Amber Heard: ‘I’m good at getting people to believe in the villainous woman character’

The ‘Aquaman’ star talks about starring in the mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s 1978 pandemic thriller ‘The Stand’, being a fan of co-star Alexander Skarsgård, and how she inhabits her characters

It would be fair to say that Amber Heard had a tumultuous 2020. The actor’s highly-publicised divorce with Johnny Depp became somewhat of a global phenomenon, and the fallout from the event was such that her recurring role of Mera in DC’s Aquaman 2 is now in question.

However, the 34-year-old is a picture of calm as she sits down to talk to us about the now: her part in the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s 1978 pandemic thriller The Stand. The mini-series, developed by Josh Boone, follows the remnant of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world wrecked by a pandemic (!), who are locked in a struggle between good and evil, either siding with Mother Abigail (Whoopi Goldberg) or Randall Flag the Dark Man (Alexander Skarsgård).

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Though populated by a plethora of interlinking storylines, King’s novel has been feted for its immense attention towards charting the complex arcs of every fictional character in the saga— such as Amber Heard’s Nadine Cross.

A schoolteacher during the time of the flu outbreak in the novel, Nadine’s fascinating journey follows her mission to meet a man who frequents her dreams —often in a sexually-charged manner — who is later revealed to be the terrifying Randall Flag himself. Along the way, she meets a 12-year-boy named Joe and a musician Larry, who complicate her visions and ultimate destination further.

Speaking on a Zoom call in a group interview, Heard says that the premiere of a show like this, bang in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak, makes for rather “interesting timing.”

A pandemic-themed show during a pandemic?

“You know, on set, we used to joke around by saying, ‘Hey, it’s day four of the pandemic,’ and now.. wow. Our story is very different from what’s going on now, of course, but you do understand the similarities. It is based on a global pandemic that wipes out most of the population of Earth and leaves with it the best and the worst of humanity, and exemplifies them. And in an ultimate battle for the best survival of our species, the show details how we don’t just survive, but how we thrive and come together to do so,” she explains.

Amber Heard as Nadine Cross and Gordon Cormier as Joe in ‘The Stand’ | Photo Credit: Robert Falconer

Answering a question on Nadine being a seducer in The Stand, Heard says, “Thank you to King and his genius for creating characters with real backstories that are complex, and making them interesting and nuanced. During the course of the show, I’ve tried to do Nadine justice and bring out her humanity. A seducer can also be vulnerable, right? The seduction and vulnerability are not mutually exclusive. I don’t feel as a woman, I have to apologise for one in order to justify the other or vice versa. I think Nadine is no more of a seducer than she is a survivor; she’s using the tools that she has to survive in a world that’s treated her a certain way.”

On ‘Aquaman’ and Queen Mera

The actor is currently also in preparation for her most popular role: that of Queen Mera from the Aquaman franchise. How does she move on from a dark fantasy series to a superhero film?

“Both Nadina and Mera are totally different. What I seem to be really good at is getting an audience to believe in the villainous woman character! (laughs). Actually in Aquaman, it was a bit of a departure for me to play someone who’s not using her womanly ways to bring evil to the world. But Nadine, on the other hand, is a character coming with a lot of psychological baggage. There’s a lot of preparation for frankly, how people behave when they have been groomed. Owning her journey was understanding people who come out of cults or those who have committed horrendous crimes. I talked to and read a lot of interviews and biographies with people who had been either kidnapped, brainwashed or otherwise indoctrinated into a cult, and brought on to participate in crimes.”

Swooning over Skarsgård

Some of Heard’s most important scenes — ones that influence the outcome of the series — are with Alexander Skarsgård, who plays the main villain in The Stand. Playing the literal devil, Heard says, came naturally for the Swedish actor.

Amber Heard is all praise for her co-star Alexander Skarsgård’s performance in ‘The Stand’ | Photo Credit: MARIO ANZUONI

“Once you see Alex in the character, you’ll be convinced that no one else could play this role. What this character is meant to do, is serve as a surrogate for the devil within us: the one that acts on lower impulses, the one who acts not out of charity, but out of selfishness. It’s supposed to be a character we all can relate to, or at least identify within ourselves. The whole book is a battle between the worst parts of ourselves and the best.”

Amber Heard is a self-confessed Stephen King fangirl

  • I’ve been a fan of this book for a very long time, like, since I was a kid. It really meant something to me during the lonely, awkward years when books were the only friends I had for a while. So I really have a special place in my heart for it. I first met Josh Boone, who created the adaptation about 10 years ago, when we talked about this book. In my career, I’ve learned a very important lesson: Always trust a nerd (laughs). When it comes to genres like sci-fi and fantasy especially, just always trust the nerd. And Josh is a super-nerd!

She goes on, “Alex, because he is so incredibly charming and easy-going about that charm — it doesn’t feel put on at all — it’s natural for us (the characters on the show) to want to follow him or listen to him or to like him. He has a way about carrying himself, speaking and interacting, that makes it easy, so easy. That’s why he makes the best devil ever!”

The world of Nadine

Heard, who initially shot to fame in 2008 with films like Pineapple Express and Never Back Down, also adds that Nadine has been one of her most complex roles till date, and that the character’s journey is a “heart-breaking” one.

Amber Heard says that the journey of her character Nadine on the show is a “heart-breaking” one | Photo Credit: Robert Falconer

“One of the key themes on the show is that beyond redemption, everyone has a choice to make always. With Nadine, part of the real tragedy is that her choices are so much more difficult. She has been raised from an early age to follow a certain path, and she has executed that mission. An important point in the arcs of our characters is really where they’re met with temptation. That’s what makes Nadine’s path heart-breaking. Which is that she ultimately does have the choice, and it’s whether she will take it or not. That would justify whether or not she’s redeemed.”

So, like her on-screen avatar, does Heard believe in visions or magic at times? “For me personally, I don’t believe in anything for which I do not have proof in or the ability to understand. But, I think it is important to remember that Nadine lives in a world that, as Stephen King brilliantly has been able to create, is both hyper-real but also surreal. She has communications with a person who isn’t physically in the room, but maintains a life-long relationship with him. Flagg is able to do so as a semi-supernatural being that jumps in and out of this realm and another realm. So for her, magic isn’t a question. It’s a part of her reality,” Heard concludes with a smile.

The Stand is currently streaming in India exclusively on Voot Select

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