It’s morning in Los Angeles and the smell of freshly brewed coffee and hot bacon wafts from the kitchen of a Larchmont Village café to the patio outside. The pale relief of a waning moon remains visible in the diffuse light of a low-lying sun. The steadily rising heat ushers through the neighborhood’s residential corridors accompanied by a mild but tenable wind. In the near distance, palm trees, several stories high, most planted nearly a century earlier, wag in a sky the color of Caribbean surf — an almost transparent blue speckled with clouds of white spume. Street-side, the spasmodic current of cars passing at different speeds resembles the requisite soundtrack of languidly crashing waves.
A convertible BMW pulls hastily to the curb and Amber Heard steps comfortably out into the idyllic urbanism. Vigorously youthful, casually composed, and perfectly blonde, she could very well be mistaken for the quintessential Angeleno. In many ways she is, in that she is not from here at all. Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Heard dropped out of high school at the age of sixteen and first headed east, motivated not by an intense desire for the big screen, but by a pronounced aversion to the rigid Catholicism of her high school. “I went straight to New York and traveled around from that point on as much as I could,” she explains. “I tried to work as a model because it was a quick way to earn a buck and thereby gain what I thought at the time was my independence, which is all I wanted basically since the time I could walk. The closest thing to that, at sixteen years old, was possibly earning enough so that I didn’t have to call home.”
Fortunately forsaking the life of a model, Heard rather quickly earned a series of small rolls in films such as Friday Night Lights, North Country, and Alpha Dog, leading to a brief stint in television (Hidden Palms), and later, prominent roles in Never Back Down and Seth Rogan’s paean to pot, Pineapple Express. Now a formidable actress firmly planted in La La Land, Heard assesses both career and life from a unique vantage, as an active member of the Hollywood elite and yet a careful assessor of its opportunities and lifestyle. Unlike other actresses of her age, she owns no television, rarely hits the club circuit, doesn’t bandstand for the paparazzi, and moderately despises voyeur-media and reality television.
“A movie star used to be synonymous with celebrity,” says Heard, “but now its not, they’re two different things completely. Being a celebrity now in no way, shape, or form signifies talent or even having a job. It’s not even indicative of having a career. The people that buy into those gossip magazines and the people that read them or blog about them are buying into this completely cheapened industry. The people that desire that type of celebrity for themselves, the people that go and put themselves on reality TV shows, for instance—I look at them and feel a tinge of sympathy for someone that values themselves so little. It’s embarrassing. It embodies everything that I want to try and avoid as an artist, as a person with a semi-functioning brain.”
Indicative of Heard’s functioning cortex are several projects of critical interest. She’s recently begun the filming of John Carpenter’s The Ward, and is putting the finishing touches on a film which she stars in and also produced, a remake of And Soon The Darkness. Earlier in the year, she starred in the short-lived adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis’s The Informers. Though the film falls terribly short, Heard’s portrayal of Christie is nearly perfect in conveying the apathy, lasciviousness, and decadence of the early 80s west coast elite. The actress is also slated to star opposite Johnny Depp in another literary adaptation, that of Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary, a short novel about a reporter working in Puerto Rico during the late 60s. Reading more like Hemingway than Dr. Gonzo, the text is an entertaining exploration of decision-making in the midst of social-economic-spiritual collapse. Or as Heard aptly puts it, “[In the book, Hunter S. Thompson] comes face to face with the idea of the American dream and of the American man. When he sees the façade and the lie behind that image and really the shallowness of that original perception, he has to choose between still pursuing that idea, which ultimately is an empty one, or being what he actually ended up becoming, which is an artist unto himself.”
Competently navigating the façade of L.A.s incomparable cultural climate can be tricky. Like any good cliché, Hollywood is simultaneously banal and mythic, truthful and false, its image in such stark contrast to the place’s actual predicament that it’s rendered all the more desirous and powerful. When Amber Heard returns to her car, several patrons turn their heads, wanting only to watch, wistfully wondering where exactly she’ll go.
Originally published in Flaunt Magazine.