Amber Heard On Not Sitting Pretty and Shutting Up

It’s easier to deal with a woman who is compliant and sweet and sunny and nice and non-confrontational.

Jason Feifer

Interview by

2011. Hotel in New York City
Digital recorder

Profile appeared in Women's Health Magazine




Amber Heard: I should let you know this is my third day without sleep, so this could be very interesting.

Jason Feifer: Perfect. That’s what I’m looking for.

David Gerlach: That’s actress Amber Heard. And I’ll be honest: her name really didn’t ring a bell when Jason Feifer told me about the interview he did with her for Women’s Health Magazine back in 2011. But he said this wasn’t your typical Hollywood interview. I’ll let Jason explain.

Jason Feifer: We sat down in the Barbour Hotel. Amber is this absolutely stunning, intimidatingly beautiful blond woman. So I went into this expecting to talk about Hollywood life and her personal style and all that boring stuff. But when we first sat down, before I turned my tape recorder on, she made some passing mention of how people in this conservative Texas community that she had grown up in always expected her to sit pretty and shut up. And she really holds onto that resentment. And I think that the moment when she split from that world—when she realized that she was separate from it—is when she started reading the things that every school kid reads. You know, the “Fahrenheit 451” and “Animal Farm.”

[Music: Four Tet “Circling”]

Jason Feifer: That’s so interesting because your class reading “Animal Farm” became an extension of “Animal Farm.”

Amber Heard: Yes, absolutely. Except for I wouldn’t want to be…I wouldn’t call myself the pig that broke away. But I certainly felt like I looked around and this was some sort of twisted social science experiment. Like which one of us is going to raise their hand and say, “Okay, we get it. We’re a part of the book. I get it!”

[Music: Air “Modular Mix”]

Amber Heard: But no one did. No one. And I didn’t have anyone with whom I could talk about these things with.

Jason Feifer: That’s bold to even be able to do if you’re the only one.

Amber Heard: Don’t get me wrong. I went through my phase of going out of my way to play dumb. I remember giving into that pressure. I have to say, I felt it very early to do that, because as a woman it made me look more likeable and easier to swallow. And probably still to this day, a lot of that’s true. It’s way easier to deal with a woman who is compliant and nice and sweet and sunny and non-confrontational and whatever.

[Music: “Modular Mix” continues]

Amber Heard: I did notice a pattern amongst my peers, especially amongst my female peers, of this strength and independence being uncool for girls. It was very uncool to know the answer, very uncool to possess strength. And I was angered by that. Instead of thinking animals were cute in animal farm, I felt like everyone was either on purpose ignoring the message or on purpose choosing to not deal with that message because it upset or endangered the comforts of being a part of the problem.

[Music: Electreland “This Deed”]

Amber Heard: I felt like there was a debate all around us and no one was brave enough to take up the other side. Lucky for me, I’ve always accepted a challenge with a sort of zeal that you would expect of someone who did not look like me. I’ve always approached a challenge with a certain veracity, and I’m proud of that.

[Music: “This Deed” continues]

Jason Feifer: Do you think that your upbringing was useful?

Amber Heard: Absolutely. I’m proud that I was put in an environment that made me truly find an identity. And I at some point—I don’t remember when it was—decided I would be an individual. And the never-dying fascination of learning more, of being challenged more—that’s my peace. I’m thankful that my parents truly invested in my education. And I repaid them by dropping out at 16. But I dropped out after I placed out. I took my GED. I took my SAT and scored a very high score and then I left. I did something that no one advised me to do. Everyone advised me against. It was probably very, very, very dumb, but I did it anyway because I had a dream and a passion. I wanted more.

[Music: The Kinks “Animal Farm”]

David Gerlach: So after deciding to go her own way, blaze her own trail at 16, Heard said she scraped some money together, got some headshots taken. She got a break or two acting in Austin, Texas, and by 18 she had moved to Los Angeles full time. Now her career marches on. She’s in her mid-twenties now. Lots of films. She’s still reading, still asking questions and is still looking for answers.

Amber Heard: I am writing Solomon Rushdie right now. I’ve loved his work forever. He’s getting fan mail so he better write me back. The pressure’s on.

[Music: “Animal Farm” continues]

David Gerlach: Thanks to Jason Feiffer for bringing us this interview. He’s now a senior editor at Fast Company magazine. Follow him on twitter @heyfeifer. F-E-I-F-E-R. Amy Drozdowska produced this Blank on Blank with me. Our sound logo comes to us from Jeffrey Alan Jones. And for all the journalists, non-fiction authors and interviewers of all stripes out there, we want to hear your lost interviews. So drop us a line to interviews@blankonblank.org. Blank on Blank is distributed by the Public Radio Exchange. I’m David Gerlach. Keep listening.

Photo Credit: Asim Bharwani via Flickr
Music Credit:  Fourtet “Circling” | Air “Modular Mix” | Electrelane “This Deed” | The Kinks “Animal Farm”