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The Rum Diary: Amber Heard

We speak to the actress who stars in the new Hunter S. Thompson novel adaptation about working with Johnny Depp and her representation of the American Dream

Out in cinemas today, The Rum Diary is the film based on the 1959 eponymously titled debut novel by Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, drawn from his experiences working in Puerto Rico on an ill-fated sports newspaper. Discovered by chance in Thompson’s basement when Depp was visiting his close friend in Woody Creek, Colorado, there and then the pair vowed to publish it and adapt it into a film. Published in 1998, Thompson’s 2005 suicide meant that he would never see it make the big screen. 

Fulfilling his promise Depp enrolled upon the expertise of Withnail & I screenwriter and director Bruce Robinson, bringing together a strong cast that includes Giovanni Ribisi, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Richard Jenkins and Amber Heard – who plays Depp’s love interest. Described by Robinson as “Doris Day and Marilyn Monroe rolled into one”, the former Pineapple Express and Zombieland supporting actress is sure to be catapulted into a bona fide leading lady with this latest release. Here we speak to Heard about working opposite Hollywood’s leading actor and overcoming the stereotype.

Dazed Digital: How did you first get involved in the film?
Amber Heard:
I read the book a long time ago and I fell in love with the story. I liked it because it was a different take on the Hunter S. Thompson that I was familiar with before; I thought it was a poetical, more genuine approach to his madness. I heard that they were making it into a movie and I thought how amazing it would be to work on, but I didn’t really appreciate that it was a possibility. Then I read the script and fell in love and six months later I find myself on a beach in Puerto Rico, swimming in the ocean with Johnny Depp.

DD: What was it like acting opposite Hollywood’s leading actor and hearthrob, Johnny Depp?
Amber Heard: He’s such a wonderful presence; he is enigmatic and compelling and a true artist, seriously intelligent and incredibly sensitive. Everybody on set respects and likes him, which says a lot about an actor. It’s a grueling job at times and the stress level that everybody feels in the industry is intense – but it doesn’t affect Johnny, It seems like he has time to look everybody in the eye and I like that, it was wonderful to see.

DD: Did you find it intimidating working on a film and subject that was so close to Depp’s heart?
Amber Heard: It was a dream to work with somebody who had an intimate, personal connection to the material and to the writer.  It can be intimidating to work on an adaptation because nothing competes with one’s imagination and often, if the movie sets out to compete with the book, you will fail. That said, Bruce did a wonderful job at making the script stand on its own two feet and live in its own world. He made it so that it had its own life and its own heartbeat.

DD: When he first saw you Bruce Robinson described you as a “vision” and “the dream girl” – how do you find getting cast as the stereotype?
Amber Heard: It’s difficult because I struggle to find parts that seek to challenge that standard, parts that truly exist on their own character traits as opposed to their physical descriptions. Many times we see a beautiful or sexy character and that’s the entire character description and I have no interest in doing that – I have no interest in those characters. My looks are the least interesting part about me and I seek to explore and challenge the other things about me and the other things about my characters that are interesting – far more interesting – and difficult.

DD: But how is Chenault any more than a sex symbol?
Amber Heard: What I liked about my character is that, on the surface, she represents exactly that. She represents the American Dream, she represents superficially the status symbol – this member if the elite class, this archetype for a leading lady or a perfect house-wife-to-be, a fiancé of the elite class. I love that because I know how it feels to be seen in that way; in that two-dimensional, shallow way where you are put into a category based on nothing but how you look. It in many ways imprisons you and Chenault is very much imprisoned in this reality. Sure, it’s a gilded cage, but it’s still a cage and she’s a commodity in this upper-class society. She’s like the bedazzled turtle or the Corvette – she’s a commodity. And what she represents is important because she’s everything but that. She’s vulnerable, she’s fiercely independent and she’s rebellious. She’s the opposite of the archetype – she’s the kind of girl that sneaks away from a party and goes skinny-dipping in the middle of the ocean. She’s the type of girl that breaks free from her fiancé’s grip and goes and dances in the middle of a nightclub with a bunch of shirtless locals. She is rebelling against the system and doesn’t really know how to break free but she’s certainly trying, in her own way.

The Rum Diary is out in cinemas from today, Friday November 11.