Interview: Never Back Down's Amber Heard

Amber Heard is not your average up and coming Hollywood starlet. She’s a hardworking former Catholic schoolgirl with major ambition and smarts to spare. Despite a long night shooting Nelson McCormick’s remake of The Stepfather, Amber arrived for her interrogation awake, full of pep, and totally done up in heavy make up and upswept hair. She is from Texas after all.

Heard never had any doubt that she would succeed in the movie business. Though this “I told you so” braggadocio can be thoroughly grating from any number of pop tarts, Amber is so charmingly assertive it makes perfect sense that she has scrambled to the top of the bright young heap. The number of projects Heard has coming out in 2008 attest to that. In the following interview, Amber discusses her character, the ultimate message of the film, working with the late Brad Renfro, and almost becoming “that girl” in high school.

Are you working on anything right now?

Oh, you know it! I worked until 9 this morning. I’m on nightshoots on a film called The Stepfather.

That’s a remake of The Stepfather from 1987?

I wouldn’t know, I haven’t been alive that long.

Terry O’Quinn from Lost, he was the original stepfather.

Yeah he has a cameo or small role in the film. The director wanted him to be the in it for a small appearance.

Who’s playing the Stepfather?

It’s Dylan Walsh from Nip/Tuck. The director is Nelson McCormick.

And you’re the stepdaughter?

I’m actually the girlfriend of the stepson, who is played by Penn Badgley.

They had you working that late and you’re on the junket circle today?

I think there’s a part when you sign your soul to the devil and start working in Los Angeles that you also sign away that you could be a human being in anyone’s eye. You’re like a robot!

Is that how you feel, that you’ve sold your soul to the devil?

Absolutely not. I don’t believe in the devil so that would be difficult.

So you took a pretty flat role and made a real character out of it with motivations. You must be getting good at this!

You wait until some of my films come out. It’s funny because I do get a bunch of these roles and as a young woman In Hollywood you tend to get these girlfriend easier than one could imagine. I get them every day and I won’t take a bad film, one that doesn’t make me feel good when I fall asleep at night. But that being said, you do look at a character and sometimes it could never be anything more than 2 dimensional but in this case I play Baja Miller. I play a young girl in high school. There was a certain amount of truth Chris Hauty put into the subtext and back-story that made it easy to build a 3-d character out of the script.

It definitely came across in the film.

Everyone knew that girl in high school and in some cases you were that girl in high school. It’s difficult because we all knew that girl and it’s very important for me as an artist to imitate life with a sense of truth, story, and meaning. I’m not just in it for laughs and entertainment. When you take a script like this, it has a really strong message without putting it out aggressively.

What do you feel is the message of the film?

I think Baja Miller, my character, is a young girl who starts off as insecure and unsure of herself. Maybe even unintelligent, or so one would think. In Baja’s first scene she pretends to not know the answer to a question in class that she knows very well. It serves as mirror to society; I think a very strong one. Young women from a very young age are taught that life will be easier if you can just turn on the charming smile and say very little and be complacent and docile and sweet. Sweet is what women go for these days in high school. I did, I felt that pressure. Thank god that I escaped high school and that whole thing but it is very important to address the issue because these young women might never even notice it. As you see in the film, it’s very accurate. I think it’s very organic.

Where was high school for you?

Austin, Texas.

How does the character of Baja represent high school girls?

Baja Miller is the vehicle of this insecurity. She’s afraid to even be smart. One would think it’s just her character flaw but it’s not. It’s the mirror to society that she represents. She represents all of these young women who are just afraid that boys won’t like them in they compete with them, if they’re intelligence, if they’re a challenge. We’re told to shut up and smile and it works. I guess it makes life easier and she takes that path at the beginning, which is why she’s dating Ryan (Cam Gigandet), the quintessential bad guy. She’s just that girl who took that path to make her easier, easy to be popular, easy to shut up and smile. Then she meets Jake (Sean Faris) and he’s everything she doesn’t necessarily want and he really challenges her. They both have beautiful character arcs and they both carry each other to different places in the script than where they started.

You say that you escaped that world. How did you escape? Were you about to become “that girl”, like Baja?

I think I’ve always had a certain amount of skepticism of this whole “shut up and smile” theory. I haven’t ever swallowed that pill so easily, although I tried. I think every girl has at that point because the pressure that society puts on you is intense. I’m not talking about to be thin like models in magazines. That’s such an easy thing that people always relate to it. It’s much deeper than that. It’s that moment in class when you know the answer and you’re afraid to raise your hand. I used to be very interested in the history of women’s rights in this country and in other countries. I tried to learn as much as I could about it and more than anything I would be called gay. It was phenomenal. But if a boy has something to say he is appreciated, he’s even popular. If a girl says something it’s instantly a threat. We just want bys to like us and be accepted by society. It’s pitiful.

Your character is there at almost every fight in the movie. What was that like on set? Exciting?

What people don’t understand is that films are so technical behind camera. It was planned out to the second. Every detail was planned out and choreographed so well that it was hard to get excited. It was done to such precision. We worked all night long, 14 hours night in Orlando, Florida during the summer. I don’t recommend it.

Do you have a lot of sex scenes in the upcoming Brian Easton Ellis adaptation The Informers like in the novel?

Yes I do. It’s a tough novel. Sex scenes are hard to do.

Did you get to know Brad Renfro on set of that film?

Of course I did. He was an amazing person and a very talented artist. One has a lot of respect for those qualities that are kind of rare. The things that tormented him and caused his passing exist everywhere in reality. You go down to the street here in Beverly Hills and there’s somebody affected in the same way, by substance or escapism. It was sad though because he was an artist and he put himself in the public eye and he’s going to be scrutinzed. People are going to look at him and say that the industry did this or the drugs or whatever and young people are this way. It’s not just young people. It’s not old people, it’s not only actors. It’s everybody. Everybdody knows somebody with a problem.