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Amber Heard On Singing On Screen, Turning 30, And Leaving Vanity Behind

“I have been ready to not wear makeup since the beginning”

by Nicole Pajer

In One More Time, Amber Heard plays Jude, an aimless musician with loads of talent but very little discipline, who heads to the Hamptons to reconnect with her father, a past-his-prime crooner played by the almighty Christopher Walken. In real life, Heard is the opposite of her character, a wildly ambitious and principled woman who has managed to escape the kind of Hollywood typecasting that usually comes with her brand of bombshell looks. Despite her lack of musical background, Heard jumped at the chance to play the pink-haired Jude, the type of flawed and layered character that the 29-year-old Heard—who earlier in her career had been relegated to playing the girlfriend—increasingly thirsts for. We spoke to the very opinionated actress about her famous husband, how she worked tirelessly to become a singer, leaving vanity behind, her upcoming role in DC's superhero blowout Justice League: Part One, and why she can't wait to turn 30.

What attracted you to the role of Jude?

I was attracted to the humanity I often see women allowed to portray in characters. I liked that this character was allowed to be flawed; was allowed to have kind of the edges of delicate nuance that we recognize in real life but rarely see in female characters, unfortunately.

Going into this, what was your background with singing?

Going into this, I had no experience. I’d never sang before, other than to torture my friends on their birthdays with a very high-volume, special rendition of “Happy Birthday” left on their voicemails once a year.

Were you scared when this opportunity came up?

I was terrified if anything to let them down. The liberating and fun part was not having the burden of being worried about how good I was. I was liberated from that fear that I never seemingly come out from under when I’m acting. I wasn’t afraid of being a bad singer, as you could tell from my movie. I’m not afraid of what people think of me as a singer. It was the opposite of being afraid in some ways.

Did you take any vocal lessons?

To prepare for this role, I studied a lot. I went to vocal lessons. I went to music lessons, learned how to read music, learned the basics on guitar, took piano lessons.

Did you get any tips from your rocker husband?

[Laughs] He did help me with the guitar. I’ll say that.

What type of music are you listening to these days? What bands are you into?

I have a very broad taste in music, so I kind of go all over the place with what I listen to. These days I’ve kind of been into a bit of a throwback soul and blues sort of phase. I’ve been listening to a lot of The Isley Brothers, O’Jays, and Gloria Ann Taylor. And a lot of country... I have a soft spot for old country in particular. And Terry Reid. Terry Reid is the most recently played.

Was there a specific singer you were trying to channel when you were portraying Jude?

I was listening to a few artists in particular while I was making that. But Jude herself, as a character, is an amalgam of a few different women I know, some musicians and some not. She’s a patchwork of a few of my closest people. But while I was working on this movie, I was listening to a lot of Nancy Sinatra. I was listening to Cat Power. I always make playlists when I do a movie or make a character.

Just to get you in that mindset?

Yeah! To kind of put you in that space. Especially if your character is a musician, it’s very important. But all my characters have had a musical kind of quality to them, at least in how I imagined them.

What was it like working with Christopher Walken? You guys had some really fun scenes where you got to banter back and forth.

Christopher is a funny guy. He’s Christopher Walken. I got through to him by showing him YouTube clips he hadn’t seen. He hadn’t seen anything on YouTube! I had the distinct pleasure of being the first to show him things like “Acid Lizard” and “Hide Your Kids, Hide Your Wife,” and “Double Rainbow” stuff. I have a video of him watching these videos for the first time, which I’ll never forget.

You had some fun pink hair for this role. Did you actually dye it or was that a wig?

That was a wig, actually.

Was it fun to have pink hair for a while?

That character, I just knew what she looked like forever. When I read the script, I told Robert Edwards, the director, who is so confident and not afraid to let the actor create their character. He gave me full control over her. When I first met him, I said, “I have a vision of how she would look. I feel like I know Jude.” And I was lucky to have a director who respected that and let me do my thing.

In this day and age, it is so easy for everyone to clip on bangs or throw on a wig. But is there something that you haven’t done to your look that you would secretly like to do, if it weren’t for the fact that you’d maybe piss off an occasional casting director?

I’d like to play a person who’s not defined by nor limited by being young-ish. They’re a woman and they’re empowered. It’s not about my look. I’d just like to not be defined by it or limited by it. Those two go hand in hand. I guess that would be the better answer. I think a more succinct way to answer that question is, I would like to not do anything to my look. I would like to rather just be able to have the freedom to play nuanced characters that are not defined nor limited by how they look. How you look is how you look.

Does that mean you’re ready to do like a Jennifer-Aniston-in-Cake, no makeup kind of thing?

