I could really sustain was fit modeling.
LF: What is that?
AH: That’s when a designer builds clothes on your frame. So you don’t have to deal with the photographers. I was able to make money while standing there …I was very opinionated. I hated it, but I loved being in NY and loved the freedom.
LF: So at sixteen, you go into NYC for the first time and you sneak out of the hotel and go to a bar. Do you remember what you were wearing?
AH: I do remember exactly what I was wearing, and it was the nicest outfit I had ever worn in my life and I wore it every day that I was there.
LF: What was it?
AH: It was this purple tie-dye silk really short skirt that I bought from Nordstrom’s for sixty dollars and it was the nicest thing I’d ever purchased.
LF: That’s awesome. Were you wearing Keds or Cowboy boots?
AH: Oh god, neither!!! I have this picture from when I went back for a bit to go to my friend’s prom. There are six girls in the most conservative dresses in the world and then me. I made my dress! And it’s clear that I just didn’t belong.
LF: You don’t have any aspiration, ever, to be with the popular, the pretty, the powerful? Most girls, ya know, wanna belong
AH: No, I never felt like I belonged there and it’s never been important to me really.
LF: Alright another quality that I think you are that people do not know is you are fucking funny!
LF: You’re silly and always goofy. Is it frustrating when people portray you so seriously?
AH: Okay do you know that movie – I’m gonna get really heady here – You know me I’m a high thinker..
LF: Don’t get heady.
AH: I’m going to. You know that Chris Rock movie?
LF: I don’t know which one you’re talking about.
AH: It’s a remake of a really old movie, where he dies, and they’ve accidentally taken him too early.
LF: Heaven Can Wait?
AH: Yes! It’s like the best movie –
LF: You haven’t seen the original?
AH: I haven’t.
LF: With Warren Beatty and Julie Christie? It’s fantastic.
AH: I haven’t. So the angel or whatever is showing Chris Rock around looking for a new body to put him in and he points to this really handsome buff guy who’s about to have a heart attack and says ‘Hey what about this?’ Anybody would see Chris Rock and see this buff guy and say, ‘Ah yes I’ll take it.’ But Chris’ character was like, ‘No way! Are you kidding me man? No one’s going to laugh at this guy. No one’s going to laugh at a guy they think is gonna kick their ass.’ It’s really really interesting.
LF: It stuck with you. Tears come to your eyes.
AH: Not quite. But they did when I realized years later that I was invoking the movie in an interview…that’s when the tears come out.
AH: All of my jokes are really really offensive ones that I could never be on record saying.
Amber pauses and then gets a twinkle in her eye.
AH: The blonde runs home and tells her red-headed sister that, after wild intercourse,….Ughh I already fucked it up.
LF: I think the whiskey is getting to us!!
AH: Oh! I know. The red head tells her sister, ‘I slept with a Brazilian!’ And the blonde goes, ‘Oh my god! Wait, how many is a brazilian?’
LF: That is the worst. I swear you’re funny though. We didn’t talk about art at all.
AH: Oh fuck. Right.
LF: If you could own any piece of art what would it be? Let’s say this guy was like, ‘I want to give you any gift in the world, what would it be?
AH: It would be Leonore Fini’s first sphinx foil. Her first attempt at creating what she thought was a representation of the eternal defiant woman. The woman who wasn’t even bound by being a woman. It’s omnipotent and kind of alien and…outside of time.
LF: Are you doing art right now? Are you making art?
AH: I am.
LF: What are you doing?
AH: I just finished an oil for my mom. Actually it’s not oil, It’s ink and watercolor and a bit of acrylic. I’m not happy about it. But my mom cried when I gave it to her, and that meant the world to me. Do you wanna see a picture of it?
LF: Ooh. I love it.
LF: What film projects are you working on now?
AH: At the moment I’m filming When I Live My Life Over Again, written and directed by Robert Edwards. It is a kind of coming of age character piece. It’s a drama about a woman who is forced to reconnect with her past and her father in order to put together the pieces of her broken life. Its an unusual character for me in that its finally a chance for me to live in the skin of a character who is completely independent and unrestricted by how she looks. Jude is a complex and flawed woman who undergoes real growth and change within the story. Its one of the most challenging and rewarding roles that I have ever been given the opportunity to take on.
LF: When you are working do you need to stay in character after you leave set or can you come back to the real world?
AH: When I’m working on a project I tend to carry the character home with me in some way. There is always a piece of that character that never quite washes out. Depends on the roll of course.
LF: I feel like you always have so much going on…you are an activist, travel often, and have tons of friends and family..how do you deal with distractions when you are working?
AH: When I’m making a movie there is really no time for anything else. As you may have noticed by how long it has taken me to answer these questions, as you emailed me them a millennia ago. Because of the distant locations and incredibly long work hours (on this movie I have yet to see a day shorter than 14 or 15 hours). It actually helps to not be able to be distracted I guess.
LF: I get that…..Let’s end on this. If you could live an ideal life what would it look like?
AH: I am a huge Mark Twain fan, you knew that right?
LF: No, but I am not surprised.
AH: I will show you some of his books in my library later…but I will paraphrase here.. “Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life”