Photo: James White/ Corbis Outline
THE RUM DIARY written and directed by Bruce Robinson, based on the novel by Hunter S. Thompson, with Johnny Depp, Michael Rispoli, Aaron Eckhart and Amber Heard. An eOne Films release. 119 minutes. Opens Friday (October 28). For venues and times, see Movies.
Amber Heard just wasn't made for these times.
But there's something about her that reaches back to an earlier era. Her style is straight out of the early 1960s; her attitude and poise recall the young Grace Kelly. And she makes it work.
"I have a certain quality to me," says Heard on a crackly cellphone connection from Los Angeles. "I wear all vintage clothing. I drive a vintage car. I still listen to music on vinyl. I don't know why, but in my personal life I tend to exist very much in the 60s. And life imitates art; I've found myself living in the 60s professionally for about three years now. It's kinda nice."
Heard's latest film, The Rum Diary, makes the most of her retro vibe by casting her as Chenault, a self-aware temptress for whom Johnny Depp's booze-soaked journalist falls hard in 1960 Puerto Rico.
For the film - an adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's semi-autobiographical novel - director Bruce Robinson dressed Heard in a meticulous period wardrobe, but it's the decade itself that best suits her.
"It fits me," she says. "It's appropriate. And for The Rum Diary I did make certain choices to hearken back to these old 50s and 60s movie stars in order to do justice to my character, who's the embodiment of the archetype. [She's] the woman of that era in many ways."
The enigmatic Chenault is a rare passive role for Heard. We're more used to seeing her characters drive the plot - sometimes literally, as in her wheel-spinning turn opposite Nicolas Cage in Drive Angry earlier this year. She's a hell of a lot of fun in that movie, although she acknowledges that the details of her performance were lost on some.
"I actually did create a character with Drive Angry," she laughs. "People might not be able to see that because I'm wearing Daisy Dukes, but that's due to their incompetence at being able to distinguish a female character beyond the fact that she might be sexy. And if they stop at sexy, then that's their problem, you know?"
It wouldn't be fair to say Heard has had to struggle against her looks, but she's certainly resisted the temptation to coast on them. Don't expect her to turn up in Transformers 4, no matter how much money they wave at her.
Instead, she's taken on a lot of modestly budgeted suspense and thriller projects because she believes those films allow for stronger characters than mainstream comedies or dramas. And she has a point.
Her big-screen breakthrough, Jonathan Levine's ingenious All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, uses her as the ultimate Final Girl in a subversion of slasher-movie tropes. John Carpenter cast her in The Ward as a troubled young woman rallying her fellow inmates in a 1964 mental asylum. The little-seen remake of And Soon The Darkness offered Heard the chance to play an action hero, a young American tourist looking for her abducted friend in Argentina.
"I want to create characters and tell a story [at this stage] in my life, and I'm saddened by the lack of opportunity to do that," she says. "In Hollywood it's almost as if women are treated like any other minority class. We're represented in very two-dimensional terms. I guess when 99 per cent of filmmakers are male, stories are going to be told through certain eyes. You know, there's so much potential there, and I'm saddened that there's such a lack of opportunity.
"So in movies like And Soon The Darkness, I seized upon the chance to play a character who does something. I work with artists like John Carpenter because I like genre movies, and I was excited to work with a filmmaker who could direct strong women. And I also got the opportunity to do something in The Ward - fight a ghost, fight myself, run from a killer or be the killer. These roles go beyond how you look in a bathing suit."
Heard's just as committed in her personal life. She turned heads late last year when she attended GLAAD's 25th anniversary party with her girlfriend, the photographer Tasya van Ree. It was the couple's first public appearance.
"I personally think that if you deny or hide something, you're inadvertently admitting it's wrong," she said in an interview about coming out on the website AfterEllen.com. "I don't feel like I'm wrong."
Being out and outspoken was one thing; signing onto the NBC series The Playboy Club was something else.
Heard's association with the just-cancelled show - which plumbed the lives of the women working as bunnies at Hugh Hefner's sexed-up nightclub in the early 60s - seems at odds with her dynamic feminism.
"I wanted to work on a show that was character-driven and had a complex, female-driven cast because that's rare," Heard stresses. "My character had a lot of potential and a lot to work against. I relate very much to being someone who is perceived to be something at a superficial level but is quite opposite on the inside. I wanted to tell that story."
The show was cancelled just three episodes in, but Heard is proud of the time she spent on it and happy with the experience.
"As a woman, you have to fight tooth and nail to get a [developed] character out of a normal script. For that reason, I viewed a project like The Playboy Club with a certain hope and interest. It was a female-driven character drama on a network show aimed to premiere in prime time. As a woman, I'm interested in changing perceptions and minds and challenging standards and norms, and that's exactly what these women were doing at that time.
"The fact that I'm trying to challenge many of the same standards [that existed in the 60s] is ironic and interesting and exciting to me. It's part of why I wanted work on a project that set out to ruffle feathers."