It’d be a stretch for most gorgeous ingenues to play a Southern spitfire capable of throwing punches, spitting blood, and driving a muscle car, but for Texas native Amber Heard, the role is closer to home than you might think. Often cast as “the girlfriend” in films like Pineapple Express and The Stepfather, Heard finally gets to let loose as shit-kicking Piper opposite Nicolas Cage in Drive Angry 3D, and she’s got plenty of Piper’s outspoken spirit herself. The actress sat down with Vulture yesterday for a candid conversation about her love of automobiles, her upcoming TV pilot, Playboy, and recently going public with her girlfriend, artist Tasya van Ree.
I know you’ve got an awesome vintage Ford Mustang. When did you become a car person?
I grew up in Texas, and people love their American-made muscle cars there. I grew up around people who loved cars and took care of cars and my dad’s a big car nut, so I learned a little bit about cars — how to love them, most importantly. I think that from the time I could remember, I’ve always envisioned myself in a vintage muscle car.
Is it hard to take care of?
Yeah, but that’s part of the love. I can’t explain the relationship I have with my Mustang, but–
I’m assuming it’s high-maintenance.
It is. But it’s the kind of thing where if it were easy, it wouldn’t be as fun. My car gets stolen a lot, and every time I get her back, I have to repair her and do this or that. It’s like we’ve grown together.
Your car’s been stolen multiple times and you’ve always gotten it back?
Every time. Thank you, LAPD!
Are there any other cars you have your eye on?
If I could, I would be a collector, for sure. I’ve dabbled in a European vintage car or two, but it hasn’t really stuck. I think that the Chevelle is nice, but what I really want is a ‘69 Shelby.
I’m not particular about the color.
That seems like a major component.
You would think, right? But I’m not attached to the color so much because my Mustang was beautiful and pristine-looking and red like a Coke bottle, and it kept getting stolen when it was red. So I painted it a different color — a much more demure lady color — and it doesn’t get stolen anymore. So I’ve grown less attached to color since then.
I always hear that sex scenes have to be choreographed as much as fight scenes. Drive Angry has two fight scenes that practically are sex scenes — one where Nicolas Cage literally has sex during a gunfight, and the other where you get into a fistfight with a naked woman. What is it like to block out a fight scene where you’re up against someone who’s full-frontal?
Oh, I’d never really thought about it like that, strangely enough. Well, we didn’t rehearse naked! [Laughs.] It was interesting, but to be honest with you, I really didn’t even notice that she was naked while we were filming it. I mean, obviously she was, but that’s the last thing I was thinking about. Primarily, I didn’t want to punch her in the face on accident! There’s a lot to be said for real stunt people who fight for a living, because the hardest part is not hurting somebody. And who wants to be safe when you’re making a movie like this?
Have you been in onscreen fights where you accidentally hit someone?
I have been in my fair share of both onscreen and offscreen fights. [Laughs.] I have to say that onscreen is much tougher, because you have to worry about your hair and makeup, and naked girls in this case. But I had a lot of fun and it was truly the funnest part of my job, doing these fights and spitting blood and driving the Charger RV. All that stuff is the funnest things I’ve done in my career, I think.
You raced on Top Gear in the U.K. to promote the film, and Cameron Diaz beat you in a dry lap.
Damn her. Damn her.
I mean, it’s okay if you’re not a speed demon, but I thought you’d want to defend your performance.
But actually, I am a speed demon! I get tickets all the time and can’t stay under the speed limit. I’m bad at that. I certainly don’t drive angry, but I drive fast. Apparently, though, I don’t drive that fast on Top Gear. Also, I did it in a dress, so give me some credit.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from this movie, Transformers, and The Dukes of Hazzard, it’s that girls drive better in Daisy Dukes.
That’s true. Put that in your pocket and keep it forever, compliments of me.
You shot The Rum Diary a few years ago with Johnny Depp, and like your long-delayed horror movie All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, it has taken years to make it to the screen. Is that frustrating to you as an actress?
