In the film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary, the first time that Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) meets Chenault, while out in a tiny paddle boat, he believes her to be a mermaid. Though she quickly corrects him and explains that she’s actually from Connecticut, that doesn’t put an end to his mystification. She ends up almost haunting him, as he views her as the perfect woman and, even worse, one that is out of her reach. When casting for a character like that, who better to bring in than Amber Heard?
I recently had the chance to sit down one-on-one with the actress to talk about her new film, which arrives in theaters this weekend. Check out our conversation below, in which she talks about her connection to the novel, Chenault’s struggle within the gilded cage, and the relationship both between her character and Paul Kemp and Sanderson, played by Aaron Eckhart.
Bruce Robinson was talking about how he brought you in four times to audition for the part. And I'm curious, could you talk about that experience from the other side?
Well, luckily I don't think our bodies are designed to remember what their pain felt like [laughs]. And that's a good thing because it was grueling. It was grueling. But I'd probably never go on another audition if I could remember how much that hurt. Just every time, y'know, the nerves... It's nerve-wracking. It was incredibly stressful but I'm so, so happy I did it.
Before going into the audition you were familiar with the book?
Was it something that you revisited after you got the part?
Oh yeah. Many times. I read the book five times on set.
And what did you take out of it with each reading, for the character?
I love this book, y'know the thing I love most about it is it has heart, real heart. An earnest coming of age story in a sense, a struggle between two fundamental and timeless ideals. One's a society we continue to mull over for a long, long time, and it's an ageless timeless tale of truth and beauty and the heart of the opposite of that. And I think that's what makes The Rum Diary so special. It's earnest. It's sweet.
This project was really a passion project for Johnny Depp, he's been working to make this for years. I remember years ago the cast list had names like Josh Hartnett and Nick Nolte. And I'm curious, do you have anything like that that you'd be really passionate to be a part of?
Oh. That's a good question. Yes, I do, I have certain books that I would love to see made into movies and I hopefully will have the ability one day to do that and make that come to life.
Is there anything in particular?
Not that I can talk about...
Because I am trying to develop projects for myself.
Very cool. Producing? Writing?
Yeah. Thank you! Yeah, we'll see. [laughs] I mean, it could be a disaster.
No, come on, you're talented!
Ehh, it's a relative term, “disaster”.
Just to talk about the character a bit- one thing that I find curious about Chenault is that when she first meets Paul Kemp in the water there's almost an instant attraction, a seduction between the characters. Do you think that was special for him? Or do you think that's kind of her nature, that's something that she kind of invites?
That's a good question. I think that it has to be an instant love, because it's... look at him, it's Johnny Depp, I mean it's also Paul Kemp, but I think that's an obvious thing, and I think there's an instant attraction. We're not talking about two people that would not be attracted to each other. They're very, from the beginning, drawn to one another. I think later she learns what he represents and her fall from grace is a dramatic one, but one that ultimately has to happen. So the ties are severed and the cord is cut and she falls away from this lifestyle that she was so much a part of at one point. And truly, whether you call it that she was a victim to it or owned doesn't matter. She was like, any other part of that dream, of that facade of what the American dream is... the corvette, the bedazzled turtle... and that's her. Just another one of those commodities. And she falls for the opposite of that. She falls for the antithesis of Sanderson. It's Johnny Depp. And we kind of take that journey with her.
Obviously Sanderson is kind of, well he's really the antagonist of the piece. He is dealing in some shady dealings... what do you think- first off, what do you think it was that initially attracted a character to him? And what do you think changed in her over time?
Well, I think it's important to remember that she is, well she says she comes from Connecticut. She knows people when they're walking through Puerto Rico, even when they're passing the yachts she knows all the families. This is a girl that grew up in high society, a member of the elite class, and was raised, you know, by a rich father to marry a rich man, and continue the cycle of the elite. I think that she was trained very much and resembles the archetype of what that woman is. She's the archetype of the leading lady, she's the ultimate symbol of the American dream. And so she's not so much in love with Sanderson, rather than she just assumes that she should be with him. And that's why she just shrugs him off. She's a rebel and a free spirit and is fighting against the constraints. The constraints are gold bracelets and she's not so ready to get rid of them until she has her fall from grace. And then she's ready and she severs ties in a dramatic way, and then she finds herself falling hopelessly in love with the artist.
So would you call it a gilded cage?
Yes. They're gold bracelets. They're handcuffs, but they're gold [laughs].
I'm also curious about the production itself. Few movies are filming in Los Angeles but I suppose even fewer are filming in Puerto Rico. So I'm wondering, how was that experience?
Filming in Puerto Rico was amazing, because Puerto Rico's such an important character in our story. The dichotomy of the Puerto Rican society, the duality that exists there and existed even stronger... I think that's an important element, and it helped shape the opinion of Hunter S. Thompson, who wrote this. It helped create a very textured platform which our story can play out. And I don't think The Rum Diary would have been written without the setting that Puerto Rico offers organically, which is this intense duality, which is much of what The Rum Diary is about. It's commerce and greed vs. honesty and poverty. You know, it's a struggle between art and commerce. And it very much mirrors the duality of Puerto Rico itself.
Absolutely. And do you think the movie would have been as effective if you had just made it on a soundstage here in Los Angeles?
No, of course not. You couldn't see the Puerto Rican air blowing our hair around, and you can almost smell the food. It's such... it's just such a great, colorful place.
And even beyond the set, did you get a lot of time to kind of absorb the culture?
Yeah, of course. I spent a lot of time there and fell in love with old San Juan.
Have you been back?
No. It's a small place. I probably won't go back for a while, unless I have some time to really explore.
Bruce Robinson hasn't made a film in almost two decades. What was the experience working with him, and did he give you a lot of freedom to- well you mentioned that you got a lot from your readings of the book, and I'm curious if he allowed you to collaborate.
Of course. Bruce is an artist and appreciates other artists. He does his thing and he lets you do your thing. And its drunken madness, and we'd have it no other way [laughs].
NJ native who calls LA home; lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran; endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.
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