PLAYBOY: You play Maureen, a Playboy Bunny waitress, in the new NBC drama The Playboy Club. Now that you’ve spent some time in the bunny suit, you can tell us. Is it really that uncomfortable?
AMBER HEARD: It feels like an inch away from death. If it got any tighter, we wouldn’t be able to sit upright. I’m serious, it’s that intense. But it looks great when you’re wearing it. Actually, you know what I really love about the Playboy bunny outfit? It’s all about a woman’s silhouette. Whatever happened to that? Back in the 60s, it was fine to have curves. Do you know how happy I am that I get to keep some of my curves? I don’t have to starve myself for once.
PLAYBOY: There’s a real Playboy club in Las Vegas at The Palms. If this acting thing doesn’t work out, would you consider coming to work there as a waitress?
AMBER HEARD: Oh please. [Laughs.] No, not so much. Although I have nothing but respect for the women who did it. Back then, it was not an option for women to go out and earn money and support themselves. Marriage was the best and most practical option. What I like about The Playboy Club is that it’s about women who were being independent and earning as much as their fathers. It was their chance to live their own lives, to do whatever they wanted on their own terms. The feminist movement is often clouded with Gloria Steinem’s perspective, but I feel like denying women their sexuality is just as chauvinistic. These women who worked at the Playboy Clubs were using sexuality to their advantage.
PLAYBOY: You’re co-starring with Johnny Depp in the upcoming film release The Rum Diary, which is about (among other things) the dread that you’re growing old before your time. Can you sympathize? You’re just 25, but do you feel over the hill yet?
AMBER HEARD: Well of course. Hollywood actresses age in dog years. I’m 25 in the rest of the world, but I’m about 48 in actress years. I’m just around the corner from my midlife crisis. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Hollywood can be a draining industry. For all the glitz and glory and wonderful parts of our business, it takes it’s toll on your inner self.
PLAYBOY: The Rum Diary is based on a novel by Hunter S. Thompson, who had a legendary appetite for drugs. To stay true to his spirit, did you partake in recreational drugs during filming?
AMBER HEARD: Not at all. Trying to film a movie on a diet is hard enough, I can’t imagine how it would be on drugs. I stayed true to his spirit in other ways. I kept his book in the pocket of my cast chair the entire time we were filming. That made me feel connected to the bigger picture, of our goal to do justice to a wonderful piece of literature and a legend. The book and the movie aren’t just about alcohol and drugs. It’s about love and life and disillusionment and capitalism and the American Dream facade that we all live under, the carrot that we all continue to chase.
PLAYBOY: You did most of your own stunts in Drive Angry, and you’ve admitted that you’re kind of a reckless driver. Just how bad is your driving record?
AMBER HEARD: It’s pitiful. It’s not something I’m proud of, and I’m trying very hard to learn how to drive better. I grew up driving old pickup trucks on the ranch with my dad, and I still always find myself driving like I’m out in an open field, except I’m in LA on La Cienega in the middle of rush-hour traffic. When I was preparing for Drive Angry, the stunt coordinator took me out to the parking lot to show me how to spin out and fishtail and do all the things that you’re not supposed to know how to do. Within two seconds of being a passenger in my car, he quickly realized that it was an exercise in futility. Because I had that shit down. I love cars, and vintage muscle cars in particular.
PLAYBOY: What is it about muscle cars that appeals to you? Is it just the aesthetics, or the way they drive?
AMBER HEARD: It’s everything. I like the way they look, I like the way they sound, I like they way they feel when I’m driving in them. I like that they’re simple enough to maintain and understand, especially the American-made muscle cars. I’m no mechanic but I can change my oil and I know what to do when I get a flat tire and I can hot-wire it in an emergency. I know how to do the basics. And that’s something you can’t say about newer cars, where it’s basically just a computer under the hood. I have a ‘68 Mustang, which is my baby. I’ve had her for about six years, which is kind of a miracle, considering how many times she’s been stolen.
PLAYBOY: Your car’s been stolen more than once? And you keep getting it back?
AMBER HEARD: It’s been stolen multiple times. Last year alone she was stolen three times. They take it for a joyride and then ditch it somewhere. And usually it gets stripped down to nothing, so when I finally get it back, I have to spend a fortune in repairs and body work. Last time it got stolen, it was just two days after I’d gotten it back after somebody else had stolen it. It was stolen right in front of my house. I thought I was being Punked. I seriously thought it was a joke. So I finally put an anti-theft system in it, and it hasn’t been stolen since. I’m hoping that’s been the last of it, unless this interview jinxes it.
PLAYBOY: You’ve been naked an awful lot in your movies. Do you have to psyche yourself up for a nude scene, or is it no big deal?