It’s hard. I’ve tried my best. One of the biggest challenges in my job is letting go of the movie once you go home at night, and knowing you can’t do anything to your performance once you’ve laid it on film. Or going home after you’ve wrapped the picture and saying, “Well, I hope it’s handled well once it’s in the editing room,” and letting go once it’s been through editing and you’re waiting for it to hit theaters — or in Mandy Lane’s case, just to see the light of day. It’s hard to say, “I don’t have power over this and can’t do anything about it.” I’ve even tried producing a movie to overcome that hurdle, and that also has had an incredibly hard time coming out. So many elements go into making a movie, and you can’t put on enough hats to control the outcome. You could be Superman and still not handle the story from start to finish.
Unless Superman owns a distribution company.
That would be good. I’m picturing Harvey Weinstein in a Superman outfit.
I am not going to picture that, so you go ahead.
Oh, don’t. [Laughs.]
I want to talk about Playboy, the pilot you just signed for. You’re a very politically aware person who’s done work on behalf of Amnesty International and GLAAD, and obviously, that series will address the role of women in society through a very particular lens. At the same time, as an actress who’s asked to wear Daisy Dukes or very little clothing — often none at all — have you had to come to terms with being objectified onscreen in your career?
That’s a great question. It’s interesting, because if I felt like the Daisy Dukes prohibited me from being a complete person, a strong person, or an independent person, I wouldn’t wear them. However, if somebody tries to tell me that if I wear a pair of Daisy Dukes that I’m less independent, less strong, then they’re the ones holding women back, not the other way around. I think that we as women have the opportunity to do whatever it is that we desire to do, and we have all the rights and responsibilities and liberties afforded to us to change our destinies and make change in the world. I certainly have been in situations in movies that some feminists feel are limiting to women, but I see it the other way around. Nobody’s forcing me into them.
How do you mean?
Well, my Daisy Dukes, for example. Those are mine. I added them to my character, and they’re actually my shorts. It’s all for the completion of a character that I crafted, that I was in control of, and that I got paid to do. There’s nothing more feminist than that! Playboy’s interesting because I feel that it is going to be a powerful statement for women, because the story is told through my eyes as a woman. The story does not objectify women; it empowers women. Piper’s shorts [in Drive Angry] are an empowerment — they’re not chains, by any means. And I think any woman who chooses to wear shorts like that? All the power to her, because the minute we start saying that it makes her one way or the other is the minute that we’re the problem. Does that make sense?
Part of the story that I’m so excited about with Playboy is that it’s a crime drama centered around these Playboy clubs of Chicago in the sixties, and what happens in the sixties in this important epoch … it’s got music and art and all these texturally diverse elements, but it’s also the eve of women’s lib. We’re meeting women through the eyes of my character who are earning their own money, supporting their own families, driving their own cars, having their own jobs. It’s the time where women could actually go out and get a job and try to earn as much as their fathers, or decide whether they were going to get pregnant or not. That’s huge. This story takes place the year birth control hit the stands, which is fascinating to me because I get to tell this story amongst all these other elements that were going on at the time.
You’re a very opinionated person and you began publicly speaking about your relationship with your girlfriend over the past year. Is it difficult to be able to do what you want to do, since actresses so often have people trying to package them?
Sure. I think it’s interesting because recently, there’s been a lot of media attention surrounding my relationship. It is frustrating because I don’t label myself one way or another. For example, I’ve had amazing, successful relationships with men, and now I have an amazing, successful relationship with a woman, and the bottom line is I love who I love. I don’t have to answer to anyone for it. I love who I love, and I am who I am.
Though you realize that as an actress, you’re bound to be labeled all sorts of things.
True, but all I can do is fight to confront the preconceived notions of what those labels mean or what roles I’m limited to. Just because I’m with a woman now doesn’t mean I’m less or more capable of changing the world.