For a Texan-born actress with a love for classic American muscle cars (she drives a ’68 Mustang), starring opposite Nicolas Cage in a grindhouse-style thriller called Drive Angry would seem like the ideal role. It came as no surprise, then, to discover Amber Heard’s enthusiasm for both the fast and scuzzy sensibility of the movie and her co-star’s typically unusual performance, which includes — in a move inspired, says Cage, by poet laureate Walt Whitman — his character Milton drinking beer from the bloodied skull of a deceased foe. Heard plays tough Southern girl Piper, who, after catching out (and beating the crap out of) her no-good cheating boyfriend, finds herself on the run with Nicolas Cage’s escapee from Hell. The part calls for plenty of lurid cussin’, dirty fist fights, and blowing people away with large weaponry… while somehow managing to be sweet in the process.
We caught up with Heard for a chat ahead of the film’s release, and asked her about her role alongside Johnny Depp in Bruce Robinson’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary.
RT: What got you interested in this — was it Nicolas, or the cars?
It was the fast cars, loud explosions, great music, big guns and saving the world with Nicolas Cage — in a pair of Daisy Dukes. Oh, and the icing on the cake was the ’69 Charger.
RT: Did you two do a lot of the driving?
Yeah, I did a lot of my own stunts. I did my driving; I had a great time. They definitely hit casting on this one, because I can’t imagine a better role.
RT: You look like you were physically involved in a lot of those fights.
Yeah, well I didn’t want my stunt double to have all the fun. [laughs]
RT: How rough was it?
I think there’s something to be said for going home, tired, bruised and a little broken — you know, scraped and all that.
RT: You got into actual scrapes?
Yeah I did. Many a night I had to come home and dress some wounds. But it’s like, this is the kind of movie that, if you didn’t get your hands dirty making it, you didn’t do it right. It was a lot of fun. I mean, just to get to play a character that has an opportunity to throw punches and spit blood and wear cowboy boots and still be the sensitive element of the films — I had to carry the heart of the movie and still throw some mean punches. It was kind of a nice thing to work on.
RT: What was it like working with Nicolas Cage?
Nic is… Nic is like one part Zen and one part crazy. There’s something to be said for the perfect mix of the two that just produces the most unique recipe — the perfect recipe — for a hero of this genre, which we all know Nic to be. He does something different with these characters, the hero character: he brings so much more to the set than what’s written on the paper. And there was a lot to work with on the paper.
RT: Was there a moment that surprised you in Nicolas’s performance?
He brought something out of my character, the relationship that they form — the bond that they form right away didn’t feel forced. It was very natural. They’re kind of elegant, with each other; their relationship is very sweet and it’s really nice that we could execute that, because this is the kind of movie that could easily have gotten lost on. And you do root for Milton, and he could have been a character that you really hate: I mean, we know that he was a bad husband and that he was running with the wrong crowd and he leaves his friend behind — all this stuff, there are a lot of reasons to make you not like him. But the fact that he can make you love him by the end of the movie, it’s a testament to Mr. Cage’s abilities.
RT: Not to mention the fact that he can drink beer out of a skull.
[laughs] It’s one of the best moments of the movie. And that one moment where he just decides not to throw away the skull — he decides to keep it for a future keepsake — that’s just the brilliance of Nic Cage. That’s just him.
RT: You’re playing Chenault, Paul Kemp’s (Johnny Depp) girlfriend in The Rum Diary, which I’m excited for. What can we expect from the film?
You should be! I’m, excited for it too. I haven’t seen it yet but I expect it to be the beautiful movie that I know it could be. It’s based on the novel by Hunter S. Thompson, as you probably know, and the material that we had to base this script off of is, unto itself, its own brilliant piece of art. I think Hunter S. Thompson’s such an amazing artist and writer, and we had a lot to work with. But Bruce Robinson took that and turned it into something that only Bruce Robinson could create — in his mad brilliance. And I think Johnny Depp is the only person alive that could handle the subject matter, and do it with the elegance, grace and intimacy that he brings to it, having known Hunter. I couldn’t have asked for a better gig, really. It’s kind of rare in this business, even though you wouldn’t expect it to be, but it’s rare that I work with true artists and that’s what I felt like working with Bruce Robinson and Johnny Depp — he’s a true artist, and he really wanted to create something that felt like art. I’m really lucky to have gotten the opportunity to work with everybody. It’s a dream job.
RT: It’s great to see Bruce back directing.
Yeah. I was a fan of his from Withnail and I, and I think Bruce is really the perfect person to execute the vision of Hunter S Thompson’s. If anybody understands that madness, it’d be Bruce.
RT: How was Johnny’s Paul Kemp, as opposed to his Fear and Loathing portrayal of Hunter’s alter ego?
It’s totally different, because Hunter S. Thompson, at the point of writing The Rum Diary, was very different to the Gonzo he later became when he wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Hunter at that point was pre-Gonzo… he was something a little bit more pure.
Drive Angry is released this week.