AMBER HEARD: I approach all of my movies with an open mind and a willingness to dive in and do what’s asked of me. But a lot of that nudity in my early movies was out of necessity. When I came out to Hollywood, I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t have any connections. I did what a lot of people have to do in the real world, and just work up from the bottom. And that meant taking a lot of roles as the girl at the party who loses her shirt. But now I’m doing things that I find artistically and emotionally fulfilling. I’m not opposed to nude scenes, if they’re appropriate. I’m not against them morally. But I personally no longer find movie nudity to be worth my while. That might change in the future. I’m keeping an open mind as always, because that’s what you have to do.
PLAYBOY: Even when you’re not naked in movies, you’re at least semi-naked. Your Daisy Duke shorts in Drive Angry, for instance, left very little to the imagination. Is it true those shorts came from your own closet?
AMBER HEARD: Yes, that is true. Those were my shorts. I don’t know if I’m proud of that, but they were. I had those shorts for a very, very, very long time. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t have those shorts. I remember when my Daisy Dukes fit me in a different way. When I was younger and a little slimmer, they were baggy and not so revealing.
PLAYBOY: We find it odd that you keep mentioning your weight. Is there a fun-house mirror in your bedroom or something? Because honestly, it doesn’t look like you could afford to lose even a single pound.
AMBER HEARD: That’s sweet. Do you want to come and live with me and say that to me every day? Like most girls, I constantly have to watch my weight, because if I didn’t my curves would get ahead of me. I naturally have some curves, like most women, just unfortunately not like most women in Hollywood. I’m only considered curvy in Hollywood. It’s a weird town. Like we were discussing with age, it’s same with weight. Every pound for a woman in the real world is seven pounds for an actress. I don’t want to play into the perception that all women should look like fourteen year old boys. I don’t want to add to that pressure for young girls. But in Hollywood, there is a constant pressure to look a certain way.
PLAYBOY: You were born and raised in Austin, Texas. How stereotypically Texan was your upbringing? Did your entire family wear cowboy hats and holsters and own at least one oil drill?
AMBER HEARD: I have successfully avoided being stereotyped into a specific category. I’ve worked very hard at that, and I’m proud of not being easily lumped into anybody’s preconceived notions or expectations. Look at me, I’m pretty confusing. But, that being said, I do have an oil rig in my back yard.
PLAYBOY: You’re kidding, obviously, but you do own a .357 Magnum, right?
AMBER HEARD: Well, I am my father’s daughter. It was not up to me growing up. I was his hunting and fishing buddy, so I’ve been shooting my whole life. My dad used to take my younger sister Whitney and I to the firing range, and he’d stand behind us as we shot. We were tiny, tiny girls, only about ten years old at the time, so the recoil when we pulled the trigger would send us flying backwards. But he’d stand behind us and make sure we were safe. I’ve been around responsible gun ownership my whole life.
PLAYBOY: As an adult gun owner, how often do you get a chance to shoot it? Do you go to a firing range, or just keep it hidden next to your bed and hope somebody breaks in?
AMBER HEARD: I do not hope somebody breaks in. However, if they did, I pity them. I pity the fool that breaks into my house. I try to go to an indoor gun range here in LA once in a while. Otherwise, I make it out to Texas at least a few times a year, to go hunting with my dad. I only go to spend time with him and for the ride, because he hunts on horseback and it’s the only time I get to ride horses in an open field. But I don’t shoot anything. I could never kill an animal. My dad does all the hunting, and he eats everything that he kills.
PLAYBOY: Did you name your dog Pistol after a gun, or just because it sounds intimidating?
AMBER HEARD: I named her Pistol because Killer was taken by somebody else I knew. I love it, because she’s a teacup Yorkie and she’s two pounds and it’s ridiculous name for a ridiculous dog. Trust me, her name isn’t intimidating anybody. Nothing about her is intimidating. The only person that Pistol has successfully intimidated is the four year old that lives next door to me who is scared of dogs.
PLAYBOY: You’re a certified lifeguard. Have you ever saved somebody’s life, and if so, have you done so while running in slow motion, Baywatch style?
AMBER HEARD: When I run on the beach, it’s always in slow motion. That’s just how I roll. No, I’m kidding, but I was a lifeguard. It was my summer job growing up, and I never saved anyone. I never had to, thank goodness. Me and the other lifeguards, we didn’t do much of anything. We just sat around and got tan.
PLAYBOY: You went to a Catholic high school, but dropped out when you were just sixteen. Did you leave because of the religion or the outfits?
AMBER HEARD: It was a great education, but a stifling experience for me as an individual. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been the kind of person who goes against the grain and questions authority, and that doesn’t make for an ideal religious follower. I always felt like an outcast at school. I had good friends, but none that I truly related to. I lost my best friend in a car accident when I was 16, and as you can imagine, it was incredibly tough. But that wasn’t the reason I left school. I’d already been on this path towards questioning religion and questioning my place in it. I had always been a reader and a skeptic, so when I was old enough to break away from organized religion, it just came naturally.
