Photographer: Steven Klein
Stylist: Edward Enninful
“Don’t you think she looks like me?” Amber Heard asks as she pets her horse, Arrow. Heard, 28, is wearing mud-caked riding boots, tight blue jeans, a white undershirt, and thin mesh gloves that partially cover her red-lacquered nails; she puts her face next to the horse’s long tan-colored muzzle and coyly flips her ponytail. In fact, they do look alike: both lanky, pale, and blonde.
Arrow nuzzles Heard, hoping for something to eat. “So like me,” Heard continues, reaching down into a pail filled with horse snacks. She feeds Arrow an apple. “She’ll love you forever if you give her a treat.” Heard watches the horse as she demolishes the apple. “Just standing here makes my blood pressure go down,” she says. “When I’m in L.A., I come ride her five times a week. No matter how crazy things get, Arrow will immediately get me back to normal.”
Although she is careful not to spell it out, Heard is probably alluding to the hoopla surrounding her recent engagement to Johnny Depp, her costar in 2011’s The Rum Diary, which was based on an early novel by Hunter S. Thompson. Before making that film, Heard had worked steadily, appearing in films like 2008’s Pineapple Express (as Seth Rogen’s high school girlfriend), 2004’s Friday Night Lights (as Garrett Hedlund’s high school girlfriend), and 2009’s The Joneses (as a high school girl who falls in love with an older man, David Duchovny). In The Rum Diary, she was no longer high school material—she was the complex, mysterious woman who haunts Thompson in Puerto Rico. “It’s very hard to find opportunities like that as a young romantic lead,” Heard says, leading Arrow out of her paddock to be groomed. “As a woman, I usually have two options: Sex Object or the Best Friend Who Isn’t Sexy. It’s not creatively fulfilling to just be sexy. I did nothing to look the way I look. The genetic cards that anyone is dealt are not in their control, so to take pride in my looks would be a mistake. And besides,” she continues, pointing to the horse, “in L.A. there’s always someone more beautiful!”
As a former Guess Jeans model, Heard had practically come to expect being typecast. “I remember getting a small part in the movie Zombieland,” she continues. “I said to the director, ‘Do I get to play a true zombie or am I a cleavage zombie?’ I had this fear that he was going to want me to be a zombie in my underwear! He said, ‘No—take it as far as you want.’ I said, ‘Get the vomit packs ready! I’m going to be ugly and gross!’ ”
According to friends, it was Heard’s intensity and independent attitude that attracted Depp most. “I have always wanted to go,” Heard explains. Growing up in Austin, Texas, she was restless and ambitious. “I didn’t want to be stuck there. And modeling was a way to see a much bigger world.” Heard is very close to her father, a contractor who also breaks horses—including Arrow. “He taught me a lot about animals, about cars, and about resilience. That’s what happens when your father doesn’t have a son. I drew the line at learning about football. I had to rebel somehow.”
The mix of raised-like-a-boy and prettiest-girl-in-town is what makes Heard intriguing—she’s feminine but tough. “Whenever my old friends meet someone I’m involved with romantically, they immediately warn them: ‘She may look refined, but when she’s angry, she can go trailer park really fast,’ ” Heard quips. “But I’d always rather be passionate than bland. I can’t imagine living a quiet life.”
I ask Heard if her life has changed since the engagement to Depp. At a press conference recently, Depp showed off the ring that he had bought for her—it was too big for her finger, so he was wearing the diamond sparkler. And two nights prior to our meeting, there had been a star-studded engagement party (Marilyn Manson! Steven Tyler!) at the 1920s Carondelet House in downtown Los Angeles. But Heard is more discreet than Depp. “I haven’t noticed any change in my career,” she says guardedly. “And, for better or worse, I’ve always had a love life that seemed particularly salacious to some people. Before, it was also seen as unconventional,” she adds, alluding to the fact that she had been romantically involved with women.
Her history with the press has taught Heard to be cautious and self-protective. She switches rental cars every week so that the paparazzi can’t easily spot her. To suss out press leaks, she regularly slips different bits of false information to her friends. When one of her fake items appears in the tabloids, Heard knows whom she can’t trust. “I do miss driving my Mustang,” she says. “I built it from scratch, and I love that car. But the photographers all know the Mustang, and I hate being hassled. So it’s stuck in the garage.”
The next day, Heard is flying to New York, where she will be filming the father-daughter drama When I Live My Life Over Again with Christopher Walken. Her character sings, and Heard has been taking hours of vocal training every day to prepare. “I thought I was tone-deaf,” Heard says, giving Arrow one last apple. “And in truth, I have no natural gift or knack for singing. Generally, when a person has no talent for something, they don’t pursue it. So I’m either brave or stupid.” She pats Arrow’s nose goodbye. “The girl I’m playing is in a punk band, and she’s a little weird. Not sexy-weird but plain weird-weird. Which is thrilling to me. I like weird. I might be blonde and wear lipstick, but I’m so happy to be strange.”
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