It should not be a thing, a gimmick, a tool, a mechanism that we try to use to somehow get a role where men are allowed to have the opportunity to do so regardless. There are exceptions. There are a few men that are playing characters that are defined by their “manliness” or whatever. And we all know who those are. But chances are, if we can think of a guy who’s doing “those roles,” they won’t be limited to those forever, and as soon as lines start to show up around their face, they won’t be limited to just doing a certain kind of role or not working at all. I wish it wasn’t a “thing” for a woman to decide to be ready to not wear makeup. To answer your question, I would love to do that. I have been ready to not wear makeup since the beginning. I have been trying to do just that, which is one of the reasons I really loved this character and this job in particular. Other than that first sequence, I wear no makeup in the film. And I went from that film to shoot The Adderall Diaries, which I also have coming out this month. And in The Adderall Diaries, I wear no makeup in that film as well. I think there’s maybe like two sequences where I even have some sort of lip tint on, but that’s it. And then the film I’m making right now, I wear no makeup at all in it. So am I ready for that? I think so!

I’d like to see casting directors, filmmakers, writers, and producers push themselves the way that actors are saying that they’d like to be pushed. I believe we’re ready for women who are not just either beautiful or something else. We’d like to see women who are complex and nuanced and layered the way that male characters are allowed to be. And maybe they’re attractive, but they’re not defined by that attractiveness. And I hate seeing female characters be defined that way. I think it’s pedantic to assume that we need to cater to that sort of archaic notion that physical attractiveness is somehow indicative of intelligence or maturity or strength or vulnerability. The list goes on—name any adjective. I would like to see casting directors stop playing into that notion that women have to pick one or the other in order to play characters.

Jude was struggling to make it in the music industry and to find herself in this film. Did that remind you of your early days of trying to make it as an actress?

I think the two businesses are very similar. And trying to define yourself against what is expected of you and what is asked of you, yeah, I can relate to that for sure.

Are you excited to play Mera in Justice League and Aquaman? Can you tell us anything about it?

I can’t really say anything about it, I don’t think.

Last we heard you were kind of working on your costume.

We are! We are making it. It’s beautiful.

What is it about that role that enticed you?

I’ve always been attracted to badass women and strong female characters. And I’m excited. I’m always most excited to play the badass ones.

Have you put together your playlist for her yet?

I am starting to! Yeah! I just started to. So far it’s got a lot of The Kills. What else do I have on there? I have The Kills, Mississippi John Hurt, Iggy Pop, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and David Bowie. It’s coming along!

Are you excited to join the DC world? Did you ever think you’d hop into that sphere?

I’m excited anytime I see a production that’s happening, any time I see movement and momentum behind people, behind a script or story that features and isn’t afraid of strong women.

There have been some negative reviews on Batman v Superman. Do you think that’s affected the perception on the DC superhero movie-verse at all? 

Oh no, I don’t think so. I don’t think it will affect anything. It’s popular. It’s not affecting how many people go watch it and people are seeing it still so I don’t know.

You’re turning the big 3-0 soon. Do you feel like you’ve gotten everything out of your system that you wanted to do before you hit that milestone?

[Laughs] No! I have certainly lived. I’ve certainly been a participant in these first few decades of my life. And I do not plan on slowing down or stopping. I plan on continuing to evolve and change. And as I get older, I do so with the earned perspective of that which I have now been able to acquire; this beautiful perspective that now I have and I will continue to gain as I climb up. I’m excited about what’s to come and I don't plan on ever looking at my life and thinking, “Yeah, I’ve done enough. I’ve tried enough things. I’ve seen enough places.” I’m going to keep going.

Please don’t tell me that you’re going to be one of those people that’s like, “Oh, I’m old now.”

That’s a sad thing! I don’t believe that to be. I’m certainly not one of those people and I don’t believe that women should look at an age of say, 30, (as old) when there’s so much life that we have to live yet. So I have even more with which I can appreciate and understand my life. I’m so glad I won't be in my 20s anymore, soon. I will be very, very, very happy to be in my 30s. I feel younger now than I did five years ago.

I’m in my 30s too and I have so many friends say, “Oh, I’m old. I can’t go out,” and I’m like, “You’re going to live for at least 60 more years. Are you going to spend the next 60 years of your life saying that you’re old? Because you’re only 30.”

If we start saying that at 30, when our generation is likely to live into our 90s on average, then like you said, that’s committing to spending 60 years of your life complaining! I’m nowhere near that. I plan to have fun and continue to do so even better now. I think the more I learn and the more I live, the more I appreciate my life and the more I have with which I can appreciate it.

You sounded great in the film. I think you’re ready to hop onstage with your husband’s band soon.

Yeah, maybe! I don’t know how they feel about that, but yeah!

At least for one song? They bring guest people onstage, don’t they?

But then I can’t watch it! I wouldn’t give up my seat in the house watching him for the world.

One More Time will be released on DVD on June 7.