PLAYBOY: How did you justify that to your family? Or were they okay with you dropping out of both high school and Catholicism?
AMBER HEARD: The two things were separate. I didn’t drop out of school, I placed out of it. I took correspondence courses and ended up graduating early. I did everything I could to get the hell out of there. By the time I was seventeen, I was on my way to Hollywood and didn’t look back. My family is supportive now, but like any adult guardian of a seventeen-year-old daughter, they were not thrilled with my plan to run off to the LA to make it as an actress. Even a somewhat functioning parent would think that was a bad, bad idea. Lucky for me, I didn’t listen to them.
PLAYBOY: You’re an avowed atheist, which can be a controversial stance. A lot of people think atheism is an attack on religion. Can you argue in defense of your beliefs?
AMBER HEARD: I can definitely make an argument for atheism. I was very educated in scripture and dogma and the church, particularly the Catholic Church. I could not possibly know that I disagreed with religion unless I knew what I was disagreeing with. I’m not saying that this is the only way to be or it’s how everybody should live. Some of my best friends here in LA are devoutly religious people. I’m completely supportive and interested in people doing their own thing. That’s a motto that I try to live by, and I hope that’s how other people treat me. Live and let live.
PLAYBOY: You were briefly a model before becoming an actress. Do you have any favorite modeling moves, like a sultry over-the-shoulder glare or a hand on the hip thrust?
AMBER HEARD: My favorite go-to modeling move was called “Be hungry.” That was it. You just stand there, and be hungry. And that’s all I have to say about the modeling industry.
PLAYBOY: Your first lead role was a horror movie called All The Boys Love Mandy Lane. What’s the secret to a really convincing horror movie scream?
AMBER HEARD: It’s like anything else in acting; you just have to believe it. And depending on the movie, that’s not too difficult. I remember showing up for my first day on Mandy Lane, and being all excited because I think it’s going to be so glamorous and amazing. And then for my very first scene, they dumped a bucket of fake blood and mud on me. And I’m thinking, “Oh, so this is what it’s about, huh? This is the Hollywood glitz and glamour I’ve been hearing about?” I don’t know if you’ve ever been covered in fake blood, but it’s terrible. It’s very sticky and smelly, and when it dries it pulls on all the little hairs on your arms. I don’t recommend it. I think it’s like the modern day equivalent of being tarred and feathered.
PLAYBOY: You’ve done a lot of horror movies since then, from The Stepfather to this summer’s John Carpenter film The Ward. After so much experience dodging a knife, could you teach a self-defense workshop in evading psychos?
AMBER HEARD: I wish I could, but I don’t actually know that much self-defense. I mean, if it came down to it, I could defend myself in a bar fight. But nothing like how I’ve fought off psychos in my movies. I’d love to teach a self-defense class for ladies, specifically about running away from psychos in masks chasing them with chainsaws. But none of that is real. It’s all movie magic, my friend.
PLAYBOY: You played a zombie in the 2009 comedy Zombieland. How do you make being undead seem so sexy?
AMBER HEARD: You thought it was sexy? I tried to take it another way. When (director) Ruben (Fleischer) asked me if I’d do the cameo, I told him only on one condition: “Can I please be a real zombie?” I wanted to be a disgusting, oozing zombie, not a sexy, cleavage zombie, which is what I was expecting, given my previous film work. He gave me his word that I could be a legit zombie, and be as gross and disgusting as I wanted. And I thought, “Hey, I’m never going to hear that from a director again.” So I took it. I’ve never had so much fun being disgusting.
PLAYBOY: You came out of the closet last December, sharing details of your relationship with photographer Tasya van Ree. As a Hollywood sex symbol, did the announcement have any noticeable effect on your career?
AMBER HEARD: Well first of all, saying that I came out implies that I was once in. Let me be straight about that — ha ha, no pun intended — I never came out from anywhere. I’ve always lived my life the way I wanted and been honest with myself and everyone around me. It didn’t really effect anything in my career. I don’t think the producers or directors I’ve worked with care one way or another. The only frustrating part has been all the media attention. For someone like me, who prefers to keep their life as private as possible, it was disconcerting to have to define so much about myself. I don’t want to be labeled as one thing or another. In the past I’ve had very successful relationships with men and now I’m in this successful relationship with a woman. When it comes to love, I am totally open. And I don’t want to be put into a category, as in “I’m this” or “I’m that.”
PLAYBOY: Gay marriage continues to be a contentious issue. If it ever becomes legal, would you be the first in line to get married to Tasya?
AMBER HEARD: It’s an important issue, and I’m fighting for the right to get married. (Pause.) For other people.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the September 2011 issue of Playboy magazine.)