Amber Heard has spent all night shooting in Chicago for The Playboy Club, in which she plays the new Bunny, Maureen. Early this morning, she’s returned to her Chicago apartment, packed and then flown to L.A., where she speaks to me on a (constantly fading) cell phone. Still, the 25-year-old’s an engaged, rigorous interlocutor.
Your character, Maureen, is “a small-town girl with big dreams and big eyes,” you’ve said. Having left Texas as a teen for New York and then L.A., can you identify with her?
Absolutely. Maureen is alienated from the world she is surrounded by, and in that alienation comes a strength and independence, and I can certainly relate. I grew up just outside of Austin, and my upbringing was fairly rural. I did feel a sense of isolation that helped give me the impetus to decide I could make it on my own at 16. I didn’t feel like the options laid out before me fit the strengths and independence I’ve always known I had inside me. Particularly the laid-out path of high school, college, marriage, family, being in this community where parents are born and die in the exact same place. Also, I started to notice at a very young age that [for] girls it wasn’t cool to raise your hand and know the answer.
You’ve described women who worked at the Playboy Club as “using sexuality to their advantage.” Do you think the Bunnies not only used their sexuality but were used for it?
Well, perhaps.… When I was doing press for this show, I sat up on the stage in a panel of young women, and not a single journalist stood up and asked [actor] Eddie [Cibrian] how he felt portraying a patron of the club. And all day long primarily men stood up to tell us girls what they felt about us representing these Bunnies.
Women have voiced criticisms as well. Gloria Steinem called for a boycott of the show, saying she’s concerned it won’t depict the club accurately but instead will glamorize it.
I’m thankful for the work that feminists like Gloria Steinem have done. I am a feminist, but the geography for women today is vastly different than it was in the ’60s. Gloria Steinem might not have changed, but the face of feminism has.
Will the series show the reality of these women’s lives and the men they served?
They served these men the same way that a waiter serves a group of people. We don’t criticize waiters for working in restaurants, do we?
Waiters usually don’t wear Bunny outfits.
Oh, so, if it’s about the Bunny outfit, I would just ask at what point does the woman become no longer in control of her situation? Also, a lot of these groups that are protesting our show haven’t seen it, and they’re reacting to the Playboy stigma, the word, and people don’t watch TV for a word. They watch it for the characters. And that’s what this story has: strong female characters. And you don’t have to feel sorry for them ’cause the women I’ve met that lived this reality don’t feel sorry for themselves.
As a gay guy, I was impressed with the way you spoke at last year’s GLAAD Awards about the importance of being out. But recently you expressed frustration with the media for labeling you with your sexuality: “I don’t want to be labeled as one thing or another.”
My frustration with the media is really just a reaction to the intense attention that has been put on my personal life. But when I went to the GLAAD Awards, I offered more information up about my personal life because I felt a moral obligation to do so. I just didn’t want anyone to mistake my valuing my private life for me being insecure about my sexuality and therefore propagating this relentless legacy of lies in Hollywood. I am a proud member of the LGBT community and could never bear the idea that someone could say I was closeted. I couldn’t sleep at night thinking that somebody could mistake my fierce protection of that private life as me being a part of this systematic straightening out [Laughs] of Hollywood—because it’s a lie.
Given that, can you be surprised the media reacted so strongly when you came out?
No, I’m not surprised by it, but it also feels wrong as a private person. But I’m proud if I can set an example and I’m so proud when I get letters from young people; I get letters from adults, too. That’s why I’ve always been out. Sure, I don’t want to be labeled. No one believes they are as simple as a label.
You’re also written about as a Texan—that’s a label, right?
Sure, I’m written about as a Texan, as an atheist, as a gun owner. Even though I don’t believe in God, I feel strangely compelled to fight the atheist label. We are way more complicated than a single label.
You grew up in a Catholic Texan family. Which was trickier to talk about with your parents: being an atheist or having a girlfriend?
[Laughs, for a while] The fact that I have a girlfriend is no longer an issue for my family. Even a religious Texan family, when faced with something they’d never imagine would be given to them, love and honesty and integrity will always triumph over ignorance and bigotry.
The Playboy Club premieres September 19 at 9pm on NBC.