The young woman in the red dress wants the corner seat facing the road. It’s the seat the guy usually takes in case, you know, a car comes barreling through this small brasserie near Los Angeles’ Hancock Park. That way, the guy, presumably heroic, can see it coming and protect the woman. But she’s already seated and ordering a coffee, black, and I’m ordering a glass of champagne. The waiter mixes up the orders because the woman in the corner seat is blonde and beautiful with wintergreen eyes, and I’m a guy. My companion highfives me to celebrate the flub. She enjoys causing glitches in the social matrix.
Now that gendernormative roles have been done away with, actor Amber Heard feels at liberty to order a chocolate chip cookie, and very quickly gets down to the business of plugging her two upcoming films: Paranoia, a corporate espionage thriller in which she plays a businesswoman and Yale alumna—“It’s an interesting story about our new proficiency in, and dependency on, technology and how that’s confronted by old business”—and Robert Rodriguez’s Machete Kills, in which she plays Miss San Antonio, a woman with a penchant for blazing guns and seduction. The enormous disparity between the two characters is not lost on Heard, nor is the fact that they both land well outside the spectrum of typical “damsel in distress” roles for female actors in action films and thrillers. “At the end of the day I’m playing romantic leads,” she says, “but I’m trying to work with people who aren’t afraid of taking risks, challenging norms, and collaborating with me as an artist. I have something more to offer than the superficial stuff. When my agents go through the initial filtering process, I’ve asked them to always put scripts that don’t have the first descriptor of the character as ‘beautiful,’ ‘sexy,’ or ‘hot’ at the top of the pile.”
That’s not to say Heard doesn’t pack heat—in fact, the 27-year-old Austin, Texas, native owns a .357 Magnum. “I was raised around guns,” she says. “It’s not taboo where I come from.” As fate would have it, Machete Kills—as well as her earlier movies Friday Night Lights and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane—was filmed in her hometown. While still in her teens, Heard rejected the Catholic religion into which she was born, dropped out of high school, and “escaped” Austin to pursue acting in New York and then Hollywood. But don’t call her a “wild child.”
“‘Wild’ has a negative connotation to me. It recalls a Lohantype approach to life,” she says, breaking off a piece of her cookie. “My embarking on a journey to question a religious system, to demand or beg for answers, is, in and of itself, wild, but for me, it seems morally and intellectually imperative. I’ve always acted in what I thought was the best way possible.”
Heard can’t seem to curb her candor—she publicly declared her bisexuality at a GLAAD event in 2010—a trait that’s landed her in trouble with her agents, whom she calls “the adults in my life.” That frankness, along with her refusal to discuss her blossoming relationship with actor-superstar Johnny Depp, probably explains why she’s taken a media hiatus over the past couple of years. When I bring up Depp’s private Caribbean island, where he supposedly replicated the bar featured in The Rum Diary (the two met four years ago on the set of the Hunter S. Thompson–based film), she signals for me to cut it out with a pantomimed thumb-knife to the neck. “The island…” she says, pausing, before landing on a judicious way to phrase her thought, “is my private life.”
She will, however, talk about the disaster that was The Playboy Club, an illadvised NBC series that received rancor from feminist activist Gloria Steinem, who encouraged audiences to boycott the show. “I was very much a fan of Hugh Hefner from that era,” Heard says. “He was challenging preconceived notions of what gender roles were meant to be, what they could be, and what role sexuality played in the game of power. For instance, does someone being seen as sexual have more or less power? This show was meant to raise that question.” Heard faced considerable heat for defending the show and risked being labeled a hypocrite. “I became the show’s default, unintentional spokesperson, which I wasn’t capable of doing,” she says. “I wasn’t the show’s creator. I was stuck in front of the press and left to defend The Playboy Club when, in fact, I can’t stand for the integrity of the show. I wasn’t in control of it by any means. The pilot was well-written and creative historical fiction. It was meant to be a fun narrative about a group of young women in a very volatile and revolutionary moment.”
The Playboy Club was set in 1961, one year before the Rolling Stones formed. It’s worth noting, then, that in May Heard was photographed at a Stones concert in L.A., and later that night, at a dinner with Depp and Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards. She won’t comment specifically on the evening, other than to say that the Stones are one of her favorite bands. “There are surreal parts to my life,” she says, finishing her cookie. “It’s continually surprising, and when it stops surprising me, I’ll be dead.”
Photography by Harper Smith. Styling by Jessica Bobince.
The Wild issue, out now at The Bullet Shop!